Cause of Progress M-27M Failure Remains Elusive

Cause of Progress M-27M Failure Remains Elusive

Russian space experts continue to try to determine exactly what went wrong when Progress M-27M and its Soyuz 2.1a rocket separated on April 28.  Telemetry data reportedly are not enough to solve the mystery.

Russia’s official Tass news agency quotes an unnamed Russian space industry source as saying that “the telemetry data are not enough” and members of the State Commission investigating the incident are going to the companies that manufactured various components to inspect others from the same batches to try and recreate whatever went wrong.

Roscosmos and NASA indicated earlier this week that the investigation would finish by May 22, but Tass reported today that may slip.  “True, some findings may be presented by May 22,” it quotes the industry source, but “specialists will keep working at individual enterprises after that date.”

Progress M-27M was launched on April 28, but something went wrong when it separated from the third stage of its Soyuz launch vehicle that left both of them in incorrect orbits and the robotic cargo spacecraft spinning.   Control of the spacecraft was lost and it reentered over the Pacific Ocean on May 7 Eastern Standard Time (May 8 Moscow Time).  Initial speculation that the third stage exploded was ruled out in a preliminary report from the State Commission earlier this week. Roscosmos said on May 12  that determining the cause would require in depth computational and theoretical studies as well as modeling.

Russia, NASA and the other International Space Station (ISS) partners agreed on Tuesday to a revised schedule of crew and cargo flights to and from the ISS.  The return of Soyuz TMA-15M with three ISS crew members, planned for May 13, will wait until early June and the launch of their replacements was delayed from May 26 to July 24.   A different version of the Soyuz rocket is used for transporting crews to the ISS. 

The revised schedule calls for accelerating the next launch of a Progress cargo mission from August 6 to early July.   Progress M-27M was the second of four planned Progress launches to the ISS this year.  It was carrying three tons of food, fuel and other cargo.  NASA says that the loss of the spacecraft is not affecting U.S. operations on ISS, but Roscosmos has not indicated whether its crew activities are impacted.  

In addition to Russia’s Progress, ISS is resupplied by two U.S. commercial cargo vehicles — SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus — and Japan’s HTV.  A Dragon is currently attached to ISS and three more launches are scheduled this year.  An HTV launch is planned for August and a Cygnus is expected by the end of the year.   NASA said on Tuesday, however, that the schedule of launches for the rest of the year remains under review.

NASA refers to Progress M-27M as Progress 59 because it is the 59th Progress to service the ISS, but many more Progress missions have been conducted since the first was launched in 1977.  Progress cargo ships supported the Soviet/Russian space stations Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir before ISS.

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