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Progress M-29M launches, docks to ISS with fresh supplies

Progress M-29M launch

A Soyuz-U rocket lifts off from Gagarin’s Start on the evening of Oct. 1 in Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying Progress M-29M. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) successfully launched Progress M-29M which docked with the International Space Station on Oct. 1, resupplying the crew of Expedition 45 with tons of food, fuel, and spare parts.

At 11:49 a.m. CDT (4:49 p.m. GMT), the Soyuz-U rocket carrying the Progress cargo ship lifted off of the launch pad known as Gagarin’s Start at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same launch pad that Yuri Gagarin launched into space from in April 1961.

About two minutes after liftoff, the four strap-on boosters completed firing and separated from the core stage of the rocket. The core stage finished burning about four minutes 47 seconds into the flight and shut down. Moments later, the third stage separated and fired, continuing the journey into space.

Less than nine minutes after launch, the Progress separated from the third stage and was in temporary orbit of about 193 by 245 kilometers. Immediately after separation, the two solar panels deployed and the KURS navigation antennas were extended.

The spacecraft then executed a series of pre-programmed engine firings that would put it on a trajectory that would allow for a docking with the space station just over six hours later. This was the first “fast-track” rendezvous since the failure of the Progress M-27M in April of this year.

Progress M-29M docking

Progress M-29M begins lining up for the final approach to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

Once the Progress was within 400 meters of the space station, it conducted a fly-around of the outpost to get aligned with the aft port of the Zvezda service module. At about 180 meters away from Zvezda, the cargo ship rolled to position its solar arrays properly before moving towards the docking port.

“Contact,” said cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, a flight engineer for Expedition 45, right as the Progress docked with Zvezda service module four orbits or six hours and three minutes after launch. The confirmation came at 5:52 CDT (10:52 GMT) while the orbital outpost was 405 kilometers above the North Atlantic Ocean.

While the docking was automatic, the crew was on standby just in case manual control was required. However, everything went according to plan.

The cargo ship brought up with it more than three tons of food, fuel and supplies. This included 880 kilograms of propellant, 50 kilograms of oxygen, 420 kilograms of water and 1,500 kilograms of spare parts and experiment hardware.

Progress M-29M is the last of the Progress-M series, which began flying in 1989. Next month, a new series, Progress-MS will begin launching. It is an upgraded variant that will include a new external compartment to enable small satellite deployment.

It will also include a number of safety enhancements including a backup system of electrical motors for the docking and sealing mechanism and improved micrometeorite protection. Additionally the spacecraft will be equipped with a new digital radio that enables enhanced TV camera views for docking operations.

Progress MS-1 is scheduled to launch on Nov. 21, 2015.

Progress M-29M will remain docked to ISS for the next two months before undocking in the first half of December with unneeded equipment and trash. This will make room for a Soyuz relocation to allow for a direct handover between Expedition 45 and 46 just before the holiday season.

Video courtesy of NASA


Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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