The Russian Progress M-28M cargo ship has successfully arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) following its launch on a Soyuz-U rocket. The mission returned the Progress to flight following a previous failure that exacerbated the Station’s logistical constraints, further impacted by the recent CRS-7 failure.
Progress M-28M – Its Importance:
This mission is likely to be classed as the most important in the Progress’ long career.
Although ISS managers have been quick to play down concerns relating to the Station’s supply levels – mainly thanks to a large amount of contingency planning – there is little doubt this Russian resupply vehicle needed to enjoy a smooth delivery of its cargo to avoid undesirable conversations into the size of crew compliment for near-term expeditions.
The concerns are specific to an unprecedented number of Loss Of Missions (LOM) events.
The problems began with the loss of the CRS-3/OrB-3 Cygnus spacecraft seconds into its launch.
The spacecraft was launched atop the Antares rocket, which failed shortly after departing its Wallops pad late last year for reasons that are still under investigation after an initial root cause required re-evaluation due to conflicting findings.
The Cygnus – at no fault for the failure – was carrying 2,215 kilograms (4,883 lb) of cargo, which included 727 kilograms (1600 lb) of scientific equipment and 748 kilograms (1650 lb) of food and supplies for the crew.
Cygnus is expected to return to flight later this year atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, prior to returning to an improved version of the Antares launch vehicle next year.
The loss of Cygnus highlighted the smart move of having redundancy within the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, as the other CRS supplier – SpaceX – continued to fly successful missions with its Dragon spacecraft.
Some additional – yet planned – strain was added when the ATV completed her final ISS run in February, removing the vehicle as a resupply option. However, it was the recent loss of the Progress M-27M that provided a real impact.
The Progress M-27M was set to deliver an array of cargo to then-six member crew of the ISS via a six hour launch-to-docking mission profile back in May.
However, the vehicle was doomed just minutes into its launch, as the Soyuz 2-1A rocket that lofted Progress suffered a major malfunction during third stage flight.
(Animation created by Artyom Zharov, via L2’s dump of Progress M-27M images)
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.
Progress M-27M – and its supplies – suffered from a destructive re-entry days later.
SpaceX had only recently completed its successful CRS-6/SpX-6 mission when it was tasked with another supply run to the Station.
The CRS-7/SpX-7 mission was tasked with delivering 2,477 kilograms (6,461 lb) of cargo, including provisions, care packages and food for the crew, hardware for the station’s healthcare, life support, electrical and computer systems, 529 kilograms (1,166 lb) of scientific hardware for NASA, ESA and JAXA and hardware for performing EVAs.
Dragon was lost 139 seconds into first stage flight when her Falcon 9 rocket suffered a serious failure – currently believed to be related to a pressurization issue in the second stage’s LOX tank – resulting in vehicle break-up.
An investigation into the failure has now begun, with the goal of finding the specific root cause, to be followed by corrective action and ultimately returning the launch vehicle to flight.
Despite the loss of all three vehicles, the ISS has several months of key provisions available to its crew.
ISS managers have noted that a successful arrival of a Progress vehicle will add around one month to the supply levels of vital logistics such as water and food.
This latest Progress rode to orbit on the Soyuz-U carrier rocket from the PU-5 LC1 ‘Gagarinskiy Start’ (17P32-5) launch complex at the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The switch back to the Soyuz-U removed the main concern relating to the Progress M-27M loss, given that it has since been noted the failure was specific to the Soyuz 2-1A.
The mission also saw a return to the traditional rendezvous timeline after it became impossible for Progress M-28M to rendezvous with ISS using a four-orbit profile without changing the launch date.
This is due to ballistic reasons, given the ISS could not provide a necessary phase angle between ISS and Progress during this current period.
During free flight, the vehicle performed two burns of the spacecraft propulsion system to establish a phasing orbit.
According to the calculations done by the trajectory specialists, the docking of the logistics vehicle with the Pirs docking compartment (DC) of the ISS was automatically performed during the 34th orbit.
As such, the Progress arrived at the Pirs docking compartment in the early hours of Sunday, bringing with it more than three tons of food, fuel and supplies.
In total, the Progress delivered 1,940 lbs propellant, 106 lbs oxygen, 926 lbs water and 3,133 lbs parts, supplies and experiment hardware.
The vehicle was greeted by Commander Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly. It is also understood this rendezvous will be recorded for an IMAX film.
The ISS will also gain a supply boost from the next Japanese HTV vehicle. HTV-5 is due for launch on August 16, when it is scheduled to depart from the Tanegashima Space Center.
Its four-day trip to the station will conclude when it’s grappled and berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node.
(Images: via L2, SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Roscosmos, and NASA).
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