Russian Progress Resupply Mission Lifts Off Successfully To International Space Station

by Mark Carreau
Jul 03, 2015

A Russian Progress re-supply capsule climbed successively to orbit atop a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early Friday to start a two day trip to the International Space Station, a trek that signaled a break from  back to back U.S. and Russian cargo mission launch failures.

The freighter, designated M-28M by Russia and Progress 60 by NASA, carries just over 6,100 pounds of cargo, including propellant to periodically raise the orbit of the nearly one million pound orbiting science lab and maneuver it away from orbital debris; containers of water and oxygen for life support; food, clothing; tools and equipment; as well as science experiments and research hardware.

The Progress capsule was on a course to dock with the ISS's Russian segment on Sunday at 3:13 a.m., EDT.

The three stage Soyuz U booster shouldering the Progress lifted off from its Central Asian launch pad at 12:55 a.m., EDT, or 10:55 a.m., local time. Within nine minutes, the spacecraft had settled into its initial orbit, deployed solar arrays and guidance antennas.

Many close to the 15-nation ISS program awaited the flight with anticipation.

Last Sunday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle exploded with more than 5,500 pounds of space station supplies 139 seconds after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on what was to be the company's seventh contracted cargo mission and the third of five once planned for 2015.  On April 28, Russia's Progress 59 mission went astray as the freighter separated from the Soyuz third stage and began to spin, then tumble uncontrollably. The M-27M capsule made an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere nine days later with more than three tons of undelivered food, water, clothing and a range of other supplies.

"The third time is a charm, I hope," said NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, one of three current ISS tenants, in the hours before the latest Progress launching. "We are hoping to get this one obviously," he told a NASA interviewer in an exchange broadcast on the agency's television network.

Kelly shares the orbital outpost with Russian colleagues Gennady Padalka, the current commander, and Mikhail Kornienko. The Progress 59 loss prompted the station's U.S. led mission management team to hold off on introducing three more U. S., Japanese and Russian astronauts from late May to July 22.

Kelly said he was eager for the arrival of the additional crew members to help share ISS maintenance duties as well as a research agenda that includes about 250 science investigations and technology demonstrations.

Mission managers estimate the station is sufficiently stocked with food, water and other essentials into late October. The latest Progress and a Japanese launched HTV resupply mission nearing a mid-August launch could help to extend that date into late December, according to projections that followed the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket loss.

"These next two missions -- if they get delayed or move out beyond September, October, it will cause a problem," Kelly noted.  "We are as confident as we can be. With any rocket launch, there is always risk. There is always the chance of failure. But you have to look to the positive. We expect (Progress 60) will arrive on time. But certainly we are prepared for the worse."

The ISS cargo difficulties began Oct. 28, when NASA's second commercial re-supply contractor, Orbital ATK, lost its third Antares/Cygnus resupply mission in an explosion moments after lifting off from Wallops Island, Va.,  An ongoing investigation is focused on the failure of a first stage rocket engine turbo pump.

Orbital plans to recover this fall by launching its next contracted mission atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral. The next mission on a re-engined Antares is planned from Wallops Island next spring.

SpaceX's probe into the Falcon 9 blast pointed early to an over pressurization of the second stage oxygen propellant system. It's unclear when the Hawthorne, Calif. based company can resume Falcon 9 launches.

Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, blamed the late April Progress mission loss on problems with the structural interface between the Soyuz 2.1a third stage and the Progress capsule.

Roscosmos turned to an older version of the Soyuz booster with a long history of successful launches for its latest Progess mission.

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