Saturday, August 15, 2015

Russian Progress Spacecraft Falls into the Pacific Ocean

Russia’s ISS Progress M-26M resupply ship flies away from the International Space Station after undocking on time Friday morning. Credit: NASA TV

Russian Progress M-26M (identified by NASA as Progress 58) cargo craft that undocked from the Zvezda service module of the International Space Station (ISS) at 6:19 a.m. EDT on Friday, four hours later reentered Earth’s atmosphere and its remains fell into the Pacific Ocean. The intense heat of reentry caused the vehicle to burn up and the remaining hard-melting elements reached the surface of the ocean, several thousand miles away from the capital of New Zealand, Wellington. "The spacecraft’s remains have reached the surface of the ocean," said the Russian Mission Control Centre.

The area where Progress M-26M fell is called the “Spacecraft Cemetery” as cargo ships are routinely deposited there. It has been chosen for its remoteness, so as not to endanger or harm human life.

Progress M-26M, built by RKK Energia, was launched to the station on February 17, 2015, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and docked with the Zvezda service module less than six hours later. It delivered 2.37 tons of cargo and supplies to the ISS. In May, the spacecraft was used to reboost the station.

After the arrival at the station, Progress’ cargo is transferred to ISS. This includes dry cargo that is transferred by the crew, and water that is also transferred internally, oxygen and nitrogen gas that is released to re-pressurize the station’s atmosphere, and propellant which is transferred via a dedicated transfer system.

Preparations for the spacecraft’s departure were made over the last week. On Friday, mission controllers in Moscow configured the Progress for free flight and the vehicle was demated from ISS electrical systems. The undocking itself went as planned when loaded springs within the docking mechanism pushed the Progress and ISS apart at a relative speed of just 0.33 ft. per second.

The spacecraft drifted away from ISS for three minutes to open up a sufficient gap for the first thruster firing, a 15-second burn of the craft's thrusters to increase the opening rate by over 2 ft. per second, putting it on a course to leave the vicinity of the station. During its flight to Earth, the vehicle did not perform any secondary mission objectives.

The departure of the Progress M-26M vehicle clears the Zvezda docking port for the relocation of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft on August 28. Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscocmos will move their Soyuz from the Poisk module to the Zvedzda docking port during a half-hour flight around the ISS. The relocation will enable delivery of a new Soyuz to the station on Sept. 2, which will transport Russian commander Sergei Volkov, Andreas Mogensen (ESA) and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov to the station. The Soyuz TMA-18M will also bring Kelly and Kornienko home next March to conclude their one-year mission. 

During its return trip, Progress can be loaded with 1 to 1.6 tons of trash and 800 lbs. (363 kg) of liquid waste.

Progress was developed to carry propellant and cargo to the Salyut and then Mir space stations (the first Progress flew in 1978 to Salyut 6). It is now used to resupply the ISS; the next Progress spacecraft is slated for October 1. It docks automatically to the space station and there is also a backup remote control docking system. The spacecraft is composed of three modules: Cargo, Refueling, and Instrument-Service. In addition to their main mission as cargo spacecraft, they are used to adjust the ISS's orbit and carry out scientific experiments.

The next Russian cargo craft, Progress M-29M, will be launched to the ISS on Oct 1.

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