An upgraded Russian Progress MS spacecraft is in final preparations for its upcoming mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). The cargo vehicle will be launched to space on Saturday, July 16, atop a Soyuz-U booster, from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Liftoff is scheduled to take place at exactly 5:41 p.m. EDT (21:41 GMT).
The mission is designated Progress MS-03 (Progress 64P in NASA’s numbering system) as it will be the third flight of the modified Russian flagship Progress cargo craft. The launch of Progress MS-03 was primarily planned for Apr. 30, however it was delayed due to the postponement of the manned Soyuz MS-01 mission to ISS that took place last week.
The Progress spacecraft that arrived at the Baikonur Space Center on Jan 25. After the series of tests and checkouts in February and March, it was ready for the integration with the launch vehicle. However, due to reschedules in the ISS launch manifest, the spacecraft was kept in storage longer than expected. The new launch date was set for July 7.
When in mid-June the liftoff was finally scheduled for July 16, the teams started final preparations for the mission. In the beginning of July, representatives of the technical management OK’d the spacecraft for filling with propellant components and compressed gases. These filling operations were conducted July 6-8 and after that, the Progress MS-03 was transported by rail to the spacecraft processing facility and installed into a jig for further pre-launch processing.
On July 11, the spacecraft was integrated with its launch vehicle adapter. Afterwards it was encapsulated in the payload fairing and the stack now awaits for final checkouts and roll out to the launch pad.
After the liftoff and separation from the Soyuz-U launch vehicle about nine minutes into the flight, the spacecraft will take a two-day route to ISS in order to complete tests of the upgraded systems and align itself with the orbital laboratory. Docking with the Station’s Pirs module is scheduled to take place at 8:22 p.m. EDT on July 18 (0:22 GMT on July 19).
Progress MS-03 will deliver about 2.5 metric tons of cargo to the ISS. Specifically, it will transport propellant components, compressed gases, water, scientific equipment and consumable for the life support system. It will also ship containers with food, clothing, medical supplies and personal hygiene items for crew members aboard the Station.
Manufactured by RKK Energia, Progress MS is an improved variant of the Progress automated cargo spacecraft that has been used to deliver supplies to the space station. It has a similar size, mass, and cargo capacity as the modified Progress-M employed previously in this role.
Progress MS is 23.6 feet (7.2 meters) long and has 8.9 feet (2.7 meters) in diameter. With a total mass of about 7.3 metric tons, it is capable of carrying up to 2.5 tons of cargo into space. The spacecraft is fitted with two deployable solar arrays. It is composed of three components: cargo module, refueling module, and instrument-service module. The spacecraft docks automatically to ISS, however it is also equipped with a backup remote control docking system. After docking it usually remains at the Station for about two to three months.
The MS variant features a series of upgrades. The improvements include the addition of an external compartment that enables deployment of small 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 protection from micrometeoroids. It also has a number of upgrades regarding telemetry and navigation systems as well as a new digital communication system that enables enhanced TV camera views during docking operations.
The first Progress MS spacecraft was lofted 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 second Progress MS spacecraft was launched to ISS on Mar. 31, 2016, also by Soyuz 2.1a from Baikonur and delivering the same amount of cargo. Next resupply mission of this craft, designated Progress MS-04, is currently planned for Oct. 20. It will fly to space from Baikonur atop a Soyuz-U launcher.
Besides the missions mentioned above, the are eight orbital flights of the Progress MS spacecraft scheduled for 2016-2018. As usual, Soyuz 2.1a and Soyuz-U rockets will serve as launch vehicles to lift these spacecraft from Baikonur, however when the newly built Vostochny Cosmodrome will become operational, these launches will be transitioned there. Currently, Progress MS-12 mission in 2018 is planned to be lifted off from the new spaceport in Russia’s Far East.
The Soyuz-U is the most flown rocket in the historic Soyuz launcher family. The launch vehicle is currently used to transport Progress spacecraft to the ISS and occasionally to launch military reconnaissance payloads. The vehicle stands 167 ft. (51.1 m) tall with a main diameter of 9 ft. (2.95 m) and a maximum diameter of 33 ft. (10.3 m). Lift-off mass is about 313 tons. It is capable of delivering payloads of up to 6.9 tons to the low-Earth orbit (LEO). First launch of the Soyuz-U booster took place in May 1973, when it sent the Kosmos 559 military surveillance satellite into orbit.
Saturday’s launch will be the 16th orbital mission for Russia and the eight liftoff from Baikonur this year. Next Russian launch is planned for Aug. 29, when a Proton-M rocket will take to the skies from Baikonur to deliver the EchoStar 21 communications satellite into space.
ISS experiences an increased traffic in July as last week a trio of Expedition 48 crew arrived at the Station aboard the Soyuz MS-01 vehicle. Moreover, two days after the launch of Progress MS-03, another cargo craft is planned to be launched to the orbital laboratory. On July 18, the SpaceX CRS-9 mission will be lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.