Russia set to launch Progress 54 to ISS, inks deal with NASA for more Soyuz seats
The Russian Federal Space Agency, more commonly known as “Roscosmos” is set to launch one of its venerable Soyuz rockets from Baikonur Cosmodrone in Kazakhstan with the Progress 54 spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS). This will be a night launch, taking place on February 5 at 11:23 a.m. EST (16:23 GMT). As the spacecraft’s name implies, this will be the 54th launch of one of these spacecraft which began their orbital runs to the orbiting laboratory back in 2000. Meanwhile, a report appearing on Space News, details how the United States has extended its agreement with Russia to fly U.S. astronauts to the station through 2017.
Currently, the United States lacks the capacity to launch astronauts on its own and has become dependent on Russia for these services. To allow NASA astronauts round-trip travel services to station, NASA has agreed to purchase six more seats on the Soyuz spacecraft (both the spacecraft and rocket which ferries it to orbit carry the same name). This agreement will procure room for three astronauts (three up, three down for a total of six seats), training and emergency services.
Given that NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), likely will not be able to send astronauts to the ISS before the previous agreement with Russia expires – this recent agreement was signed in order to ensure U.S. access to the ISS. As it currently stands, the first crewed demonstration flight under CCP is set to take place in 2017.
Meanwhile, the latest Progress spacecraft, 54, was transported via rail to the launch pad at Baikonur, where it and the Soyuz rocket which it will launch atop were raised into the vertical position. Activities to ready the unmanned cargo vessel for launch took place yesterday, with rollout to the pad taking place in the early morning hours according to a report filed at SpaceFlight Now.
There are more than 5,600 lbs of cargo on this Progress representing a mixture of crew supplies, water, propellant, experiment components and spare parts.
The Soyuz rocket which will launch Progress has four strap on kerosene-fueled rocket boosters which surround the core engine itself. A couple minutes after liftoff and these boosters are jettisoned, falling back to Earth.
As mentioned, Progress 54 is an unmanned version of the crewed Soyuz spacecraft. The Progress spacecraft can also be used to boost the space station’s altitude as well as control its orientation. This is accomplished by firing the thrusters located on the spacecraft.
Each of the Progress M and M1 variants are comprised of a pressurized Cargo Module, a Refueling Module (where propellant and pressurized gases are stored) and an Instrumentation/Propulsion Module (which is where spacecraft’s thrusters and flight systems are housed). The Progress spacecraft is normally docked at either the station’s Zvezda Service Module or Pirs Docking Compartment.
It will take Progress 54 about six hours to reach the space station, once there, through an automated process, the cargo vessel will rendezvous and dock with the space station. To ensure safety, once the Progress 54 spacecraft is approximately 500 feet (about 150 meters) away from the ISS, the Expedition 38 crew, as well as flight controllers on the ground, will monitor its approach and docking.
Progress uses the automated radar-based Kurs system to dock with the ISS. A TORU manual docking system is on board the space station in the Zvezda module which serves as a backup to Kurs. An issue with a similar TORU system caused the Progress M-34 spacecraft to strike the Russian space station Mir.
After Progress 54’s mission is complete, it will be filled with trash the day prior to the launch of Progress 55. The crew on board the station will then close the hatches and commence with undocking procedures. After it has departed the station, Progress 54 will then activate its thrusters which will place it on the path to conduct a fiery, destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up over the Pacific Ocean.
RKK Energia uses the same basic launch vehicle and spacecraft design for both crewed and uncrewed missions (with the versions designed to ferry astronauts to orbit given extra redundancy).
It was recently announced that the International Space Station would have its service life extended four years through 2024 (with further extensions likely). The first elements of what would become the ISS were flown to orbit atop a Russian Proton rocket and the space shuttle Endeavour in 1998 on STS-88.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.