Saturday, November 17, 2018

Soyuz-FG Rocket Back in Action with Successful Launch of Progress MS-10

Progress MS-10 is launched via a Soyuz-FG rocket. Credit: Roscosmos

A Soyuz-FG rocket took to the skies to send the Progress MS-10 spacecraft on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. The launch marks the booster variant’s return to flight after it failed to orbit a two-person ISS crew five weeks ago.

The mission rocketed skyward at 1:14 p.m. EST (18:14 GMT) Nov. 16, 2018, from Site 1/5 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending the cargo vessel on a two-day trek to ISS. Loaded with approximately 2.5 metric tons of cargo to the orbital laboratory, it is transporting fuel, food, clothing, medical supplies, personal hygiene items as well as water and compressed gases.

Soyuz-FG thundered off the pad using the power of its core stage’s RD-108A engine and four strap-on boosters, each fitted with an RD-107A engine. The boosters remained attached to the launch vehicle until about two minutes into the flight when they were jettisoned, which left the rocket powered by its core stage alone.

Next, the launch vehicle jettisoned the fairing protecting the Progress MS-10 vessel. It was detached around two minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff. With the cargo craft unveiled, the rocket flew in this configuration for the next two minutes before the core stage shut down and was separated at about 4 minutes, 47 seconds into flight.

At about the same time, the third stage ignited its RD-0110 engine and assumed control over the flight. This stage powered Progress MS-10 for about four minutes in order to release it into orbit, some nine minutes after launch.

The spacecraft is now expected to cruise two days toward the International Space Station in order to dock with it at 2:30 p.m. EST (19:30 GMT) Nov. 18. The vessel is slated to dock with the Zvezda service module of the outpost in an automated mode, which will be overseen by Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst.

By launching Progress MS-10 into space, Soyuz-FG returned to flight after the Oct. 11 accident, when it failed to orbit the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying a crew of two to ISS. The failure happened when one of the strap-on boosters improperly separated, which triggered the emergency escape system that pulled the crewed capsule away from the rocket. The investigation into the cause of the failure found that a faulty sensor was responsible for the booster’s unsuccessful separation.

There were worries that the October 11 failure would halt future Soyuz-FG launches or at least force many reschedules in the launch manifest, however this accident caused only minor changes. The Progress MS-10 mission was postponed by two weeks from Oct. 31 (initially targeted for February 22, but delayed several times before the accident), while three launches of other Soyuz variants, two Soyuz 2.1b and one Soyuz ST-B rocket, remained on schedule and were conducted flawlessly.

Pre-launch preparations for the Progress MS-10 mission entered the decisive phase on Nov. 6 when the teams at Baikonur started filling the launch vehicle with propellant components and compressed gases. On Nov. 10, the spacecraft was integrated with a ring adapter and two days later, engineers conducted its final inspection and encapsulated it in a payload fairing. The upper composite was then installed on the launch vehicle and the fully-assembled Soyuz-FG was rolled out to the pad on Nov. 14.

Given that preparations for the Progress MS-10 mission and other Soyuz launches were carried out in nominal mode, crewed flights to ISS using Soyuz-FG are also planned to be resumed soon. Roscosmos aims to launch the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques on Dec. 3.

Progress MS, which is manufactured by RKK Energia, 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.

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.

The new version 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 launched into space on Dec. 21, 2015, by a Soyuz 2.1a rocket. The next cargo delivery mission of this vessel design, designated Progress MS-11, is currently scheduled for Feb. 8, 2019

The Soyuz-FG booster, that was employed for Friday’s launch, measures some 162 feet (49.5 meters) tall and weighs an estimated 305 metric tons at liftoff. The rocket is capable of carrying more than seven metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO). It is a three-stage launcher that utilizes a core stage, burning throughout the first and second stage portions of the flight. Stage one is composed of the core stage and four strap-on boosters.

These four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters provide extra lift during the initial phase of the flight. Before liftoff, all four of the boosters are ignited to reach full thrust and then are jettisoned once their fuel tanks are empty.

Soyuz-FG debuted on May 20, 2001, when it lifted off with the Progress M1-6 cargo craft to ISS. To date, the booster was launched 65 times with only the Oct. 11, 2018, flight ending in failure.

Friday’s mission was the 15th orbital flight for Russia and the fourth Soyuz-FG launch this year. The crewed Soyuz MS-11 flight is the next orbital mission, according to the country’s launch manifest.

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