Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Russian Progress MS Spacecraft Set to Deliver Cargo for Space Station

Soyuz 2.1a rocket with the Progress MS-2 spacecraft being installed at the launch pad. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

The second mission of the Russian Progress MS cargo craft, designated MS-2, or Progress 63 by NASA is ready to start its two-day journey to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, Mar. 31. The spacecraft will be launched atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket at 12:23 p.m. EDT (16:23 GMT) from the Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Progress MS-2 will deliver about 2.5 metric tons of different cargo including dry cargo, propellant, water and compressed oxygen to maintain functioning of the ISS. The vehicle is expected to dock with the Station’s Zvezda service module on Saturday, Apr. 2 at about 2:00 p.m. EDT (18:00 GMT). 

When flying towards the Space Station, the Progress MS-2 cargo craft will enable Russian flight controllers to test new software and communications equipment for the new vehicle configuration that will be standard for future Progress and piloted Soyuz missions. The vehicle will spend more than six months at the ISS before departing in mid-October for its fiery re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. 

The ISS crew will unload the cargo from the cargo module and will transfer water manually from the Progress to the orbital outpost. When the Progress delivers air or oxygen, it is released directly into the shared atmosphere of the Station and the vehicle.

The new spacecraft will replace the Progress M-29M (Progress 61) cargo vessel, that arrived at the ISS on Oct. 1, 2015. Progress M-29M will take out the trash and will undock from Zvezda on Mar. 30. During its return flight, it will be used for engineering tests before it is deorbited on Friday, Apr. 8 to burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

March was a busy month for the teams at Baikonur to complete the assembly of the Progress spacecraft and the Soyuz 2.1a launch vehicle. On Mar. 24 the specialists concluded technological operations to mate the cargo transport vehicle with the transfer compartment. The next day, the teams carried out the designer’s inspection of the spacecraft and performed technological operations for the launch vehicle encapsulation.

On Mar. 27, the spacecraft was transported by rail as a part of the upper composite to the assembly and testing facilities where it was integrated with the rocket one day later. The representatives of Technical Management and the State Commission at the Baikonur Cosmodrome gave the green light to roll out the launch vehicle. The rollout took place on Mar. 29 and the Soyuz booster with the Progress spacecraft now stands vertically at the launch pad, awaiting the liftoff.

Progress-MS, manufactured by RKK Energia, 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 (7.25 metric tons), 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.

The first Progress MS spacecraft was launched into space on Dec. 21, 2015 by a Soyuz 2.1a rocket. It delivered about 2.5 metric tons of cargo to the ISS. The MS-1 cargo craft will remain at the Station for about six months.

Besides MS-2 there are currently ten 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 will be used in Thursday’s launch is 151 feet (46.1 meters) tall and has a diameter of 9.68 feet (2.95 meters). It can deliver payloads of up to metric 7.8 tons to LEO and 2.8 metric tons 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 systems and uprated engines on the first stage booster with improved injection systems.

Soyuz 2.1a has 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 meters) long and 9.68 feet (2.95 meters) in diameter. The third stage, with an RD-0110 engine, is 22.11 feet (6.74 meters) in length and 8.73 feet (2.66 meters) in diameter.

Thursday’s mission will be the second Soyuz 2.1a launch and the fifth liftoff from Baikonur this year. It will be also the eight orbital flight for Russia in 2016. Two Soyuz launches are currently scheduled for April. On Apr. 22 a Soyuz-ST booster will be employed by Arianespace to deliver the Sentinel-1B satellite into orbit and three days later Roscosmos will use a Soyuz 2.1a rocket to loft three spacecraft into space.

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