Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Upgraded Progress Spacecraft Blasts Off to International Space Station

A Soyuz-2.1a launch with the Progress MS-1 spacecraft. Photo credit: RKK Energia

Carrying more than 2.8 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the International Space Station crew, the unpiloted ISS Progress MS (or Progress 62 by NASA) cargo craft launched at 3:44 a.m. EDT (2:44 p.m. local time in Baikonur) on Monday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Less than 10 minutes after launch, the resupply ship reached preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned. The Russian cargo craft will make 34 orbits of Earth during the next two days before docking to the orbiting laboratory at 5:31 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23.

The first mission of the MS variant, designated Progress MS-1, will deliver dry cargo, propellant, water and compressed oxygen. It will take a standard two-day route to ISS instead of an express six-hour path because it is its first flight and mission controllers will perform detailed in-orbit testing of the craft.

The liftoff was initially scheduled for Nov. 21 but was postponed due to the Progress M-27M spacecraft mission failure on Apr. 28. Extra checks were needed to make sure that there will be no repeat of the mishap and to complete all the work linked with the accident in April.

The failure of the Progress M-27M spacecraft last 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.



Progress-MS arrived in Baikonur in August. A series of tests was conducted to verify the functionality of the spacecraft’s electronics. After the tests, the cargo vessel was mated to payload adapter and encapsulated. The spacecraft was transported to the launch site on Thursday, Dec. 17.

The mission was launched by a Soyuz 2.1a booster. The countdown for the launch started eight hours before the liftoff. Propellant loading commenced about four hours prior to the planned launch.

The Soyuz 2.1a vehicle climbed vertically and then pitched and rolled onto its planned trajectory to designated low Earth orbit (LEO). The spacecraft separated from the booster nearly nine hours after the launch.

The spacecraft has established radio contact with the communication and broadcasting satellite Luch-5B, a source in the space rocket industry has told TASS.

"There has been the first successful session of communication with the Progress MS spacecraft via a Luch system satellite," the source said.

A cluster of three relay satellites will make it possible to keep in touch with the spacecraft at any point of its orbit, and not just over the territory of Russia, where ground communication satellites are located.

During its stay at ISS, Progress MS-1 will use its propellant and thrusters to perform Station reboost maneuvers. Trash will be loaded into the cargo module when the spacecraft will complete its mission and will be ready to leave the orbital laboratory.

Progress MS-1 will spend more than six months at ISS before departing in early July 2016 for its deorbit into the Earth’s atmosphere during which it will burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

A Soyuz-2.1a launch with the Progress MS-1 spacecraft. Photo credit: RKK Energia
A Soyuz-2.1a launch with the Progress MS-1 spacecraft. Photo credit: RKK Energia

Manufactured by RKK Energia, Progress-MS, weighing 7.25 tons, is an improved variant of the Progress automated cargo spacecraft that is 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 the external compartment that enables it to deploy satellites, the addition of a backup system of electrical motors for the docking and sealing mechanism, and additional panels in the cargo compartment that increase the protection from micrometeoroids.

Moreover, the new version has a lot of upgrades regarding telemetry and navigation systems; it also features a new digital communication 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 Soyuz 2.1a rocket, that was used in Monday’s launch is 151 feet (46.1 m) tall and has a diameter of 9.68 feet (2.95 m). It can deliver payloads of up to 7.8 tons to LEO and 2.8 to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). It is suitable for cargo flights to ISS with increased cargo upmass as well as future crewed missions when qualification of the vehicle is complete. This version includes conversion from analog to digital flight control system and uprated engines on the booster and the first stage with improved injection systems.

Soyuz 2.1a is equipped in four liquid fueled strap-on boosters with RD-107A engines providing extra lift during the initial phase of the flight. The rocket’s core stage, powered by an RD-108A engine, acts as both, first and second stage. It is 91.2 feet (27.8 m) long and 9.68 feet (2.95 m) in diameter. The third stage, with an RD-0110 engine, is 22.11 feet (6.74 m) in length and 8.73 (2.66 m) in diameter.

Monday’s mission was the fourth Soyuz 2.1a launch and the 17th liftoff from Baikonur this year. It was also the 27th orbital flight for Russia. The country plans one more mission in 2015. On Dec. 23, a Proton-M rocket will deliver the Russian Ekspress AMU1 satellite into orbit.

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