Russian Progress Cargo Craft Safely Enroute to ISS – UPDATE

Russian Progress Cargo Craft Safely Enroute to ISS – UPDATE

UPDATE, JULY 5, 2015:   Progress M-28M successfully docked with the ISS this morning.

ORIGINAL STORY, JULY 3, 2015: Russia’s Progress M-28M robotic cargo spacecraft lifted off on time at 12:55:48 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) this morning (July 3) and is successfully on its way to the International Space Station (ISS).  The successful launch is good news, though with two cargo launch failures in the past 8 months, many are waiting for docking on Sunday before breathing a sign of relief.

The last Progress launch, Progress M-27M on April 28, failed due to a “design peculiarity” that affected third stage separation between the Soyuz rocket and the Progress spacecraft.  The spacecraft reached orbit, but the wrong orbit, and was spinning. It reentered over the Pacific Ocean on May 7.

That was just over two months ago, so this is a quick return-to-flight.  The Russians used a different version of the Soyuz rocket today, a Soyuz-U instead of a Soyuz 2.1a. 

The Progress M-27M failure was the middle of three failed cargo flights to the ISS over 8 months.  First was the October 28, 2014 failure of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s (now Orbital ATK) Orb-3 launch (Antares/Cygnus), then Progress M-27M (Soyuz/Progress), and most recently the SpaceX CRS-7 failure (Falcon 9/Dragon) on Sunday, June 28.  

There were four successful cargo missions in between — Progress M-25M on October 29, 2014; SpaceX CRS-5 on January 10, 2015; Progress M-26M on February 17, 2015; and SpaceX CRS-6 on April 14 — but the cadence of missions demonstrates the need for constant resupply of the crew.  Another cargo mission, Japan’s HTV-5, is scheduled for August 16 EDT.

Progress M-28M is taking about 3 tons of supplies to the crew, including fuel needed to periodically boost the ISS orbit, oxygen, water, food and other items.  The spacecraft reached orbit and deployed its solar panels and navigation antenna about 9 minutes after liftoff.  It is on a 34-orbit rendezvous trajectory with docking set for 3:13 am EDT on Sunday morning, July 5.  NASA TV coverage of docking will begin at 2:30 am EDT.  NASA refers to this as Progress 60 or 60P because it is the 60th Progress launched to the ISS.  Progress has been in use since 1977, supporting the Soviet/Russian space stations Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir before ISS.

Three men are aboard the ISS right now:  NASA’s Scott Kelly and Russia’s Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko.  Usually there are six people on board, but they are in the middle of a crew changeover, waiting for three colleagues to arrive later this month.

There are several Soyuz rocket variants and the one used for launching crews is the Soyuz FG.   The next crew launch, Soyuz TMA-17M, is scheduled for 5:02 pm July 22 EDT, although NASA apparently wants more details about the Progress M-27M failure before signing off.  NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, indicated on Sunday at a press conference following the SpaceX failure that NASA wants to “fully understand” the April 28 Progress incident and for the Flight Readiness Review to take place before committing to the TMA-17M launch date.  The crew includes Kjell Lindgren from NASA, Kimiya Yui from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and Oleg Kononenko from Roscosmos.

The successful launch this morning is one step towards restoring confidence in the Russian systems.   Russia is the only ISS partner capable of launching people to the space station.  The United States has not been able to launch crews since it discontinued the space shuttle program in 2011.  It hopes to have two commercial crew systems in place by 2017 — the crew version of SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100.  How Sunday’s failure of the cargo version of Dragon will affect SpaceX’s commercial crew schedule will not be known until it determines and fixes the problem.


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