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Supplying the ISS has become a good share of the astrophilately related to International Space Station. Five independent programs have been run to fulfil this task with four remaining presently. I would not dive into details of each (this info is widely available to the curious reader) but rather show and explain my experience with astrophilately side.

At the beginning that was “Progress”. A workhorse of the Soviet and then Russian space program making first flight to Salyut 6 in January 1978 and being modified over the years but still remains a cargo version of Soyuz spacecraft developed by RKK Energia. There were four types of Progress ships that supplied ISS – Progress M, Progress M1 and Progress M-M and Progress MS. By mid 2017 there has been 68 launches of Progress cargo spaceships towards ISS.

In 2008 ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) joined the party having almost three times Progress cargo capacity. After performing only five missions it has been discontinued in 2014. Despite such a short carrier ATV left the brightest trace in the astrophilately from all the programs - five colorful cover folders were produced by EADS / ASRIUM / AIRBUS including flown cover and many other cachets from different clubs and cachet makers.


Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) made its first flight in 2009 and despite its six missions remained one of the least astrophilatelically covered ventures. Two commercial programs originated by NASA in USA – SpaceX Dragon and Orbital Sciences Cygnus, both having similar cargo capacity of 3500 kg first launched to ISS 2012 and 2013 respectively. Dragon is a reusable spacecraft capable of delivering cargos from ISS to Earth including letters.

The Progress M variation capable of carrying 2.350 kg of cargo and introduced in 1989 made 24 cargo flights to ISS between 2001 and 2009 with Progress M-67 being the last one. Progress M1 has been redesigned to double the volume of the fuel delivered to ISS within the same overall cargo capacity as M version. It made only 8 flights from M1-3 to M1-11 in 2004. In 2008 Progress M-1M was launched that mainly differed by totally redesigned spaceship management system and in 2015 appeared Progress MS with another equipment upgrade.

In terms of cachets and postmarks, mainly the cachets produced by Oleg Urusov from Baikonur though some other designs available as well like shown Lollini and Chizhov. Postmarks are Baikonur, Korolev and Houston, the later plays a secondary role in Progress operations.  

After the retirement of the Shuttle, the role of ATV has become crucial for supporting ISS activities which now rely on the essential supplies carried by the European ATV, the Japanese HTV and the old Russian Progress, with its one third of the load capacity of ATV.


Since its first flight, ATV-1 Jules Verne has become a subject for collectors.

The French philatelic Club “La Marianne” (EADS Astrium – France) has issued 4 commemorative covers – offered in a colorful folder printed in a huge number of 1200 pcs that is not common for a specific commemorative set. Other dealers like Michel Vasse (French Guiana based servicer and dealer) and Alexander Lollini produced dedicated covers as well but in much less quantities like 300-400 pcs. Some covers were issued in even smaller numbers.

As a contribution to Space Mail collectors community, ATV-1 delivered to ISS a special protective CTB (Cargo Transfer Bag) containing 1200 covers prepared by the French Club “La Marianne” and 550 cards prepared by the German Club “Erno-Philatelie” (EADS-Astrium, Bremen). 25 covers were marked onboard with the ISS octagonal seal and autographed by the Russian Cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Oleg Kononenko. All the items were stored in the Leonardo MPLM (Multipurpose Logistic Module) and returned to Earth on November 30, 2008, on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-126 mission which landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The CTB, as a non-priority cargo, was recovered from Leonardo on February 4, 2009 and the covers were postmarked at the KSC Post Office.

ATV-2 Johannes Kepler launched Feb 16, 2011 was marked by another colorful creation of “La Marianne” club. This time the folder contained 3 covers and totaled only a half of ATV-1 Jules Verne commemoratives – 600 pcs. Two commemorative covers were issued by “La Marianne” to celebrate launch and docking and the third one in the folder was flown in the CTB.

Like ATV-1, ATV-2 also carried to the ISS philatelic items: 600 covers prepared by “La Marianne”, 550 cards prepared by “Erno-Philatelie” and 600 covers prepared by Thales Alenia Space. 153 covers marked with the octagonal ISS onboard stamp and to have them signed by all the Expedition 26-27 crew.

Additional covers were produced including the one issued by “La Marianne” having special ATV-2 cachet and personalized stamp.

ATV-3 Adorado Amaldi flown to ISS covers were taken back by a recoverable capsule of SpaceX Dragon CRS-1 that splashed down in Pacific on Oct 28, 2012. The CTB flown 400 covers of “La Marianne” club were postmarked in Houston on Nov 2, 2012. Another 14 covers were postmarked on ISS and signed by the crew.

ATV-5 Georges Lemaitre launched July 30, 2014 was the fifth and the last ATV mission before program closure. ARBUS prepared 400 colorful folders with 6 covers each, this time including Australian tracking station in Perth and Adelaide. As during previous missions, CTB with 400 covers was carried aboard ISS and recovered by Dragon CRS-5. These folders are scarce to find and can cost good money to obtain.

Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) Kounotori is an automated cargo spacecraft used to supply Kibo Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). HTV is capable of carrying up-to 6000 of payload but unlike ATV or Progress cannot dock automatically and demand crew operations. Since its first flight in 2009 only six missions were made by Kounotori.

The covers dedicated to HTV are scarce (of cause there others around bearing non-relevant postmarks but I do not refer to them). Each HTV flight got less than 10 dedicated covers postmarked on ISS this is one example I am lucky to have in my collection – HTV-4 signed by ISS 36.

Also known as Dragon C2+, SpaceX Demo Flight 2 was a second mission in Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that eventually combined mission 2 and mission 3 in one. Dragon C2+ successfully launched on May 22, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, rendezvoused with ISS on May 25, and berthed to the Station using Canadarm2. On May 31, Dragon unberthed from ISS and landed in the Pacific Ocean.


To commemorate the event, RKK Enegria issued 15 covers that were postmarked on ISS with the dates of Dragon C2+ berthing/unberthing and signed by the members of ISS Expedition 31 – Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin.

Jim Roth is the author of the mission 57 Premium Space Covers brand. Hundreds of different issues of Jim's cachet-designed space covers were produced. He would design both sides of a space cover with some of the best colorful and graphically produced artwork creations that I have ever seen. Some of his cachets are numbered to be only 20-30 pieces created. Not very surprisingly the covers look much better in reality than scanned copes. These are one of the best space cachets I have ever seen placing them in a one row with Sergey Chizhov artworks and outstanding Therome cachets. I am proud to have some of Jim’s designs in my collection.

Two flown covers – one signed by ISS 42 crew and postmarked on Dragon CRS-5 docking and undocking dates - though the cover used was dedicated to CRS-6 mission. The other one is commemorating CRS-7 flight that actually failed during the launch. Signed, postmarked and inscribed by Gennady Padalka on the day the Dragon was lost – June 28, 2015.

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