The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) launched the Progress MS-04/65P resupply mission to the ISS on Thursday at 09:51:52 EST (14:51:52 UTC). The mission was the third of three Russian resupply flights to Station this year and the first of two missions scheduled to launch to ISS in the opening 9 days of December. However, an anomaly during third stage flight resulted in the loss of the mission.
Known to Roscosmos as Progress MS-04 and to NASA as Progress 65 (65P), the Progress MS-04 mission was supposed to be a logistics and resupply run to the Space Station.
Progress MS-04 was the fourth in a series of new MS Progress 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 final testing of the ground station compatible with the new Unified Command and Control System of the Soyuz MS spacecraft is not yet complete, Progress 65 was to once again scheduled to use the standard, 34-orbit, 2-day rendezvous profile with ISS.
That test was to verify that S-Band uplink between the ground station and Soyuz could be received by the spacecraft. This was a needed verification step to clear the ground station for operational use.
Confirmation that that test was successful is still outstanding.
In all, Progress MS-04 was the 156th Progress mission since the program began in 1978 for resupply efforts of the Salyut 6 space station and the 67th 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.
Including today’s launch, 67 Progress missions have launched to ISS to date, and Progress MS-04/65P was the 65th attempt of a 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.
Sadly, Progress 65 now joins Progress 44 and Progress 59 as the third Progress failure.
Launch and rendezvous:
Like its immediate Progress predecessor, the MS-04 Progress flew atop the Soyuz-U booster.
With discontinuation of the Soyuz-U program in April 2015 for political reasons (part of the rocket’s guidance system is imported to Russia/Kazakhstan from Ukraine), Progress MS-04 will launch on the second-to-last Soyuz-U – which is the longest serving rocket in history, with 43 years of continuous operations spanning 785 missions (including today’s) and carrying a 97.3% success rate (including today’s mishap).
Prior to final launch preparations, the Progress MS-04 vehicle underwent a technical management and state commission review on 17 November – after which it was cleared for fueling with propellants and compressed gas.
Fueling operations proceeded through 21 November, and on the following day, engineers transported Progress MS-04 to the Spacecraft Assembly & Test Facility (SC ATF) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome for final pre-mate processing.
Progress MS-04 was then secured to its adaptor and underwent a final series of overview and health checks before engineers rotated it horizontal and installed it inside its payload launch fairing on 25 November.
On 27 November, Progress MS-04 was transported by rail from the SC ATF to the Launch Vehicle Assembly & Testing Facility (LC ATF).
Final assembly of Progress 65 atop its Soyuz-U booster was completed on 28 November, and the Technical Management and State Commission at Baikonur completed its final review and cleared the vehicle for rollout and erection at the launch pad.
Rollout occurred mostly in the pre-dawn hours of 29 November to Launch Site No. 1, Gagarin’s Start, at Baikonur.
Once at the pad, engineers successfully erected the Soyuz-U booster into its vertical launch posture and enclosed the vehicle in the servicing gantry.
With a standard launch countdown, Progress MS-04/65P lifted off right on time at 17:51:52 Moscow time (14:51:52 UTC – 09:51:52 EST) on 1 December 2016 – the moment Earth’s rotation carried Launch Site No. 1 into the center of the orbital ground track of the ISS.
After rising vertically from the pad, Soyuz-U performed a pitch maneuver to place itself on an East-Northeast trajectory out of Baikonur and flew along the correct azimuth toward a 51.6 degree inclination orbit.
All powered launch activities took place over Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.
After what was supposed to be 8 minutes 44 seconds of powered flight, Progress MS-04/65P was to be released into a two-day rendezvous orbit and was to quickly deploy its solar arrays.
However, telemetry issues during third stage flight resulted in a lack of confirmation of the success of the ascent.
Information from Roscosmos pointed to a premature shutdown of the third stage, followed by the release of Progress into the wrong orbit.
A lack of information on the status of the solar arrays and any data on the specific orbital status of the vehicle pointed to a larger issue.
This was then followed by reports in Southern Russia of a fireball and explosion, as the Progress dived towards its doom.
The crew of the ISS has since been informed of the failure.
Had all gone to plan, the following two days would have seen the vehicle perform several thruster burns to bring itself into the vicinity of the Space Station.
Flying in automated mode, Progress MS-04 would have maneuvered itself for docking with the Zvezda Service Module at 11:43 EST, 16:43 UTC on Saturday 3 December.
Progress was carrying 2,450 kg (5,401 lbs) of cargo. Among these items were several consumables that would have increased the ISS’s overall stockpile.
In all, Progress 65 would have delivered enough food to increase the Station’s supply under standard operating conditions out to May 2017 (from early-April without 65P’s food delivery).
For water, which is the current limiting consumable on ISS, Progress MS-04 was to deliver 420 kg (926 lb) of water, increasing the Station’s supply out to the beginning of May 2017 from the current supply which only takes the Station to early March.
Despite the loss of Progress 65, the ISS remains in good posture to support its crew well into 2017.
Moreover, JAXA’s HTV-6 resupply craft is set to launch on 9 December 2016, followed in mid- to late-January 2017 by the tenth SpaceX resupply mission.
Also early next year, Progress 66 is scheduled to launch in early February, followed in March by Orbital ATK’s Cygnus OA-7 mission.
Nonetheless, Progress 65 was also set to deliver five new KTOs (Russian Solid Waste Containers), three new filter inserts and 10 packages of ACY filters for the Russian Waste Management System in the Zvezda Service Module, six EDVs for the EDV + TUBSS (Temporary Urine and Brine Storage System) for the Urine Processing Assembly, and two tanks of pretreat.
Progress MS-04 was also carrying 705 kg (1,554 lbs) of propellant for Station orbit raising maneuvers and 50 kg (110 lbs) of oxygen for ISS.
All of those supplies have now been lost, with a State Commission arranged to discuss the problems that caused its demise.
(Images: Roscosmos, NASA)