Upgraded Progress MS docks with the ISS

by Chris Bergin

The first of the upgraded Russian Progress resupply vehicles launched atop the Soyuz 2-1A from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday at 08:44 UTC, prior to docking with the International Space Station two days later. The Progress 62 (Progress MS 431) spacecraft has brought 2.5 tons of cargo, including dry cargo, propellant, water and compressed oxygen to the orbital outpost.

Progress MS Launch:

Progress resupply vehicles have been making important logistical runs throughout the lifetime of the International Space Station. Their history ranges back as far as the 1970s.

The Progress has received several major upgrades over its lifetime, with the Progress launching Monday the first of the MS range.

2015-12-20-233312This revamped vehicle now sports an external compartment that enables it to deploy small satellites, improved MMOD (Micrometeoroids and Orbital Debris protection, improved redundancy, communication links and navigation.

It also has a new TV camera which should aid views of the vehicle arriving at the Station (although it looked similar via NASA TV coverage), which also has practical uses for controllers and those on board the Station, especially if manual control is required, should the Kurs NA digital system – also new for the Progress – fails.

Notably, the TORU back up system, used during a failure of KURS, was not available for this docking, due to a system failure on the ISS.

An automated docking failure during the recent arrival of the latest Soyuz (TMA-19M) resulted in Yuri Malenchenko taking control of the spacecraft prior to a successful docking last week.

Unlike Soyuz TMA-19M – and a number of recent Progress vehicles – this latest resupply run wasn’t a docking six hours after launch. Instead, it utilized the usual two-day rendezvous, which will also made way for an unplanned EVA that took place on Monday.

The EVA was required on the Mobile Transporter, re-securing it – after a fault was observed late last week – ahead of the Progress’ arrival and docking.

2015-12-20-202728To make way for the new visitor, a previous Progress was undocked from the Pirs port a few days ago, ahead of ending its life via a fiery destruction over the Pacific Ocean.

Ahead of the next Progress, the Station had four spacecraft docked. This ranges from the two Soyuz TMA’s, such as TMA-18M, docked to the Poisk module and TMA-19M is docked to the Rassvet module, through to another Progress cargo craft docked to the Zvezda service module.

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus space freighter – another recent arrival – is happily berthed to the Unity module.

The latest Progress launch was conducted by the Soyuz 2-1A rocket.

The Soyuz 2-1 rocket is derived from the earlier Soyuz-U and the Soyuz 11A511 before that – and first flew in November 2004.

The rocket was intended as an eventual replacement for all of the Soyuz and Molniya variants then in service.

The Molniya-M was retired from service in 2010 and the Soyuz-2 has already replaced the Soyuz-U for all launches apart from Progress missions to the International Space Station.

2015-05-07-191646A switch to the 2-1A for the Progress M-27M mission ended in failure, as an issue – specific to the marriage of the resupply ship and the Soyuz 2-1A – was cited in the failure investigation notes.

Roscosmos claim a hardware issue caused abnormal separation between the Soyuz carrier rocket and the Progress, resulting in the latter’s eventual doom.

As such, additional interest was placed on Monday’s launch, in the hope that the issues have been ironed out to allow this latest Progress to successfully set sail on its journey to the Station.

Initial information on the ascent of the rocket points to a nominal launch.

The Soyuz-2 has three principal variants; the 2-1a, 2-1b and 2-1v (v being the Romanisation of the third letter of the Cyrillic alphabet).

The first and second stages of the Soyuz-2-1a burn in parallel; the first stage consists of four strap-on boosters powered by RD-107A engines, clustered around the core, or second stage, which is powered by an RD-108A.

(Images via NASA and Roscosmos).

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