Progress M-23M docks with ISS following fast track launch

by Chris Bergin

Just two months after the previous resupply run, another Russian Progress spacecraft launched on a fast-rendezvous mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday. Progress M-23M (P55) was lofted uphill via a Soyuz-U launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:26 am EDT, ahead of docking that occurred just six hours later.

Progress Mission:

As is usually the case before a new Progress arrival, a previous Progress had to bid farewell to the ISS.

Progress M-22M (P54) ended its docked mission on the orbital outpost on Monday. Filled with Station trash, the little spacecraft will orbit Earth for 11 days, conducting engineering tests, before finally deorbiting over the Pacific Ocean for a fiery disposal.

“54 Progress (54P) Undocking: The International Space Station (ISS) performed an Optimized Propellant Maneuver (OPM) from +XVV to –XVV.  54P then successfully undocked from the Docking Compartment 1 port,” outlined L2 ISS Status information. “The ISS will remain in –XVV until after 55P docking on Wednesday April 9.

With the Pirs docking compartment now vacated, the stage was set for the arrival of Progress M-23M, which was lofted into orbit by the Soyuz U carrier rocket.

The plan for a fast rendezvous, requiring just six hours of transit time to arrival at the ISS, was successful. This success came one launch after the error that reverted the recent crewed Soyuz TMA-12M mission from a fast rendezvous into the previously used two day transit time.

Following the launch of the reliable Soyuz FG rocket – along with a successful orbital insertion shortly thereafter – the Soyuz TMA-12M was immediately tasked with performing the first two engine burns on its first orbit of the Earth, which were pre-programmed into the Soyuz’s on-board computer prior to launch.

Soyuz TMA dockingOn the second orbit – and as will be employed during the Progress mission – actual orbital parameters were uplinked from a Russian Ground Site (RGS), which allows for a further eight rendezvous burns to be performed over the next five hours of flight.

However, there was problem during the “Dv3” burn, which resulted in mission controllers opting to move to a new flight profile that allowed for Soyuz to arrive in previously used two day rendezvous profile.

Z517The 24 second DV3 burn did not occur due to an attitude problem with the Soyuz, an error of just one degree. Related to an over-performance of the Soyuz FG rocket – resulting in Soyuz being in a higher orbit that planned, the TMA-12M’s flight computer provided an automated “no burn” command, due to the incorrect attitude of the vehicle.

Controllers opted to move to the back up plan of a two day rendezvous, with all burns relating to this flight profile conducted without issue. The Soyuz – with its three member crew – successfully docked with the MRM-2 port two days later.

The latest Progress rode to orbit on the Soyuz-U carrier rocket launching from the PU-5 LC1 ‘Gagarinskiy Start’ (17P32-5) launch complex at the famous Cosmodrome.

Soyuz-U with Progress M-19MThe 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.

Z67It remains in service, and in the last few years it has mostly been used to launch Progress missions, as well as occasional military payloads.

The cargo ship carried nearly three tons of food, fuel and supplies to the Station, which is part of the vital run of supplies required by the ISS, especially during this post-Shuttle era.

Progress’ arrival will be followed by one of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) vehicles, with SpaceX pressing ahead towards their April 14 launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 with the Dragon spacecraft.

Dragon at the ISS, via huge unreleased L2 photo collectionThe CRS-3/SpX-3 mission has been delayed several times – not always the fault of SpaceX – with the latest delay relating to a fire at an Eastern Range Radar Asset. Engineers successfully checked out the alternative asset that will be used for both the SpaceX launch and Thursday’s Atlas V launch with the NROL-67 spacecraft.

L2 information notes the removal of the damaged Radar 19.39 at “Building N6-1120”, reverting to the use of Radar 1.16, located near Cape Canaveral’s Skid Strip.

Next month, yet another resupply vehicle will set sail for the ISS, namely Orbital’s CRS-2 Cygnus spacecraft, which will be launched from the Wallops facility via an Antares rocket.

Despite the recent schedule delays to the SpX-3 mission, Orbital have not yet altered their May 6 launch date target for the Antares launch.

(Images: via Roscosmos, NASA and L2’s Special Sections, which includes over 1,000 unreleased hi res images from Dragon’s three flights to the ISS.)

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