Progress MS-2/63P resupply mission arrives at the ISS

by Chris Gebhardt

Russia’s Progress MS-2 cargo vehicle has successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday. This mission is the first of three Russian resupply efforts to the Space Station this year and the second immediate resupply mission to the ISS in the last nine days following the Orbital ATK Cygnus launch.

Progress MS-2/63P:

The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) launched the Progress MS-2/63P resupply mission to the International Space Station on Thursday at 12:23:58 EDT (16:23:58 UTC) ahead of a two day trip to the orbital outpost.

Known to Roscosmos as Progress MS-2 and to NASA as Progress 63 (63P), the Progress MS-2 mission is on a logistics and resupply run to the ISS.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.04.39Progress MS-2 is the second in a series of new Progress vehicles that is debuting new software and communications equipment and configurations that will become standard on not just future Progress missions but future human Soyuz flights to the Station as well.

In all, Progress MS-2/63P was the 154th Progress mission since the program began in 1978 for resupply efforts of the Salyut 6 space station and the 65th Progress mission to the ISS, counting the two Progress flights that were not designated as resupply missions because they delivered module elements to the Station.

While 64 Progress missions have launched to the ISS to date, Progress 63 was the 63rd attempt to successfully reach the Station, following the Progress 44 launch failure in August 2011 and the Progress 59 launch mishap in April 2015.

Launch and rendezvous:

As with the previous Progress mission, Roscosmos used the upgraded version of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket to place Progress MS-2/63P into orbit.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.05.17The rocket and its cargo underwent final integration near the launch site on 28 March and were officially declared ready for launch by the Technical Management and the State Commission at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the same day.

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket was then transported to site No. 31 and erected vertically on the pad on 29 March.

Immediately following liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (located at latitude 45.99 degrees N) at 20:23:58 local time (16:23:58 UTC), the Soyuz vehicle performed a pitch maneuver to place it on an East-Northeast trajectory out of Baikonur and onto the correct azimuth to achieve a 51.6 degree inclination orbit.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.11.17This pitch maneuver allowed the Soyuz vehicle to perform all of its powered launch activities over Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation and avoid launch overflight of Mongolia and the People’s Republic of China.

This type of flight plan was crucial to determining the orbital inclination of the International Space Station before construction of the orbital lab began as Russia did not wish to have portions of ISS launch trajectories fly over another country.

The main consideration here was not so much the objection of Mongolia and China but a desire by the Russian Federation to find a launch trajectory that – in the event of a launch mishap – would allow failed portions of a rocket to land in the Russian Federation and not a foreign country.

As demonstrated with the August 2011 failed launch of the Progress 44 mission – which resulted in the vehicle returning to the ground in the Altai Republic region of the Russian Federation (which borders Mongolia and China), this type of consideration is an important aspect of launch operations for Roscosmos.

This is also a consideration for NASA and its commercial partners, who launch their missions to the Space Station northeast from Cape Canaveral to avoid overflight of The Bahamas and southeast from Virginia to avoid continental U.S. land overflight.

For Progress MS-2/63P, immediately following its 9-minute ride to orbit, the vehicle separated from its three-stage Soyuz launch vehicle and then deployed its solar arrays and began a two-day orbital rendezvous trajectory with the ISS.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.30.37For this mission, the ability to fly Progress on a direct six-hour fast track profile to the Space Station was deliberately removed from consideration to allow Russian controllers time to test new software and communications equipment for the new MS Progress vehicle configuration.

As such, this two-day rendezvous profile resulted in Progress 63 approaching and conducting an automated docking to the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module at 17:58 UTC (13:58 EDT) on 2 April.

After docking, the Station crew will open hatches between the ISS and the Progress vehicle and begin the exchange of equipment, supplies, food, water, and air.

Progress MS-2/63P is then expected to remain docked to the ISS until mid-October, at which point it will undock and perform a destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Progress M-29M/61P – undocking and reentry for the last Progress-M:

Prior to the launch of Progress 63, however, the Progress M-29M/61P vehicle was automatically undocked from the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module on 30 March.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.33.44Progress M-29M is the last of the Progress-M series of vehicles, which made their initial debut in 1989 as an upgraded version of the Progress vehicle.

The Progress-M series itself underwent upgrades and enhancements in 2008 under the Progress M-01M series of spacecraft.

With the switch to the newly enhanced Progress-MS series of vehicles, the Progress-M series will come to an end early next month with the destructive reentry of Progress M-29M.

Unlike numerous Progress missions which perform destructive reentries shortly after undocking from the Space Station, Russian controllers will take their time bringing Progress M-29M into Earth’s atmosphere.

Now in post-undock free-flight, Progress M-29M will loiter in Low Earth Orbit for nine days as Russian engineers perform various tests on the vehicle.

Once these tests are complete, Progress M-29M will be destructively entered into Earth’s atmosphere on Friday, 8 April and will burn up over the Pacific Ocean, ending the Progress-M program.

(Images: NASA, Roscosmos)

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