Russia’s Progress M-20M spacecraft, known in NASA’s numbering scheme as Progress 52 (52P), launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:45 PM GMT on Saturday. The spacecraft then dock to the ISS just six hours later, delivering some vital spacesuit repair tools to the station crew.
Following liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome atop a Soyuz-U booster, Progress M-20M initiated a by now well-practiced four-orbit fast rendezvous with the ISS, conducted over a period of around six hours. Immediately following launch however, all eyes were on the 4AO-BKA Kurs automated rendezvous antenna.
On the most recent Progress launch, Progress M-19M back in April, the 4AO-BKA Kurs antenna failed to deploy immediately after launch, leading to fears that the undeployed antenna could have impacted and damaged the ISS during docking.
Ultimately, the antenna finally deployed when Progress M-19M undocked from the ISS in June, luckily resulting in no damage to the ISS.
For this Progress, the antenna appears to have worked as advertised, although the crew were still challenged by poor quality TV from the resupply ship as it approached the ISS.
However, following a series of expedited rendezvous burns, Progress M-20M docked to the ISS at the Docking Compartment-1 (DC-1) “Pirs” port at 2:26 AM GMT.
The port was vacated two days ago by Progress M-18M, which undocked carrying with it the venerable Treadmill with Vibration Isolation System (TVIS).
TVIS has been a mainstay of ISS operations since the first ever crew, Expedition 1, arrived at the station in November 2000. Ever since, TVIS, located in the Russian Service Module (SM), has been heavily used for exercise by every ISS crew to have lived aboard the outpost.
However, as Progress M-19M in April delivered a new treadmill, called BD-2, to the ISS, M-18M disposed of TVIS when it disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere following undocking.
The day following docking, Progress M-20M’s hatch will be opened and its cargo will begin to be unloaded.
Among the cargo will be some tools to aid in Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) troubleshooting efforts following the leak of water into ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano’s EMU helmet during the cut-short US EVA-23 on July 16.
According to L2 info, “tools and hardware to support the R&R of the fan-pump separator and the condensate water relief valve in addition to a vent flow ring and associated pliers (will be) launching on 52P”.
There was a last-minute rush to launch this hardware on Progress M-20M, and L2 notes state that it was hand-carried to Moscow in order to make it in time.
Progress M-20M future operations:
Progress M-20M was originally scheduled to be the final vehicle to dock to the Pirs module, as it was tasked with disposing of the Pirs module in order to free up the Service Module (SM) Nadir port for the arrival of Russia’s Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) in December.
Under this plan, instead of undocking from Pirs, Pirs itself would instead have been undocked from the ISS on 18 December 2013, with Progress M-20M (still docked to Pirs) performing the necessary departure burns, and, later on, the de-orbit burn for the disposal of Pirs.
According to L2 info, “52P has a modified CG (Center of Gravity) to support the undocking of DC-1”.
This proposal however assumed that MLM would launch in December.
Since then, NASASpaceflight.com sources have reported that the MLM launch has slipped into April 2014, and so now the plan appears to be to undock Progress M-20M from Pirs as normal on 4 February 2014, with Progress M-22M instead being tasked with disposing of Pirs in April 2014.
This plan however has yet to be officially confirmed.
(Images: via NASA, Roscosmos and L2).
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