Fiery farewell for Progress as ISS prepares for new arrivals

by Chris Bergin

The International Space Station (ISS) crew are busy preparing for new Visiting Vehicles, as one departed this week. The Russian Progress MS-03/64P resupply provided a stunning farewell as it conducted a destructive re-entry, while the Station prepares to welcome SpaceX Dragons in the near and long term.


Progress MS-03 arrived in July of last year, 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. Progress MS-03/64P was the 64th of the Progress family vehicle to successfully reach the Station.

Upon its arrival after its Soyuz U launch, the Progress delivered 2,436 kg (5,370.46 lbs) of cargo, before enjoying its time docked to the orbital outpost at the nadir port on the Zarya module.

As time closed in on its departure, crew members filled the spacecraft with trash, ready to receive the same fate as the Progress during its End Of Mission (EOM) swansong.

Progress undocked nominally via physical separation.

During the undocking, “lights from the External Television Camera Groups (ETVCGs) illuminated the Russian Modules from the lower out board truss cameras,” noted L2 ISS Status.

Photos of this test were taken by ISS Expedition 51’s Oleg Novitskiy.

“This was to evaluate if light from the ETVCGs was sufficient during orbital night to provide situational awareness to the ISS crew in the event they were required to take manual control of Progress.”

With this test deemed a success, the Progress was ordered to conduct Separation Burn #1, which was completed nominally shortly after.

The deorbit burn was executed at GMT 31/17:34 (11:34 am CST), in view of the ISS, as observed via a photo taken from the Station. The destruction of the Progress, over a pre-planned corridor, was deemed to be nominal.

The next Progress resupply mission is set to launch on March 1, riding on a Soyuz U carrier rocket with a T-0 timed at 05:58UTC.

Enter The Dragon:

The next scheduled arrival at the Station will be SpaceX’s CRS-10 Dragon. Currently set to launch on February 14, this will involve the first Falcon 9 to set sail from the famous LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

This date is pending several key milestones, such as pad readiness for the Static Fire – set to take place on February 8 – and the successful negotiation of launching in what will be a near-instantaneous launch window, on what is effectively a brand new launch pad.

Should the launch go to plan, Dragon will spend a few days in orbit before being grabbed by the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) for berthing operations.

That procedure is conducted from the Cupola Robotic Work Station (RWS), which is currently under a level of evaluation based on HTV-6 operations. The Japanese spacecraft recently departed the Station.

“SSRMS Berthing Overlay Validation – During HTV-6 operations, ground teams noted that the test berthing overlay did not match the expected configuration. The zoom capability of the camera installed at the S1 Lower Outboard (S1LOOB) location was different than previous cameras at that location causing a discrepancy,” added L2 ISS Status this week.

“This new overlay is being developed for future missions to preclude the use of Centerline Berthing Camera System (CBCS).  The overlay was updated based on the correct zoom capability of the S1LOOB camera, however, due to lighting conditions, the team was only able to calibrate a subset of the requested positions. Ground teams will review the collected imagery and determine forward action.”

Due to its future role, this issue holds no constraints for the arrival of the CRS-10 Dragon.

Dragon – and indeed Cygnus – missions are a high priority for the Station, with added emphasis on the experiments they supply to the ISS. Sources note there’s a shortage of experiments on the Station’s forward work schedule, which can only be corrected by Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) arrivals.

An example of the tag-team effort conducted by Dragon and Cygnus was cited just this week in the ISS Status information.

“MERLIN 1 (Microgravity Experiment Research Locker/Incubator) troubleshooting activities were performed and were unsuccessful in recovering the unit. The crew noted that the front panel LCD was blank on initial assessment. An attempted reboot of the system was not successful.

“No further troubleshooting is planned for this unit and it will be returned on SpX-10 (CRS-10 Dragon). All indications are a disk failure. A replacement unit will be manifest on OA-7 (Cygnus – set to launch March 16 on an Atlas V).”

An eye to the future was also noted this week, which includes the arrival of Dragon’s big sister, the crew-capable Dragon 2.

Dragon 2 – along with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft – is set to begin ISS crew rotations in 2018.

They will dock via their arrival at an International Docking Adaptor (IDA), the first of which was installed on to Pressurized Mating Adapter 2.

IDA-2 was attached to PMA-2 on the forward end of the Node 2 module, and IDA-3 will be attached to PMA-3 sometime in early 2018, once PMA-3 has been moved from its present stowage location on Node 3 to its usable location on the zenith side of Node 2.

It was originally planned that IDA-1 would go on PMA-2 and IDA-2 would go on PMA-3. However, the loss of IDA-1 on the SpaceX CRS-7 mission in June 2015 aligned the IDA numbering with the PMA numbering.

2016-08-19-162048The ISS crew ingressed PMA-2 this week to check its condition.

“PMA-2 Ingress and Intermodule Ventilation (IMV) Ducting Reconfiguration: The crew installed new IMV ducting in preparation for Visiting Vehicle (VV) dockings to the International Docking Adapter (IDA) located on PMA 2,” added L2 ISS Status.

“The crew was requested to inspect the PMA for condensation and/or microbial growth due to a previous condition where the PMA remained below dew-point for approximately 72 hours (this exposure occurred in June of 2016 after DC-to-DC Converter Unit (DDCU) LA1A tripped and was required to be removed and replaced).

“Upon inspection, the crew reported there was no indication of condensation or microbial growth on the PMA 2 surface. In addition, the crew was also able to perform an inspection and cleaning of the hatch seal. Upon completion, the hatch was closed.”

(Images: NASA and L2 – including lead and Cygnus docking renders from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

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