Progress Successfully Docks Despite Antenna Failure

Progress Successfully Docks Despite Antenna Failure

Russia’s Progress M-19M robotic cargo spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on schedule this morning even though one of the navigation antennas did not deploy.

Russian ground controllers sent a software patch to tell the spacecraft’s automated KURS docking system to ignore the lack of data that ordinarily would be provided by the ASF2 antenna.  It provides data on relative roll of the spacecraft when it is within 20 meters of the ISS.

The ISS crew was ready to use the manual TORU docking system if KURS failed, but it was not needed.  After Progress soft-docked with the ISS, ground controllers very slowly withdrew the docking probe, a process that enables the closing of latches that secure the spacecraft to the ISS — a hard dock.  During that process, ground controllers continually asked the ISS crew if they heard anything unusual that would indicate that the undeployed antenna was interfering with the docking mechanism.   The crew assured them that nothing sounded awry, but offered to go out on a spacewalk to visually inspect the area.  In the end, however, all was well.

NASA calls this Progress 51 because this is the 51st Progress cargo spacecraft to dock with the ISS.   The Progress program dates back to 1978, however, and there were many, many Progress flights to Soviet space stations before the ISS was built.  The Soviet Union launched six successful Salyut space stations beginning in 1971 followed by the modular Mir space station, which operated from 1986-2001.

The Progress spacecraft itself has been upgraded several times over the decades.   This is the 19th flight of the current version, hence its Russian designation of Progress M-19M.

Although Progress dockings have long since become routine, there are always risks.  A Progress spacecraft collided with the Mir space station in 1997 during a manual docking procedure.  It punctured one of Mir’s modules, creating an emergency situation when the space station began to depressurize.  Quick work by the Mir crew saved the space station, although that module (Spektr) was unusable for the remainder of Mir’s lifetime.  The accident occurred during a period of U.S.-Russian space cooperation where Russians flew on the U.S. space shuttle and American astronauts were included in Mir crews.  NASA astronaut Michael Foale was aboard Mir at the time.  A brief and compelling account of the accident is available on NASA’s history office website with links to additional material.

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