The Hangar / Progress
In the late 1960s, the Soviet Union began to realize that it was losing the race to the Moon with the United States. Instead of continuing to expend huge efforts on attaining only a second place finish – and possibly a distant one at that – the USSR decided to change its focus to space stations. The Soviet Union launched the first-ever orbital space station, called Salyut 1, on April 19, 1971. The first crew was not able to dock successfully, and the second crew, the crew of Soyuz 11, occupied the station for 22 days – from June 7 to June 29, 1971. They were killed when their Soyuz depressurized during its descent.
Several more stations followed, from Salyut 2 to 5, but all had only a single docking port and could only be occupied for a relatively brief time, and had to be left unoccupied in between crews. The Soviets knew that for a true long-duration occupation of a space station, the ability to resupply the crew was necessary.
So they developed the Progress spacecraft. Progress was a modification of the crewed Soyuz spacecraft, which was already capable of autonomous flight. Soyuz was made of three modules, the orbital or habitation module, the descent module, and the instrumentation module, designated by the Russian acronyms BO, SA, and PAO, respectively.
Since the habitation module and descent module were designed to accommodate the crew, they could be modified to deliver fuel, water, and cargo to space stations. The orbital and descent modules were fused into a single structure, while the instrumentation module was left largely the same. The forward part of the Progress was devoted to dry cargo, while the middle section was devoted to fuel and oxidizer for the space station, and water for the cosmonauts. The instrumentation section held fuel and oxidizer for the Progress itself, as well as the engines.
The first station capable of accommodating a Progress was Salyut 6, which had two docking ports, one forward and one aft. The crewed Soyuz spacecraft usually docked with the fore docking port while the Progress would be sent to the aft port.
The first Progress vehicle launched to Salyut 6 on January 20, 1978, and docked with the aft port on January 22. After undocking on February 8, the spacecraft was disposed of in the Earth’s atmosphere.
As Soviet space stations became more advanced, so did the Progress ships that serviced them. Progress-M debuted for the Mir space station in 1989. It featured longer independent operation times, greater cargo capacity, the Raduga re-entry capsule, and the ability pump fuel into and out of the Mir space station and to supplement Mir’s power with its solar panels.
Progress M-1 launched on August 23, 1989, and docked to Mir shortly afterward. The Soviet space program encountered a serious setback on December 26, 1991, when the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics voted to dissolve itself. As a result of the end of the Soviet Union, all of the various Soviet republics declared their independence from Moscow. Unfortunately for the space program inherited by the new Russian Federation, much of the infrastructure for that program was in the newly independent states of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, neither of which wanted, necessarily, to cooperate with Moscow’s goals.
Of particular concern was the Kurs rendezvous system that was manufactured in Ukraine, as well as the launch facilities in Kazakhstan. In order to defray the cost of acquiring the automated Kurs system from Ukraine, Russia hoped to use the remote control TORU system aboard Mir. TORU allowed a cosmonaut aboard Mir to control an incoming Progress spacecraft in the event that the Kurs system malfunctioned, just as a cosmonaut could take over control during the automated Soyuz rendezvous in the event of a malfunction.
Unfortunately, the TORU system had problems. During an experimental re-docking under TORU control of Progress M-33, the TORU system could never gain control of the Progress, and it mindlessly flew toward Mir, narrowly missing the station. Another experiment with Progress M-34 directly collided with the Spektr module, damaging a solar array and puncturing the hull. Mir nearly had to be evacuated, and the total loss of the station was averted only by the quick thinking of cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin and NASA astronaut Mike Foale.
Progress was again upgraded for the International Space Station with the Progress M1, which had greater cargo capacity for the ISS. The M1 series transferred the water tank to the pressurized section of the Progress to increase the amount of fuel that could be carried and omitted the option for the Raduga capsule.
Two Progress spacecraft were modified to carry the Pirs and Poisk modules to the ISS. These were designated Progress M-SO 1 and Progress M-MIM 2.
The Progress continued to be upgraded, especially to serve as a testbed for Soyuz upgrades to avionics and computer systems. The Progress M-M and Progress MS featured upgraded computers and rendezvous systems.
As Russia plans to retire the Soyuz in favor of the new Federatsiya (Federation) spacecraft, the Progress’s commonalities with that spacecraft have become a liability instead of an asset. However, Russian engineers have proposed a new automated cargo craft based on the new Federatsiya’s service module. Temporarily designated the TGK PG, the new cargo ship will have a propulsion module derived from the Federatsiya and a cylindrical cargo container connected to it via a truss section.
The new spacecraft will launch on the Soyuz 2.1b rocket, enabling a much larger cargo volume and weight. The forward end of the spacecraft will have an upgraded docking and rendezvous system, like the Federatsiya. Liftoff of the new system is not anticipated before 2020 at the earliest.
The Progress is an autonomous, unmanned cargo delivery spacecraft. The forward end is equipped with a Russian-style probe-and-drogue docking system and a Kurs rendezvous system. The forward section is pressurized and stocked with dry cargo and water for space station residents. The middle section is unpressurized and delivers fuel and oxidizer to the space station. The aft section contains the fuel, oxidizer, engines, and solar panels for the Progress.
The Progress not only delivers supplies to the space station but also can use its own engines to modify the orbit of the docked space station. Since the Progress M series, the Progress can draw fuel and oxidizer from the docked station and use it to change the station’s orbit. This is primarily used to boost the station’s orbit, but Progress M1-5 was used to deorbit Mir.
The Progress MS series can deliver pressurized cargo up to 1800 kg in a 6.6-cubic-meter volume. The engines in the Progress burn Unsymmetric Dimethyl Hydrazine (UDMH) and Nitrogen Tetroxide (N2O4 or NTO). The attitude control thrusters catalyze the decomposition of the UDMH. The two solar arrays generate up to about 1000 W of power and span 10.6 meters.
Progress spacecraft launch on Soyuz rockets from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. After orbital insertion, they may follow either a two-day or six-hour rendezvous profile before docking to the ISS. After docking, they remain at the station usually for up to six months. During their stay, they may be used to boost the station’s orbit. After supplies are unloaded from the pressurized section, trash is loaded in. The Progress undocks, filled with trash, and is deorbited over the Pacific Ocean.
The Progress continues to launch to the ISS about twice a year to support both U.S. and Russian operations aboard the station.
Vehicle Flight History
Over 150 Progress spacecraft have launched since the first in 1978, and Progress will continue to launch to the ISS until the system is replaced sometime after 2020. Notable launches include the following:
- Progress 1 – Launched January 20, 1978, to Salyut 6.
- Progress 13 – Launched May 23, 1982, and was the first Progress to dock to Salyut 7.
- Progress 25 – Launched March 19, 1986, and was the first Progress to dock with Mir.
- Progress M-1 – Launched to Mir on August 23, 1989. First upgraded Progress.
- Progress M-5 – Launched to Mir on September 27, 1990. First Progress to carry a Raduga return capsule. The Raduga allowed 150 kg of cargo to be returned to Earth by packing the special re-entry capsule in the Progress’ pressurized cargo section. Cosmonauts could stow return cargo in the capsule, which would separate from the re-entering Progress at 120 km altitude and parachute to a soft landing in central Asia.
- Progress M-14 – Launched to Mir on August 15, 1992. Modified to carry a special VDU thruster array to be mounted on the Sofor girder on the Kvant-1 module. This allowed better attitude control of Mir.
- Progress M-24 – Launched to Mir on August 25, 1994. TORU control experiment resulted in a minor collision with Mir.
- Progress M-33 – Launched to Mir on November 16, 1996. TORU control experiment resulted in near-miss with Mir.
- Progress M-34 – Launched to Mir on April 6, 1997. TORU control experiment resulted in a catastrophic collision with the Spektr module of Mir, damaging one of the solar arrays and puncturing the hull. The space station began to depressurize at a relatively slow rate. Cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin and NASA astronaut Mike Foale managed to disconnect, or physically cut, the cables blocking the hatch between Spektr and the Mir Core module, and seal the hatch, preventing the loss of Mir altogether. However, this severed the solar panels on Spektr from the rest of the station and deprived the station of half its power. Cosmonauts later had to perform a unique “Intra-Vehicular Activity” to reconnect the power cables through a modified hatch. They were unable to spot or seal the hole in Spektr itself, though.
- Progress M-38 – Launched to Mir on March 14, 1998, and delivered a replacement VDU thruster.
- Progress M1-1 – Launched to Mir on February 1, 2000. First of the Progress M1 series.
- Progress M1-3 – Launched to the ISS on August 6, 2000. First Progress to dock with the International Space Station, which was unmanned at the time.
- Progress M1-5 – Launched to Mir on January 24, 2001. Deorbited Mir.
- Progress M-SO-1 – Launched to the ISS on September 14, 2001. Delivered the Pirs module to the ISS.
- Progress M-01M – Launched to the ISS on November 26, 2008. First of the Progress MM series.
- Progress M-MIM-1 – Launched to the ISS on November 10, 2009. Delivered the Poisk module to the ISS.
- Progress MS-01 – Launched to the ISS on December 21, 2015. First of the Progress MS series.
- July 11, 2017: Multiple fatalities prompt Roscosmos to step up safety measures
- June 16, 2017: Progress MS-06 docks with International Space Station
- June 14, 2017: Progress MS-06 freighter on its way to space station
- June 12, 2017: Progress MS-06 spacecraft set for supply run to ISS
- February 24, 2017: Progress MS-05 cargo freighter pulls into port at ISS
- February 22, 2017: Soyuz-U completes swan song with launch of Progress MS-05
- February 20, 2017: After multiple delays, Progress MS-05 set for launch
- January 31, 2017: Russian Progress MS-03 departs International Space Station
- January 22, 2017: Progress MS-04 failure investigation prompts 3rd stage engine swaps
- December 31, 2016: Cargo ships, expandables and spacewalks, oh my: ISS in 2016
Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider