Third Progress MS cargo spacecraft ready for resupply mission to ISS
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 the Progress MS-03 was initially scheduled for April 30; however, it was delayed due to the postponement of the manned Soyuz MS-01 mission to the ISS that took place last week.
The Progress spacecraft arrived at the Baikonur Space Center on Jan. 25. After a 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.
In mid-June, when the launch was finally set for July 16, the teams started final preparations for the mission. At the beginning of July, representatives of the technical management approved the spacecraft for the filling of propellant components and compressed gases. Filling operations were conducted during July 6–8 and, after that, Progress MS-03 was transported by rail to the spacecraft processing facility and installed onto a jig for further pre-launch processing.
On July 11, the spacecraft was integrated with its launch vehicle adapter. Afterward, it was encapsulated in the payload fairing and the stack now awaits for final checkouts and roll out to the launch pad.
After liftoff and then separation from the Soyuz-U launch vehicle, about nine minutes into the flight, the spacecraft will take a two-day route to the space station 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 July 18 (00:22 GMT 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 consumables for the life support system. Additionally, 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 is 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 metric tons of cargo into space.
The spacecraft is fitted with two deployable solar arrays and is composed of three components: a cargo module, a refueling module, and an instrument service module.
The spacecraft docks automatically to the ISS; however, it is also equipped with a backup remote control docking system. After docking, it usually remains at the space station for about two to six months. In this case, Progress MS-03 will stay attached to the orbiting outpost until January 2017.
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 the ISS on March 31, 2016, also by Soyuz 2.1a from Baikonur and delivering the same amount of cargo. The 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, there 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 construction of the new Vostochny Cosmodrome is completed and it becomes fully operational, these launches will be transitioned there. Currently, the Progress MS-12 mission is scheduled for launch sometime in 2018 from this 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 feet (51.1 meters) tall with a main diameter of 9 feet (2.95 meters) and a maximum diameter of 33 feet (10.3 meters).
Liftoff mass is about 313 metric tons. It is capable of delivering payloads of up to 6.9 metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO). The 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 eighth liftoff from Baikonur this year. The next Russian launch is planned for August 29 when a Proton-M rocket will take to the skies from Baikonur to deliver the EchoStar 21 communications satellite into space.
The ISS is set to experience an increase in traffic during July after last week when a trio of Expedition 48 crew members arrived at the Station aboard the Soyuz MS-01 vehicle. 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 launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.