Soyuz “Victory Rocket” launches Progress MS-14, followed by docking to the ISS

by Chris Gebhardt

For the second time this month, the Russian federal space agency, Roscosmos, launched one of their crafts to the International Space Station.

Liftoff of the Progress MS-14 uncrewed cargo resupply mission to the orbital outpost launched from Site No. 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday, 24 April at 21:51:41 EDT — which was 01:51:41 UTC on Saturday, 25 April.

The mission performed a super fast-track rendezvous with the Station culminating in an automated docking just 3 hours 21 minutes after liftoff.

Unusually, Roscosmos has taken the rare step of giving this Soyuz rocket a name: “Victory Rocket”. 

The name is part of Russia’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the decisive Soviet victory over Nazi and Axis Power forces at the end of World War II in May 1945.

As such, Soyuz also carried special symbols commemorating the 75th anniversary of “the Soviet peoples victory in the Great Patriotic War,” — as World War II was known contemporaneously within the Soviet Union.

Soyuz with her “Victory” livery. (Credit: Roscomos)

The mission is the first Russian resupply flight of the year to the Space Station.

After undergoing pre-launch, stand-alone processing, Progress MS-14 was encapsulated within its payload fairing on 18 April and shipped two days later to its integration facility — where it was mated to the Blok-I second stage of its Soyuz 2.1a carrier rocket.

Once mated, the third stage was attached to the top of Soyuz 2.1a’s Blok-A core stage, completing rocket integration activities on 21 April.

The entire rocket stack was then rolled out to Site No. 31/6 at Baikonur via train on 22 April for final pre-launch processing.

Overall, this was the 103rd flight of the Soyuz 2 rocket and the 45th flight of the 2.1a variant. 

The Soyuz 2.1a began flying on 8 November 2004 and was last used just two weeks ago to launch three crew members to the International Space Station — the first time this rocket variant flew with people aboard.

At the time of today’s single-second, instantaneous launch window at 01:51:41 UTC, the International Space Station was 506 km west-southwest of Baikonur.

Location of the International Space Station at the exact second of the planned launch of Progress MS-14. (Credit: GoISSWartch App)

The flight path — or azimuth — took the Soyuz rocket on an east-northeast trajectory out of Baikonur, ensuring Soyuz and Progress did not overfly any country except Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation during powered ascent. 

The goal is to specifically avoid powered-flight land overflight of Mongolia and China — which is what gives the International Space Station its 51.6° orbital inclination.

After an 8 minute 46 second ascent, the Soyuz finished its launch program and Progress separated from the Blok-I upper stage of the Soyuz 2.1a rocket.

For the super fast-track, 2 orbit rendezvous, the Soyuz rocket had to place the Progress MS-14 craft into a 193 ±2 km x 240 ±7 km orbit inclined 51.6° to the equator.

Immediately following spacecraft separation, Progress deployed its solar arrays and communication antennas (as seen in below embedded tweet from the Soyuz MS-16 launch earlier this month) and transmit its orbital parameters and velocity data to the ground via the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia. 

This data downlink immediately after spacecraft separation was vital to ensuring the Soyuz rocket met the necessary velocity and orbital targets needed for Progress MS-14 to perform the 2 orbit, 3 hour 20 minute rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station. 

If for some reason the information could not be verified or Progress was placed in a slightly incorrect orbit, Mission Control Moscow would have reverted Progress MS-14 to the back-up 2-day, 32 orbit rendezvous profile that is always available for Russian missions to the Station.

With a good orbit insertion, Progress performed a series of delta-Velocity (or delta-V) burns with its engines and thrusters to systematically increase its velocity — which in turn increases orbital altitude — and modified its orbit from an initial insertion of 193 ±2 km x 240 ±7 km up to the 417 x 419 km orbit of the International Space Station.

About 25 minutes prior to docking, the U.S. Operating Segment of the Station (including the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan) handed off orientation control to the Russian Segment in preparation for docking.

Per the timeline, Progress MS-14 docked at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module at 05:12:23 UTC on Saturday, 23 April (01:12:23 EDT) just 3 hours 20 minutes after liftoff. 

Of note, the automated docking program used by Roscosmos for Progress vehicles usually results in the crafts’ docking between 3 to 7 minutes ahead of the published timeline. 

At the moment of docking, the International Space Station entered free drift and no longer maintained its relative position to Earth’s surface.  This allows for relative swaying motion of the two vehicles to dampen out quickly and naturally before a series of hooks are literally driven from the Progress into the International Space Station’s docking port.

These hooks formed the hard seal necessary to pressurize the space between Progress and the Station before the crew can gain access to the cargo and goods inside the vehicle. 

After hard docking is accomplished, the Russian segment of the International Space Station handed control of the orbital complex back to the U.S. Operating Segment.

Overall, Progress MS-14 delivered over 700 kg of propellant, air, and gases as well as 1,350 kg of cargo, including food, equipment, hygiene products, clothing, medical supplies, and science equipment, as well as 429 liters of water. 

The oxygen tanks on Progress will also be used to transfer 46 kg of air to the Station.

(Lead image credit: Roscosmos)

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