Russia’s Progress M-12M launches toward ISS – fails to achieve orbit

The Russian Progress M-12M spacecraft, also known by its US designation of 44P, blasted off toward the International Space Station (ISS) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today (Wednesday 24th August) at around 1:00 PM GMT, which was 7:00 PM Baikonur time. Unfortunately for the ISS, around 325 seconds into the flight, the third stage of the Russian Soyuz-U rocket prematurely shut down, leaving Progress M-12M stranded on a sub-orbital trajectory.

Progress Failure:

Reports state that Progress M-12M, still attached to the third stage, re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia shortly after launch.

Progress M-12M – carrying three tons of supplies including food, fuel, and other miscellaneous items – was the first spacecraft to launch to the ISS in the post-Shuttle era, an era where regular ISS resupply flights will be extremely important to the continued operation of the station. Needless to say, the launch failure sets the post-Shuttle ISS resupply plan off to a bad start.

The failure - the first ever for a Progress since its introduction in 1978 - could not have come at a worse time for the ISS, with the Space Shuttle recently retired, commercial resupply flights not yet online, and a potential delay of the HTV-3 and ATV-3 missions into mid-2012, according to L2 sources.

The ISS now has ample room to accommodate supplies, due to the addition of the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), now stocked full of supplies from the recent STS-135 mission, which delivered one year’s worth of supplies to the ISS, which sources say is only sufficient to sustain the station crew when supplemented with scheduled Progress deliveries.

It is not yet known how the failure of Progress M-12M will affect ISS logistics, but resupplies will surely be impacted, as will the ISS reboost plan, since three reboosts were planned using Progress M-12M – the first on 31st August, the second on 14th September, and the third on 19th October. The ISS Service Module (SM) “Zvezda” has two engines capable of performing ISS reboosts.

The SM Aft port is currently empty, following the undocking of Progress M-11M/43P yesterday (Tuesday 23rd August). It is standard practice to undock the outgoing Progress before launching a new Progress to the station, since this protects the new Progress from having to “loiter” on-orbit until the outgoing Progress can successfully depart the station in the event of an undocking problem.

 Progress M-11M won’t be de-orbited until 1st September however – so it is currently unknown whether Progress M-11M could re-dock to the ISS to provide propulsion support for reboosts.

The next planned Progress launch is Progress M-13M/45P on 28th October, which will dock to the Docking Compartment-1 (DC-1) “Pirs” Nadir port, that will have been vacated the day prior by Progress M-10M/42P. Progress M-12M was planned to remain docked to the ISS for just over six months, whereupon it would have undocked from the ISS on 5th March 2012.

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The failure also comes at a bad time for the Russian space establishment, due to last week’s failure of a Proton-M rocket carrying the Express-AM4 satellite. That failure – attributed to a problem in the guidance system of the Breeze-M upper stage – does not appear to be related to the Progress M-12M launch failure. It is not yet known whether the Progress M-12M launch failure will affect Soyuz-FG rockets, used to launch crews to the ISS.

The failure of the robotic Progress M-12M cargo freighter came during an already busy period of robotics and stowage activity at the station, with this week’s successful initial on-orbit power-up of Robonaut 2 (R2), with initial R2 first motion operations planned for next week.

Also beginning next week will be a Removal & Replacement (R&R) of a P1 Truss Remote Power Control Module (RPCM) by the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (SPDM) “Dextre” – which will be covered in a separate article on

As noted in an Increment 28 status presentation (L2), the on-orbit crew will ingress and begin filling Pressurised Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2) – to which the Space Shuttles used to dock – with supplies this week, as it takes on its new role of a storage closet in the post-Shuttle era.

Also of note was the fact that for the Progress M-11M undocking, ground controllers swapped ISS S-Band communications to String 2, after seeing “multiple instances of a ‘ratty’ forward link on String 1 while the antenna has been pointing into clear skies”, according to an Increment 28 Status presentation (L2).

“Increment 28/29 continues to assess SASA R&R EVA (S-Band Antenna Sub-Assembly Removal & Replacement Extravehicular Activity) in order to be prepared in the event of a failure”, continued the presentation. Unscheduled Increment EVAs to R&R failed ISS equipment are generally very rare, such as last August’s series of three EVAs to R&R a failed Pump Module (PM) – although such EVAs are likely to become more common now in the post-Shuttle era.

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