Russian Progress M-26M cargo craft poised for fiery re-entry
The Russian automated Progress M-26M cargo spacecraft (identified by NASA as Progress 58), currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS) will be deorbited on Friday, Aug. 14. Russian flight controllers plan to undock the vehicle from the rear port of ISS’ Zvezda Service Module at 6:19 a.m. EDT (20:19 GMT). A few hours later, the craft will complete its mission by burning up in the atmosphere somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
After having been loaded with trash and liquid waste, the hatch of the Progress M-26M spacecraft will be closed and the cargo vessel will be released from the station. The craft will fire its engines to perform a deorbit burn for a fiery atmospheric re-entry as it has no heat shield to protect it from the temperatures caused by the extreme friction of re-entry.
Sometimes a small ballistic capsule is placed within the top hatch of the cargo module, which is then ejected during re-entry. The capsule is equipped with a heat shield and parachute and is used to return small amounts of payload from the station.
However, the primary cargo spacecraft that visits the space station which can return experiments back to scientists waiting on Earth is the uncrewed version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.
The undocking will clear the Zvezda docking port for the relocation of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft, which is currently scheduled to take place on August 28.
Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineers Scott Kelly of NASA, and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos will maneuver the Soyuz spacecraft from the Poisk module to the Zvezda docking port.
The relocation will enable the delivery of a new Soyuz (TMA-18M) to the station on September 2, which will bring Kelly and Kornienko home next March to conclude their one-year mission at the orbiting laboratory.
Progress M-26M, built by RKK Energia, was launched to the station on February 17, 2015, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and docked with the Zvezda service module less than six hours later. It delivered 2.37 metric tons of cargo and supplies to the ISS. In May, the spacecraft was used to reboost the station.
After it arrives at the station, Progress’ cargo is transferred to ISS. This includes dry cargo that is transferred by the crew, and water that is also transferred internally, oxygen and nitrogen gas that is released to re-pressurize the station’s atmosphere, and propellant which is transferred via a dedicated transfer system.
During its return trip, Progress can be loaded with 1 to 1.6 tons of trash and 800 lbs. (363 kg) of liquid waste.
Progress was developed to carry propellant and cargo to the Salyut and then Mir space stations (the first Progress flew in 1978 to Salyut 6). It is now used to resupply the ISS; the next Progress spacecraft is slated for October 1. It docks automatically to the space station and there is also a backup remote control docking system. The spacecraft is composed of three modules: Cargo, Refueling, and Instrument-Service.
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.