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The Progress cargo vessels are often given additional tasks of technical or scientific value. Typically performed after they undock from the station.

Many of them participated in the series of Radar-Progress and Plazma-Progress experiments. It takes like 5 days of free flight before the reentry. Progress M-13M has been used as an orbit-to-orbit tug to bring Chibis-M to 500 km orbit. Progress M-04M took part in the Reflection experiment, and so spent 6 weeks in autonomous flight. Etc etc. The tradition goes well into Mir (and may be even Salyut) times.

Are ATV, HTV, Dragon and Cygnus also used as something more than just cargo delivery?

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Dragon is being used to reenter cargo, which is pretty important.

The rest of course remove garbage to free up space on the station, via destructive reentry.

Progress will be used in April of 2014 to dock to Pirs, and when it undocks, take Pirs with it for destructive reentry.

Another example would be Shenzou, where the orbital module remains in orbit and conducts additional experiments.

Dragon has launched with secondary payloads that release before docking with the station.

A stretch answer as well might be all the Cubesats that Cygnus is bringing on the Orb-1 mission, that will be launched over time out the small airlock in the JAXA Kibo module.

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  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget that a few of them help with re-boosts of the ISS too. $\endgroup$ – nos Jan 23 '14 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @nos True enough. Only those that can dock to the aft port on Zvezda, which would be Progress and ATV. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Jan 23 '14 at 14:13

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