Spaceflight Insider

Progress MS cargo craft heads to Space Station after successful liftoff

Soyuz-2.1a launch with Progress MS-2

Soyuz 2.1a launch with Progress MS-2. Image Credit: Roscosmos TV

The second mission in the Progress MS series, designated MS-2, is currently on its two-day trek to the International Space Station (ISS) after it was successfully launched atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Liftoff occurred as planned at 12:24 p.m. EDT (16:24 GMT) on Thursday, March 31.

The rocket started its almost nine-minute climb into orbit with a short vertical ascent. Nearly two minutes after liftoff, the launch vehicle’s strap-on boosters were jettisoned and the core stage’s RD-108A engine took control of the flight. This stage was shut down three minutes later and the third stage was ignited to continue the climb into space.

The payload shroud was jettisoned 10 seconds later, revealing the Progress MS-2 spacecraft. The launch vehicle continued the flight for approximately four minutes when the RD-0110 engine was cut off. The cargo vessel separated from the third stage at about eight minutes and 48 seconds into the mission. Next, the spacecraft deployed its solar panels and communications antenna to establish a connection with the Mission Control Center in Moscow. The successful orbital insertion occurred at eight minutes and 56 seconds after launch.

The Soyuz 2.1a, with the encapsulated Progress MS, stands vertical on the launchpad.

The Soyuz 2.1a, with the encapsulated Progress MS, stands vertically on the launch pad. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

En route to the ISS, the spacecraft will perform three engine burns. As it cruises toward the space station, the cargo craft will enable Russian flight controllers in Moscow to test new software and communications equipment for the new vehicle configuration that will be the standard for future Progress as well as piloted Soyuz missions. The vehicle is expected to dock at 2 p.m. EDT (18:00 GMT) on April 2 with the space station’s Zvezda service module.

Progress MS-2 will deliver an estimated 2.8 tons (2.5 metric tons) of supplies including dry cargo, propellant, water, and compressed oxygen to the ISS. The Expedition 47 crew will unload the supplies from the cargo module and will transfer water manually from the visiting vehicle to storage areas throughout the outpost. When Progress delivers air or oxygen, it is released directly into the shared atmosphere of the station and the vehicle.

Progress MS-2 will replace the Progress M-29M cargo vessel that arrived at the orbiting laboratory on Oct. 1, 2015. The older craft was loaded with trash when it undocked from Zvezda on the morning of March 30. It is now heading for a fiery disposal on Friday, April 8, over the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand. During its return to Earth, it is planned to conduct the Izgib research experiment. This study aims to determine the micro-gravitational environment in orbit by measuring micro-accelerations using the onboard measurement equipment, micro-accelerometers, and onboard gyroscopes of the Progress.

Preparations for the MS-2 mission started early in 2016 when the spacecraft finished final testing operations before being loaded with cargo. In March, the teams at Baikonur completed the assembly of the Progress spacecraft and the Soyuz 2.1a launch vehicle. On March 24, specialists concluded operations to mate the cargo transport vehicle with the transfer compartment. The teams also carried out the designer’s inspection of the spacecraft and performed technological operations for the launch vehicle encapsulation.

The spacecraft was transported by rail to the assembly and testing facilities on March 27, where it was integrated with the rocket the next day. The representatives of Technical Management and the State Commission at Baikonur Cosmodrome gave the green light to roll out the launch vehicle which took place two days ahead of liftoff.

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.

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 2.8 tons (2.5 metric tons) of cargo to the ISS. It will remain at the station until July.

There are currently ten more launches of the Progress-MS spacecraft scheduled for 2015–2018. The missions will be launched by the Soyuz 2.1a and Soyuz-U carrier rockets.

The Soyuz 2.1a rocket that was in Thursday’s launch is 151 feet (46.1 meters) tall and has a diameter of 9.68 feet (2.95 meters). It can deliver payloads of up to 8.6 tons (7.8 metric tons) to a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 3.1 tons (2.8 metric tons) to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

This launch vehicle has four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters with RD-107A engines providing extra lift during the initial phase of the flight. The rocket’s core stage, powered by an RD-108A engine, acts as both first and second stage. It is 91.2 feet (27.8 meters) long and 9.68 feet (2.95 meters) in diameter. The third stage, with an RD-0110 engine, is 22.11 feet (6.74 meters) in length and 8.73 feet (2.66 meters) in diameter.

Today’s mission was the second Soyuz 2.1a launch and the fifth liftoff from Baikonur this year. It was also the eighth orbital flight for Russia in 2016.

Russia plans two more Soyuz launches in April. On April 22, a Soyuz-ST booster will be employed by Arianespace to deliver the Sentinel-1B satellite into orbit. Three days later, Roscosmos will loft three spacecraft spaceward using a Soyuz 2.1a rocket in Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia—the first Soyuz to launch from Russia’s Far East spaceport.

Video Courtesy of Телестудия Роскосмоса


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.

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