The Russian Progress MS-03/64P resupply ship has arrived at the International Space Station on Monday, two days after its launch. The mission is the second of three Russian resupply efforts to ISS for 2016 and the second of three missions to the ISS in the last 10 days, following the Soyuz MS-01 crew launch on 7 July and Monday’s SpaceX CRS-9 resupply launch.
Known to Roscosmos as Progress MS-03 and to NASA as Progress 64 (64P), the Progress MS-03 mission is a logistics and resupply run to the Space Station.
Progress MS-03 is the third in the series of new MS Progres vehicles using new software and communications equipment and configurations that are now standard across the Progress cargo and Soyuz human transportation family of spacecraft.
Nonetheless, because of the relatively new nature of the MS series, Progress MS-03 did not make use of a same-day-launch-and-docking profile but instead phased up to the ISS over the course of two days.
This prolonged rendezvous timeline allowed mission controllers outside Moscow, Russia, to test various system elements and verify the continued functionality on the MS-series vehicle of the Progress family.
While the previous MS-01 and MS-02 Progress missions debuted and tested nearly all of the new upgrades the MS-series has to offer, MS-03 was the first Progress to carry the new external compartment that enables the vehicles to deploy satellites.
In all, Progress MS-03 is the 155th Progress mission since the program began in 1978 for resupply efforts of the Salyut 6 space station and the 66th 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 65 Progress missions have launched to the ISS to date, Progress MS-03/64P was the 64th of the Progress family vehicle 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:
Unlike the two immediate previous Progress missions (MS-1 and MS-2), the MS-03 Progress did not use of the Soyuz 2.1a but will instead flew aboard the Soyuz-U, the immediate predecessor of the 2.1a Soyuz.
With the discontinuation of the Soyuz-U program in April 2015 over political reasons (part of the rocket’s guidance system is imported to Russia/Kazakhstan from Ukraine), Progress MS-03 launched on the third-to-last Soyuz-U – which is the longest serving rocket in history, with 43 years of continuous operations spanning 783 missions and carrying a 97.3% success rate to its name.
Originally set to launch on 7 July 2016, the mission slipped to 16 July due to delays in the launch of the crewed Soyuz MS-01 mission to the Station.
As the crew launch took precedence, Progress MS-03 was bumped down the launch manifest but managed to secure a launch slot ahead of SpaceX’s CRS-9 resupply mission – which itself was also bumped out of its launch slots (24 June and 27 June) by the Soyuz MS-01 delays.
With its new launch date set, the Progress vehicle was mated to its adaptor ring on 11 July at the Spacecraft Assembly & Test Facility (SC ATF) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Once secured to its adaptor, Progress MS-03 underwent a final series of overview and health checks before engineers rotated it to horizontal and installed it inside its payload launch fairing on 12 July.
On 14 July, Progress MS-03 was transported by rail from the SC ATF to the Launch Vehicle Assembly & Testing Facility (LC ATF).
Later that same day, Progress was mated to the top of the Soyuz-U third stage before the third stage was subsequently mated to the core/second stage and boosters.
As this occurred, engineers and government officials met to review the readiness of the vehicle for launch.
While an official reason has not been issued, NASASpaceflight.com has confirmed that Progress MS-03 was mated to a different Soyuz-U booster than originally planned – as evidenced by differences in serial numbers from planning documents and official flight documents.
The relatively short notice swap was conducted without disruption to the overall launch processing flow, and it is understood that the remaining two Soyuz-U boosters are in good condition for their roles in the upcoming Progress MS-04 and MS-05 launches.
On 15 July, the Soyuz-U undertook rollout operations under crystal clear blue skies to site no. 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Once at the pad, engineers successfully erected the Soyuz into its vertical launch posture and enclosed the vehicle in the servicing gantry.
With a standard launch countdown, Progress MS-03/64P lifted off at 21:41:46 UTC (17:41:46 EDT) – the moment Earth’s rotation carries launch site No. 31 into the center of the orbital ground track of the ISS.
After rising vertically from the pad, the Soyuz-U performed a pitch maneuver to place itself on an East-Northeast trajectory out of Baikonur and onto the correct azimuth to achieve a 51.6 degree inclination orbit.
The Soyuz performed all of its powered launch activities over Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation, avoiding launch overflight of Mongolia and the People’s Republic of China.
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), avoiding overflight of these two neighboring nations is an important aspect of launch operations for Roscosmos.
After 8 minutes 44 seconds of powered flight, Progress MS-03/64P was released into a standard, two-day rendezvous orbit and quickly deployed its solar arrays.
Over the following two days, Progress MS-03 performed several thruster burns to bring itself into the vicinity of the Space Station.
Flying in automated mode, Progress maneuvered itself for docking with the Pirs module at 00:20 UTC on Tuesday 19 July, 20:20 EDT Monday 18 July.
After docking, the Station’s six-person crew will open hatches between the ISS and Progress and begin the exchange of 2,436 kg (5,370.46 lbs) of cargo.
Progress MS-03/64P is expected to remain docked to the ISS until mid-January 2017, at which point it will undock and perform a destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
(Images: Roscosmos, RKK Energia, NASA)