Russia’s Progress M-14M/46P has undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) and made way for the Progress M-15M/47P, which was successfully launched into orbit atop of a Soyuz-U launch vehicle on Friday. The departed resupply ship will remain on orbit until the end of the month, prior to ending its life via a destructive re-entry.
Progress M-15M Launch:
The Soyuz-U is the most-flown orbital launch system ever developed, having made around 750 flights to date, plus around 90 more in the Soyuz-U2 configuration optimised to use synthetic propellant.
The Soyuz, which first flew in 1966, was a modification of the Voskhod rocket featuring an upgraded and lighter telemetry system, and more fuel efficient engines. It was initially used to launch only Soyuz spacecraft; however with the introduction of the Soyuz-U in 1973 it began to launch other satellites as well.
Following its liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan – which was on schedule at 12:50 GMT on Friday – the Progress M-15M spacecraft will conduct on orbit operations, beginning with the deployment of its solar arrays.
Following the two days of flight required to catch up with the orbital outpost, Progress M-13M will rendezvous with and dock to the ISS at the DC1 port on Sunday at around 14:40 GMT.
All the ISS partners – not least the Russians – were hoping for an additional success with the mission, following the August 24, 2011 liftoff of the Soyuz-U booster carrying the Progress M-12M/44P resupply spacecraft to the ISS.
That mission ended in failure when the booster’s third stage unexpectedly shut down shortly after ignition, causing the third stage with attached Progress spacecraft to fall back to Earth and disintegrate in the atmosphere.
This latest Progress mission did enjoy a nominal launch phase.
In preparation for Progress M-15M’s docking, crewmembers on the ISS worked through the standard three hour refresher training for the TORU teleoperator system, which provides a manual backup mode to the Progress’ KURS automated rendezvous radar system.
Nominal Progress dockings are automated. However, the ISS crew have the capability to take over manual control in the event of a KURS failure.
“The drill included procedure review, rendezvous, docking data and rendezvous math modeling data review, fly-around, final approach, docking and off-nominal situations (e.g., video or comm loss). Three different flight conditions were simulated on the RSK1 laptop,” noted ISS Status notes.
“During spacecraft approach, TORU is in “hot standby” mode. TORU is monitored in real time from Russian Ground Sites and via Ku-band from Houston, but its control cannot be taken over from the ground.”
Progress M-14M Departure:
Progress M-14M undocked at 11:04am GMT on Thursday from the DC1 Port – clearing the way for M-15M’s arrival.
Unlike most Progress departures, this vehicle will spend additional time on orbit in order to carry out Radar-Progress experiments, sounding the ionospheric environment as modified by thruster firings. The Russian ship will then deorbit itself on April 28 at around 13:46 GMT
This Progress – which is also called 46P under its US designation – launched and docked with the ISS back in January, providing the standard load of propellants, oxygen, spare parts, experiments, water, food, clothing, and other crew provisions to the orbiting Expedition 30 crew.
Progress M-16M/48P, Progress M-17M/49P and Progress M-18M/50P are also set to launch to the ISS this year on 25th July, 23rd October and 26th December, respectively, for a total of five Progress launches in 2012.
Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-3 (ATV-3), was the most recent arrival at the ISS, following its successful launch on an Ariane 5 launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Centre, in Kourou, French Guiana.
(Animation created from 70 hi res ATV-3 docking images acquired by L2 – LINK).
Following the arrival of Progress M-15M, a major milestone for both US domestic space flight and ISS logistics supply will take place via the C2+ mission for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.
The Dragon is on a demonstration flight, and there are no assurances it will pass the numerous test objectives to be allowed to be berthed to the ISS via the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) – or “big arm“.
However, should the mission progress to that point, Dragon will be playing its own small part in ISS logistical resupply, with a small manifest of items weighing in at 660kg.
Unlike the Progress and ATV, Dragon will also be tasked with returning 620kg of downmass, including EMU equipment and Orbital Replacement Unit (ORU) hardware. A capability all-but lost after the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet last year.
An outline article on Dragon’s upmass and downmass manifest – available on L2 (Link) – will be published on Friday.
(Images via NASA, Roscosmos, CSA and L2)