The Russian Progress resupply vehicle that launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) two days later, despite some concerns about M-19M/51P’s KURS antenna – which failed to deploy on orbit.
As per usual, an old Progress – in this case, M-17M (49P) – cleared the way for the new Progress to arrive at the ISS, by departing the aft port of the Zveda Service Module on the Russian segment on April 15.
The Progress still provided a useful role ahead of its re-entry and destruction above the Pacific Ocean, carrying out a number of “radar burns” to help Russian ground stations calibrate their systems.
The resupply ship is loaded with almost three tons of food, fuel, supplies and experiment hardware for the six crew members aboard the orbital laboratory. The cargo also includes a new Russian treadmill, that will replace the old TVIS treadmill.
This mission used the traditional two day rendezvous profile to make its way to the ISS.
Originally, this Progress was set to repeat the “same day” rendezvous that was successfully demonstrated on the Progress M-16M/48P mission in August 2012, again with Progress M-17M/49P in October 2012, and more recently with Progress M-18M/50P.
However, the April 22 launch was delayed due to it conflicting with the recent Soyuz 2-1A mission, that carried an array of creatures into space aboard the Russian biological-research capsule, BION-M.
The new ‘fast rendezvous’ approach was detailed in a Russian document describing the new rendezvous profile, which was seen by NASASpaceflight.com.
The purpose of the maneuver is to shorten the time it takes between launches and dockings of Russian vehicles to the ISS, which usually stands at about 50 hours.
While the primary driver for this capability is to cut down on the amount of time that crews must spend inside the cramped Soyuz spacecraft between launch and docking, the maneuver was first being tested out with a few Progress vehicles in order to prove the concept, and demonstrate that it can be performed safely and successfully.
Progress vehicles can also benefit from the faster rendezvous however, as it allows time-critical biological payloads to reach the ISS very soon after launch, as other vehicles, such as Japan’s HTV and Europe’s ATV, can take up to a week to reach the ISS following launch.
For this Progress mission, Russian controllers were soon working on an issue relating to the KURS antenna, which did not deploy as planned.
“51P Progress KURS Antenna Not Deployed: KURS-A Antenna did not deploy after separation. In current configuration it interferes with docking,” cited the opening note on L2’s ISS rolling update section.
“It may be possible to soft dock and retract probe in current configuration, but cannot drive the hooks.”
However, Russian officials – speaking to Interfax – noted that even if they fail to deploy the antenna, Progress will still be able to make it to 200 meter from the ISS, ahead of an automatic docking.
A software patch was also sent up from Russian controllers to aid the KURS approach, with the manual TORU system on standby, in case of a KURS failure.
As Progress approached the ISS, TV cameras on the Station provided the first view of the antenna, which appeared to be restricted by the docking collar.
With NASA teams also analyzing the situation from the Johnson Space Center (JSC) ahead of its arrival at the orbital outpost, the main area of concern related to the potential for damage on the ISS, as the Progress docked with the antenna out of its nominal configuration.
The expansive notes show a level of caution from the NASA teams, such as the potential for contact between the off-nominal KURS hardware and an antenna on the ISS in the location of the docking port – to the point an EVA would be required to repair it after Progress departs.
“KURS antenna could collide with the high gain antenna (ОНА) pin-locking assembly and the (4АО-ВКА) antenna on the SM. This could result in damage to the (4АО-ВКА) antenna,” added a specific L2 section on the Progress M-19M situation.
“External inspection of the [4АО-ВКА] antenna will also be required when the Progress vehicle undocks. If the test is failed or there are comments during the external inspection, EVA will be required to repair or replace the [4АО-ВКА] antenna.
“When planning replacement, it should be taken into consideration that the structural, mechanical, and electrical interfaces of the [4АО-ВКА] antenna are not designed for operations during EVA.”
Docking of the Progress was almost right on schedule at 12:25 UTC on Friday, and appeared to go to plan, with the ISS crew noting they did not hear any strange noises, before joking they could head out on an EVA in an hour to have a look. Following soft dock, the docking probe was retracted, resulting in hard dock 10 minutes later.
Progress M-19M joined three other Russian vehicles currently residing at the orbital outpost, namely the Progress M-18M/50P – mated to Pirs, and two Soyuz spacecraft, 07M – docked to the Rassvet module, and 08M – docked to the Poisk module.
Progress M-18M/50P will itself be undocked from the ISS on July 21, ahead of the arrival of Progress M-20M/52P.
The Progress’ booster, the Soyuz-U, was launched from the PU-5 LC1 ‘Gagarinskiy Start’ (17P32-5) launch complex at the famous Cosmodrome.
The Soyuz-U was developed as a standardized launch system, to replace the Voskhod and Soyuz and provide commonality with the Molniya-M. It first flew in May 1973, and in 1976 the original Soyuz, Soyuz-M and Voskhod were all retired, with subsequent launches of their payloads being conducted by Soyuz-U rockets.
The Soyuz-U2 configuration, which was optimized to use synthetic propellant allowing it to carry more payload, was introduced in 1982, and used for around 90 launches before being retired in 1995.
With around 750 flights, the Soyuz-U is the most-flown orbital launch system ever developed. It remains in service, and in the last few years it has mostly been used to launch Progress missions to the International Space Station, as well as occasional military payloads. Recent launches have used the Soyuz-U PVB version, which features additional fireproofing.
(Images: via NASA, Roscosmos and L2).
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