Soyuz 2-1A caused Progress M-27M failure and ISS schedule changes

by Chris Bergin

The failure of the Progress M-27M cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS) was caused by issues with the Soyuz 2-1A third stage, Roscosmos announced on Tuesday. As expected, the resulting fallout of the failure has resulted in schedule changes on the Station’s arrivals and departures board, with the main impact felt by three crewmembers who will get to enjoy at least another month on the orbital outpost.

Progress M-27M:

The Russian resupply ship Progress M-27M was set to deliver an array of cargo to the six member crew of the ISS via a six hour launch-to-docking mission profile.

However, the vehicle was doomed just minutes into its launch, as the the Soyuz 2-1A rocket that lofted Progress suffered a major malfunction during third stage flight.

The exact nature of the problem is yet to be revealed, with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, still working through an investigation process.

In the latest media release, Roscosmos confirmed the problem was with the third stage, which resulted in the launch profile entering the wrong orbital parameters, before a bad separation between the stage and the Progress resulted in the spacecraft spinning out of control.

“The preliminary conclusion confirmed an abnormal separation, including two events associated with depressurization of the oxidizer and fuel tanks on the third stage,” noted the Agency.

The stricken ship was observed as spinning throughout its short lifetime on orbit, before finally re-entering over the Pacific Ocean via an uncontrolled destructive re-entry.

(Animation created by Artyom Zharov, via L2’s dump of Progress M-27M images)

A change to the schedule was already a certainty as of last week. However, the ISS partners had to meet to ratify the changes, with further discussions set to take place as the Russians complete their failure investigation and more importantly any impacts to future launches.

Roscosmos expects to provide an update about the Progress investigation on Friday, May 22.

2015-05-12-233052The meeting between the international partners took place on Tuesday, resulting in an agreement to adjust the schedule after hearing Roscosmos’s preliminary findings on the loss of the cargo craft.

NASA noted that the exact dates have not yet been established, but will be announced in the coming weeks.

The initial information – as reported by last week – noted the evaluations in Russia proposed delaying the departure of Terry Virts of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency until June 11-12 – providing them with another month on the Station.

2015-05-07-191646Roscosmos were also evaluating the potential to advance the Progress M-28M launch to the beginning of July.

This launch is not believed to be impacted by investigation into Progress M-27M’s Soyuz 2-1A rocket, as the next Progress is set to ride on the Soyuz-U carrier.

Also noted in the evaluations was the potential to delay the Soyuz TMA-17M launch – lofting Oleg Kononenko of Russia, Kimiya Yui of JAXA and Kjell Lindgren of NASA – until at least the middle of July.

These changes have now been confirmed by NASA, albeit still subject to change.

2015-05-12-232734“The return to Earth for Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov now is targeted for early June. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka will remain aboard the station to begin Expedition 44,” NASA confirmed on Tuesday.

“The next Russian cargo craft, Progress 60, will launch in early July to deliver several tons of food, fuel and supplies.

“The Soyuz spacecraft carrying Expedition 44’s Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will launch in late July from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.”

Further impacts are expected, as ISS managers juggle the busy Visiting Vehicle schedule. That could include next month’s arrival of the SpaceX Dragon involved with the CRS-7 mission.

“The date of SpaceX’s seventh resupply flight under its commercial resupply services contract with NASA still is under review but remains targeted for no earlier than June 19,” added NASA in a cautionary note reflecting the ongoing evaluations.

“Additional 2015 space station-related launch dates also are under review.”

The space station has sufficient supplies to support crews until the fall of 2015.

However, the ISS’ consumables status is based on both the recent arrival of the CRS-6 Dragon and – it is understood – the expected success of the CRS-7 Dragon.

Last year’s loss of the Cygnus spacecraft – and the retirement of Europe’s ATV – has placed extra considerations on the consumable levels for the Station, based on the current six member crew.

(Images: via L2, Roscosmos, and NASA).

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