Spaceflight Insider

Record-breaking Progress MS-14 undocks from Space Station

Progress MS-14 seen docked to the aft port of Zvezda during its yearlong stay at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Progress MS-14 seen docked to the aft port of Zvezda during its yearlong stay at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The autonomous Russian cargo ship Progress MS-14 undocked from the International Space Station after spending a record one year at the orbiting outpost.

Launched April 25, 2020, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the automated cargo freighter docked with the aft port of the Zvezda module ISS just 3 hours, 20 minutes later — a little over two orbits after liftoff.

A view of Progress MS-14 arriving at the ISS in April 2020. Credit: NASA

A view of Progress MS-14 arriving at the ISS in April 2020. Credit: NASA

It carried with it 2,528 kilograms of cargo, including 1,358 kilograms of crew supplies and experiments, 700 kilograms of fuel, 50 kilograms of oxygen and 420 kilograms of water, according to NASA.

It undocked from Zvezda at 7:11 p.m. EDT (23:11 UTC) April 27, 2021, after being stationed there for 367 days, 17 hours and 59 minutes. It is expected to remain in orbit until April 29 when its engine will perform a deorbit burn to allow for a destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere over the southern Pacific Ocean.

This was the 166th and longest flight of any Progress since it entered service in 1978. It’s also the longest single stay for any visiting vehicle at the ISS.

Progress M-17 aboard Mir in 1993

The previous duration record was in 1993 and 1994 with Progress M-17 when it was in space for 337 days. However, it was only docked to the Russian Mir space station for about 132 days.

The reason it was in orbit for so long was because its mission was extended beyond the normal duration of Progress spacecraft at that time in order to keep a spacecraft docked to the aft port.

For the two primary spacecraft docking ports on Mir (Kvant-1 aft and Mir core forward), they were typically not exposed to the thermal environment of the vacuum of space for very long.

A view of the Mir space station in July 1993. On the left is Progress M-17. On the bottom is Soyuz TM-16. The photo was captured by the crew of Soyuz TM-17, which would dock at the port that Progress M-18, left, was vacating within a half hour of its departure. Credit: Roscosmos

A view of the Mir space station in July 1993. On the left is Progress M-17. On the bottom is Soyuz TM-16. The photo was captured by the crew of Soyuz TM-17, which would dock at the port that Progress M-18, left, was vacating within a half hour of its departure. Credit: Roscosmos

But because the incoming crewed spacecraft at the time, Soyuz TM-16, was equipped with an APAS-89 docking system (rather than the “probe and drogue” system used by most Russian spacecraft), it was decided to keep Progress M-17 attached to Mir longer.

Soyuz TM-16 was equipped with a different docking system to test the port on Mir’s Kristall module in advance of the first space shuttle docking for the joint Shuttle-Mir program.

Progress M-17, which undocked Aug. 11, 1993, did not have enough fuel for a normal-length deorbit burn, however, and had to wait 204 days for its orbit to decay enough to allow the fuel that did remain aboard to perform the burn for a destructive reentry.

This had a side benefit of testing out the longevity of the spacecraft’s systems.

Five ships remain attached to ISS

For the International Space Station, there are now five visiting vehicles docked or berthed with the outpost.

On the U.S. side of the outpost is Cygnus NG-15, berthed on the Earth-facing port of the Unity module; Crew-1 Dragon, docked on the space-facing port of the Harmony module; and Crew-2 Dragon, docked with the forward port of Harmony.

The vehicles docked to the International Space Station as of April 28, 2021. Credit: Derek Richardson / Orbital Velocity / Spaceflight Insider

The vehicles docked to the International Space Station as of April 28, 2021. Credit: Derek Richardson / Orbital Velocity / Spaceflight Insider

Crew-1 and its four astronauts, who have been aboard the outpost since November 2020, are expected to return to Earth as soon as this week.

On the Russian segment is Soyuz MS-18, docked with the space-facing Rassvet module; and Progress MS-16, docked with the space-facing Pirs module.

The next Russian cargo spacecraft, Progress MS-17, is slated to launch in late June. It’s currently expected to dock with the aft port of Zvezda.

Progress MS-16, which has been attached to the 20-year-old Pirs module since February, is expected to leave the outpost with that module in July to make way for the newer, larger Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module.

Nauka is slated to launch atop a Proton rocket in mid-July and will be the largest expansion to the ISS since the formal end of construction in 2011.

Video courtesy of SciNews

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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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