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Progress MS-18 cargo ship begins two-day chase of space station

Progress MS-18 is launched atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos

Progress MS-18 is launched atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s unpiloted Progress MS-18 cargo spacecraft has launched into space on a two-day trek to meet up with the International Space Station.

Liftoff took place at 8 p.m. EDT Oct. 27 (midnight UTC Oct. 28), 2021, from Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Progress MS-18 is launched into the early-morning Kazakhstan skies. Credit: Roscosmos

Progress MS-18 is launched into the early-morning Kazakhstan skies. Credit: Roscosmos

Sending the spacecraft into space was a 150-foot-tall (46-meter-tall), three-stage Soyuz 2.1a rocket. The first stage consisted of four strap-on liquid-fueled boosters, each with a single RD-107A engine. The second stage doubles as the vehicle’s core and uses a single RD-108A engine.

Together at liftoff, their combined five engines fired, consuming liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene, to begin pushing Progress MS-18 toward space.

After about two minutes, the four first stage boosters fell away, forming a pattern in the sky commonly called the “Korolev Cross.”

The core stage, meanwhile, continued burning for an additional three minutes until it, too, had consumed its fuel. During that time, the payload fairing protecting the Progress spacecraft was jettisoned as the stack was high enough out of the atmosphere and was no longer needed.

When the second stage finished its job, the third stage and its single RD-0110 engine fired to continue pushing the cargo ship toward orbit, which it reached some nine minutes after liftoff. Moments after reaching orbit, the 24-foot-long (7.2-meter-long) spacecraft was separated and its antennas and solar arrays deployed.

Now in orbit, it is expected to take two days for Progress MS-18 to catch up with the ISS before docking with the aft port of the Zvezda service module at around 9:34 p.m. EDT Oct. 29 (01:34 UTC Oct. 30).

Aboard is some 2,400 kilograms (5,400 pounds) of food, water, fuel and other supplies and experiments needed for the seven-person Expedition 66 crew.

Progress MS-18 is currently expected to remain at the Zvezda module until the end of May 2022.

At that point, having been unloaded of its cargo and reloaded with trash and other unneeded equipment, the spacecraft will undock and perform a destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere several hours later, likely over the South Pacific Ocean.

Video courtesy of Roscosmos

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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 blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.

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