Spaceflight Insider

Russia ready to launch upgraded Progress spacecraft

A Soyuz 2.1a rocket with the Progress MS-1 spacecraft being transported to the launch site.

A Soyuz 2.1a rocket with the Progress MS-1 spacecraft being transported to the launch site. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

Russia’s Progress-MS cargo spacecraft, an improved version of the Progress-M vehicle, is all set to conduct its debut flight on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. The launch will take place at 3:44 a.m. EST (08:44 GMT) from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft will start a two-day trip to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

The mission, Progress MS-1 (designated Progress 62 by NASA), will deliver about 2.5 metric tons of cargo, including dry cargo, propellant, water, and compressed oxygen. It will take a standard two-day route to ISS instead of an express six-hour path because mission controllers want to perform detailed in-orbit testing of the craft prior to docking with the orbital outpost. liftoff was initially scheduled for Nov. 21, but it was postponed due to the Progress M-27M spacecraft mission failure on April 28. Extra checks were needed to make sure that there would be no repeat of the mishap and to complete all the work linked with the accident that occurred in April of this year (2015).

Liftoff was initially scheduled for Nov. 21 but was postponed due to the Progress M-27M spacecraft mission failure on April 28. Extra checks were needed to make sure that there would be no repeat of the mishap and to complete all the work linked with the accident that occurred in April of this year (2015).

The failure of the Progress M-27M spacecraft was one of the most serious setbacks bedeviling the Russian space industry. It caused a series of launch delays this year, including that of the manned Soyuz TMA-17M capsule with three ISS crew members.

Progress-MS arrived in Baikonur in August. A series of tests was then conducted to verify the functionality of the spacecraft’s electronics. After the tests, the cargo vessel was mated to a payload adapter and encapsulated. The spacecraft was transported to the launch site on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015.

The Progress MS-1 spacecraft.

The Progress MS-1 spacecraft. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

The mission will be launched atop a Soyuz 2.1a booster. The countdown for the launch will start eight hours before the liftoff. Propellant loading will commence about four hours prior to the planned launch. The rocket’s systems will undergo last checks approximately one hour and 45 minutes before ignition.

The Soyuz 2.1a vehicle is slated to climb vertically and then to pitch and roll onto its planned trajectory to low-Earth orbit (LEO).

The spacecraft is expected to separate from the booster nearly nine hours after the launch. It is scheduled to dock automatically with the ISS Pirs compartment at approximately 5:31 a.m. (10:31 GMT) Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015.

During its stay at ISS, Progress MS-1 will use its propellant and thrusters to perform station reboost maneuvers. After the craft is completely emptied of supplies, trash will then be loaded into the cargo module over the course of seven months. The spacecraft’s mission will then be completed and it will be ready to leave the orbital laboratory.

Progress MS-1 will spend more than six months at ISS before departing in early July 2016 for its deorbit into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean where it will burn up.

Manufactured by RKK Energia, Progress-MS, weighing 7.25 metric tons, is an improved variant of the Progress automated cargo ships that are frequently used to deliver supplies to the space station. It has a similar size, mass, and cargo capacity as the modified Progress-M – the most recent variant to resupply the ISS.

However, the MS variant features a series of upgrades. The improvements include the external compartment that enables it to deploy 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 the protection from micrometeoroids.

Moreover, the new version has a number of upgrades regarding telemetry and navigation systems including new digital communications that enable an enhanced TV camera view for docking operations.

There are currently 12 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 will be used in Monday’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 metric 7.8 tons to LEO and 2.8 metric tons to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). It is suitable for cargo flights to ISS with increased cargo upmass as well as future crewed missions when qualification of the vehicle is complete. This version includes conversion from analog to digital flight control systems and uprated engines on the first stage booster with improved injection systems.

Soyuz 2.1a 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.

Monday’s mission will be the fourth Soyuz 2.1a launch and the 17th liftoff from Baikonur this year. It will be also the 27th orbital flight for Russia. The country plans one more mission in 2015 – a Dec. 23 launch of a Proton-M rocket delivering the Russian Ekspress AMU1 satellite into orbit.

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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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