Recent failure of the Progress MS-04 mission is a reminder of how important is the development of a new cargo spacecraft for the future of Russia’s space program. The accident could hasten the works on a vehicle that could replace the current upgraded Progress spaceship.
Just few days before the Dec. 1 failure, RKK Energia, Russian manufacturer of spacecraft and rockets, announced that the new cargo craft due to replace Progress MS could be ready for first flights to the International Space Station (ISS) after 2020.
"The first flight of the enhanced payload cargo spacecraft is possible after 2020," the company said in a press release.
The new vehicle is currently known as the Increased Capacity Cargo Transportation Spacecraft (ICCTS). With a liftoff mass of approximately 8.2 metric tons, it will be capable of delivering up to 3.4 metric tons to ISS - nearly one metric ton more that Progress MS. Russia hopes that the new spacecraft will reduce the cost of delivering one kilogram of cargo by 15 percent.
”With the new spacecraft developed, we will be able to send up more cargo per one launch. This will significantly improve the cost effectiveness of launches of logistic spacecraft to both the ISS and to the station, which is going to replace it. For us this is very important,” said Vladimir Solntsev, Director General of RKK Energia.
RKK Energia revealed that ICCTS’s design will allow it to pack the cargo in a larger compartment with a central aisle and standard racks, which will significantly simplify the spacecraft loading and unloading operations. The new vehicle could be also utilized as a “warehouse” when attached to the space station. However, the new cargo vessel will be not returnable as there are no plans to develop its cargo-return version.
The manufacturer also noted that the ICCTS cargo craft will be more useful in the station’s orbital reboost maneuvers and could support future de-orbiting of ISS. These operations could be carried out by the new spacecraft due to its increased supply of deliverable propellant and the main engine with a higher thrust when compared to Progress MS.
The spacecraft’s preliminary design is currently scheduled to be completed in December 2016. Future launches of the new cargo craft are planned to be conducted from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, mainly by a Soyuz 2.1b booster, using the existing infrastructure designed for Progress MS and Soyuz MS launches.