Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Russia Postpones Maiden Flight of Its Progress-MS Spacecraft

Progress-MS spacecraft in the vacuum chamber at the Baikonur Space Center. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

Russia decided to delay the first launch of the newest version of its flagship Progress cargo craft. The RKK Energia company, which manufactures the spacecraft, revealed on Tuesday, Oct. 27, that the maiden flight of the Progress-MS vehicle will be postponed for a month – until Dec. 21, 2015. "The launch will be postponed for a month," said Vladimir Solntsev, the president of RKK Energia.

According to Solntsev, extra checks are needed to make sure that there is no repeat of the Progress M-27M spacecraft launch mishap on Apr. 28 this year and to complete all the work linked with this accident.

The first mission of the Progress-MS cargo craft, designated MS-1, or Progress 62 by NASA, was initially scheduled for Nov. 21. Whether or not there will be further delays, the spacecraft is planned to be launched by a Russian Soyuz 2.1a booster from the site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The mission will be tasked with the resupply of the International Space Station (ISS). It will dock to the Pirs compartment of the ISS, two days after the liftoff.

Progress-MS is an improved variant of the Progress automated cargo spacecraft used to deliver supplies to the Space Station. It has the similar size, mass and cargo capacity as the modified Progress-M employed lately to resupply the ISS. However, the MS variant features a series of upgrades. The improvements include: external compartment that enables it to deploy satellites; the addition of a backup system of electrical motors for the docking and sealing mechanism; additional panels in the cargo compartment that increase the protection from micrometeoroids. Besides, the new version has a lot of upgrades regarding telemetry and navigation systems, it also features a new digital radio that enables enhanced TV camera view for the docking operations.

There are currently 12 launches of the Progress-MS spacecraft scheduled for 2015-2018. The missions will be launched by the Soyuz 2.1a and Soyuz-U carrier rockets. The Dec. 21 flight will be the 29th Russian orbital launch this year and the 18th liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The failure of the Progress M-27M spacecraft in April was one of the most serious setbacks bedeviling the Russian space industry. It caused a series of launch delays this year, including the launch of a manned Soyuz TMA-17M capsule with three ISS crew members.

During the launch by the Soyuz 2.1a rocket, the Progress M-27M vehicle achieved low Earth orbit, but a malfunction occurred near the end of the upper stage burn shortly before the separation of the spacecraft. The Progress lost the orbit and burned in dense atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean at on May 8.

After the investigation of the incident, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) concluded that a "design peculiarity" in the linkage between the rocket and the spacecraft was the cause of the failure.

“A design peculiarity in the joint use of the spaceship and the rocket related to the frequency-dynamic characteristics of the linkage between the spaceship and the rocket’s third stage is the cause for the damage done to the spaceship as a result of the emergency separation of the carrier rocket’s third stage and the transport spacecraft,” Roscosmos announced.

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