Spaceflight Insider

Russian Progress MS spacecraft set to deliver cargo to space station

Soyuz 2.1a rocket with the Progress MS-2 spacecraft being installed at the launch pad.

The Soyuz 2.1a rocket with the Progress MS-2 spacecraft being installed at the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

The second flight of the Russian Progress MS cargo ship design, designated MS-2, is ready to start its two-day journey to the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft is set to be launched atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket at 12:23 p.m. EDT (16:23 GMT) on March 31 from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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 vehicle is expected to dock at 2 p.m. EDT (18:00 GMT) on April 2 with the space station’s Zvezda service module.

When flying 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 scheduled to spend more than six months at the orbiting laboratory before departing in mid-October for its fiery re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

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 spacecraft at the spacecraft assembly and testing facility in Baikonur.

The Progress MS-2 spacecraft is readied for encapsulation at the spacecraft assembly and testing facility in Baikonur. Photo Credit: RKK Energia

This new spacecraft will replace the Progress M-29M cargo vessel that arrived at the orbiting laboratory on October 1, 2015. The older craft will “take out the trash” when it undocks from Zvezda on March 30.

After undocking and leaving the vicinity of the outpost, Progress M-29M will be used for engineering tests before it is deorbited to burn up over the Pacific Ocean on April 8.

March was a busy month for the teams at Baikonur who 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 next day, the teams carried out the designer’s inspection of the spacecraft and performed technological operations for the launch vehicle encapsulation.

On March 27, the spacecraft was transported by rail to the assembly and testing facilities 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 on March 29. The Soyuz booster with the Progress spacecraft on top now stands vertically on the launch pad awaiting liftoff.

Progress-MS, which is manufactured by RKK Energia, 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.

Russian Soyuz 2.1b rocket with Progress MS spacecraft bound for the Interntional Space Station Roscosmos Tsenki photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

The Soyuz 2.1b booster that will send the Progress cargo freighter to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Roscosmos / Tsenki

Moreover, the new version 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 launched 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. The MS-1 cargo craft will remain at the station until July.

Besides MS-2, there are currently ten 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 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).

The rocket 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 a 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.

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

Two Soyuz launches are currently scheduled for 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.


The Soyuz 2.1a, with the encapsulated Progress MS, stands vertically on the launch pad. The launch is scheduled for March 31. Photo Credit: RKK Energia


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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