Russian Progress Supply Freighter Docks at Space Station, Ending String of International Launch Failures

Over three tons of much needed supplies and equipment finally reached the crew living aboard the International Space Station (ISS), when an unmanned and highly anticipated Russian Progress cargo ship successfully docked at the orbiting outpost early this morning, Sunday July 5, at 3:11 a.m. EDT (10:11 MSK, Moscow local time)- to all the partners relief.

This follows two straight international resupply launch failures that significantly crimped the stations stockpiles and abruptly impacted upcoming crew rotations and station launches throughout the remainder of 2015.

Today’s arrival of Russia’s Progress 60 (Progress M-28M) logistics vehicle ended a string of Russian and American resupply mission failures that began some two months ago with the devastating Soyuz rocket launch failure of the prior Progress 59 ship on April 28, and continued with the mid-air explosion of a commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 and unpiloted SpaceX Dragon CRS-7 cargo ship exactly one week ago on June 28.

The Progress 60 was automatically docked at an earth facing port on the Russian “Pirs” docking module on the Russian segment of the ISS – that finally puts the station on the road to recovery with a stockpile of 6100 pounds (2770 kg) of new fuel, food, oxygen, research experiments and gear.

“The operation was carried out in an automated mode,” according to Russian Mission Control near Moscow.

The docking operation was conducted under the guidance of the Russian ISS Expedition 44 commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Mikhail Kornienko as well as experts at the Russian Mission Control Center, as the vehicles were soaring about 251 miles (400 km) over the south Pacific, southeast of New Zealand. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is also aboard, rounding out the current three man crew.

The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from docking to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV
The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from docking to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

The successful docking came two days after the blastoff of the unmanned Progress 60 cargo freighter atop a Soyuz-U booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3. This signifies the restoration of Russia’s critical cargo lifeline to the ISS and was like celebrating Christmas in July.

“Guys, congratulations. your cargo vehicle has arrived,” said Russian flight director Vladimir Solovyev from Russian mission control.

“We congratulate you as well,” cosmonaut Gennady Padalka replied from inside the station’s Russian-built Zvezda command module. “Thanks so much for sending it our way. It feels like Christmas in July.”

The station is totally dependent on a regular train of supply runs from the partner nations on Earth to operate with a crew and conduct research investigations that will aid in sending humans to deep space destinations.

The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is now docked to the Pirs docking compartment. Credit: NASA TV
The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is now docked to the Pirs docking compartment shown in this schematic. Credit: NASA TV

America’s cargo lifeline is currently on hold following the dual launch failures of both US commercial supply trains to low Earth orbit- involving the SpaceX Falcon 9 last week and the catastrophic Orbital ATK Antares/Cygnus Orb-3 mission launch disaster on October 28, 2014 which I saw at NASA Wallops.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon exploded barely two minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The rocket disintegrated in mere moments as I watched from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

All told, an unprecedented trio of launch failures with three different American and Russian rockets took place over the past eight months.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left).  Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left). Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Progress 60 resupply ship was loaded with over three tons of food, fuel, oxygen, science experiments, water and supplies on a crucial mission for the International Space Station crew to keep them stocked with urgently needed life support provisions and science experiments in the wake of the twin launch failures in April and June.

The ISS Progress M-28M (Progress 60) cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from successful docking to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos
The ISS Progress M-28M (Progress 60) cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from successful docking to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos
The ship delivered approximately 1,146 pounds (520 kg) of propellant, 105 pounds (48 kg) of oxygen, 926 pounds (420 kg) of water and 3,071 pounds (1393 kg) pounds of crew supplies, provisions, research equipment, science experiments, student experiments, tools and spare parts and parcels for the crew.

The Progress was stuffed with 100 kg of additional food stocks to make up for the losses suffered from the twin Russian Progress 59 and SpaceX CRS-7 failures.

“As for food, 430 kilos of foodstuffs will be delivered to the ISS or 100 kilos more than the amount delivered by the previous spacecraft,” noted Mission Control.

“The Progress space freighter will deliver more food than usual so that it will suffice for everyone,” Alexander Agureyev, chief of the ISS crew nourishment department at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, told the Russian news agency TASS.

Progress 60 is scheduled to remain docked to Pirs for the next four months.

In the wake of the trio of American and Russian launch failures, the crew currently enjoys only about four months of reserves compared to the more desirable six months stockpile in case of launch mishaps.

Progress 60 will extend the station supplies by about a month’s time.

The next cargo ship now slated to launch is the Japanese HTV-5 on August 16.

Blastoff of the Russian Progress 60 resupply ship to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos
Blastoff of the Russian Progress 60 resupply ship to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos

The SpaceX CRS-7 Dragon was packed with over 4,000 pounds (1987 kg) of research experiments, an EVA spacesuit, water filtration equipment, spare parts, gear, computer equipment, high pressure tanks of oxygen and nitrogen supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45.

These included critical materials for the science and research investigations for the first ever one-year crew to serve aboard the ISS – comprising NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

The Dragon was also packed with the first of two new International Docking Adapters (IDS’s) required for the new commercial crew space taxis being built by Boeing and SpaceX to dock at the ISS starting in 2017.

The next crewed launch to the station is set for July 22 aboard a Soyuz capsule with with an international trio comprising NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Their flight was delayed from May 26 after the Progress 59 launch failure to ensure that there are no issues with the Soyuz rocket booster that will boost them to the ISS.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Cause of SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Failure Unknown; Launch Explosion Photos

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The root cause of Sundays (June 28) devastating launch failure of the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is “still unknown” says SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk, following the loss of the NASA contracted resupply mission carrying crucial gear and research experiments to the crew serving aboard the Earth orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

Meanwhile, search and recovery teams from SpaceX and the Coast Guard are scouring the ocean and beaches along the Florida Space Coast for any signs of potentially dangerous Falcon rocket debris that rained down from the sky into the Atlantic Ocean after the sudden explosion unexpectedly destroyed the vehicle barely two minutes after a sun drenched liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:21 a.m. EDT.

All appeared normal as the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon resupply spaceship were streaking skywards through majestically blue Florida skies when catastrophe struck at approximately 148 seconds after blastoff and the rocket exploded violently- utterly destroying the rocket ship and its two ton load of critical supplies heading to the astronauts and cosmonauts living on board the ISS.

The upper stage appeared to break up in flight as the nine first stage Merlin 1D engines were firing as planned and the rocket was arcing over.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

But why that happened and the vehicle disintegrated in mere seconds is still a mystery which will take some time to resolve.

“Cause still unknown after several thousand engineering-hours of review. Now parsing data with a hex editor to recover final milliseconds,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Although the cause is unknown, Musk also announced that the failure might be related to a problem with the Falcon 9 upper stage. since the first stage engines were still firing as planned.

“There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause,” tweeted Musk.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship streaking skywards until explosion about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship streaking skywards until explosion about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The rocket was traveling about 5000 km/h at an altitude of 45 kilometers at the time of the mishap.

“Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk soon after the explosion.

The pressurized section of the Dragon was packed with over 4,000 pounds of research experiments, spare parts, gear, high pressure supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45 on the ISS.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Sunday’s launch was the 19th launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and the first failure after 18 straight successes.

SpaceX formed a failure investigation board immediately following the launch failure of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission bound for the ISS. The FAA and NASA will assist in the investigation.

The launch was the sixth for SpaceX this year, which had been picking up its launch pace dramatically compared to 2014.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It was the third launch failure of a cargo delivery run to the space station in the past half year -including both American and Russian rockets.

The Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus Orb 3 mission exploded in a massive an frightening fireball on October 28, 2014 which I witnessed from the press site from NASA Wallops in Virginia.

The Russian Soyuz/Progress 59 mission failed after the cargo vessel separated from the booster rockets third stage and spun wildly out of control in April 2015 and eventually crashed.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Myself and other members of the media were watching and photographing the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from atop the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) when the launch mishap occurred.

See a galley of my launch failure explosion photos herein.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply spaceship explode about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of the CRS-7 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Record Setting Italian Female Astronaut and ISS Crewmates Land in Sunny Kazakhstan

An international crew comprising a Russian cosmonaut, a US astronaut and an Italian astronaut who accomplished a record setting flight for time in space by a female, departed the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today, June 11, and safely landed in sunny and warm Kazakhstan tucked inside their Russia Soyuz ferry ship after a successful and extended 199-day mission devoted to science and station upgrades.

The multinational trio comprising Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) undocked from the orbiting outposts Russian Rassvet module as scheduled in the Soyuz TMA-15M spaceship at 6:20 a.m. EDT while soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Mongolia.

A four-minute 40-second deorbit burn at 8:51 a.m EDT slowed the craft for the fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The crew touched down just a few hours after undocking at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan on the steppes of Kazakhstan, about an hour and a half before sundown in delightfully summer weather. Temperatures today were in the 80s, but they are ‘bone chilling’ in the winter months.

Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) touched down at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.  Credits: NASA TV
Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) touched down at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. Credits: NASA TV

The Expedition 43 flight was extended at the last minute due to the surprise launch failure of a Russian rocket carrying a station bound Progress resupply ship in late April.

The Progress 59 cargo vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, spun wildly out of control as it separated from the Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket. The freighter and all its 2.5 tons of contents fpr the crew were destroyed during an uncontrolled plummet as its crashed back to Earth on May 8.

The Soyuz/Progress 59 failure had far reaching consequences and resulted in a postponement of virtually all Russian crew and cargo flights to the ISS for the remainder of 2015, as announced this week by Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.

One result is that Cristoforetti now holds the single mission record for a female astronaut, of nearly 200 days.

Expedition 43 was extended by about a month in the wake of the launch failure of the Progress 59 cargo vessel, which quickly cascaded into an extended mission from its originally planned length of about 170 days to 199+ days.

The Soyuz is only certified to stay on orbit for 200 days. So the return home delayed as much as possible to minimize the time when the ISS reverts to only a three person crew – and consequently reduced time for research.

This past weekend on June 6, Cristoforetti surpassed the female astronaut record of 194 days, 18 hours and 2 minutes established by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams on a prior station flight back in 2007.

Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency (ESA), is on her first ever space flight also counts as she also counts as Italy’s first female astronaut.

The station departure and parachute assisted soft landing was shown during a live webcast on NASA TV.

“The landing was on time and on target after over 199 days in space,” said NASA commentator Rob Navius.

“Everything went by the book for an on target touchdown. The crew is safely back on Earth!”

Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as SpaceX Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA
Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as SpaceX Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA

In the final stages of the return to Earth, the Soyuz descent module glided down safely using a single mammoth orange and white parachute, aided by braking rockets in the final moments just a few feet above ground.

The Soyuz landed upright, which eased the extraction of the crew. Russian recovery team members hoisted all three up and out from the cramped capsule.

Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov was hauled up first, followed by Samantha Cristoforetti and finally Terry Virts.

All three crewmembers were healthy and happy, each signaling their elation with a joyous ‘thumbs up.’

After preliminary medical checks, the crew were flown by helicopter to a staging base at Karaganda. From there they split up. Shkaplerov heads back to Moscow and Star City. Cristoforetti and Virts fly to Mission Control in Houston.

During their time aloft, the crew completed several critical spacewalks, technology demonstrations, and hundreds of scientific experiments spanning multiple disciplines, including human and plant biology,” according to NASA.

Among the research experiments conducted were “participation in the demonstration of new, cutting-edge technologies such as the Synthetic Muscle experiment, a test of a new polymer that contracts and expands similar to real muscle. This technology has the potential for future use on robots, enabling them to perform tasks that require considerable dexterity but are too dangerous to be performed by humans in space.”

“The crew engaged in a number of biological studies, including one investigation to better understand the risks of in-flight infections and another studying the effects microgravity has on bone health during long-duration spaceflight. The Micro-5 study used a small roundworm and a microbe that causes food poisoning in humans to study the risk of infectious diseases in space, which is critical for ensuring crew health, safety and performance during long-duration missions. The Osteo-4 study investigated bone loss in space, which has applications not only for astronauts on long-duration missions, but also for people on Earth affected by osteoporosis and other bone disorders.”

Three cargo flights also arrived at the ISS carrying many tons of essential supplies, research equipment, science experiments, gear, spare parts, food, water, clothing.

The resupply freighters included the Russian Progress in February 2015 as well as two SpaceX Dragon cargo ships on the CRS-5 and CRS-6 flights in January and April.

Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, left, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), center, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA) sit in chairs outside the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft just minutes after they landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Virtz, Shkaplerov, and Cristoforetti are returning after more than six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 42 and 43 crews. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, left, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), center, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA) sit in chairs outside the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft just minutes after they landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Virts, Shkaplerov, and Cristoforetti are returning after more than six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 42 and 43 crews. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

With the return of Virts crew, the new Expedition 44 begins and comprises NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, the two members of the first “ISS 1 Year Mission” as well as cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.

Padalka now assumes command of the station for a record setting fourth time. And he’ll soon be setting another record. In late June, he will break the all time record for cumulative time in space currently held by cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev of 803 days on six space flights.

When Padalka returns to Earth around September 10 in the Soyuz TMA-16M ship, that brought the 1 Year crew to the ISS, he will have been in space for a grand total of over 877 days over five flights.

The next cargo ferry flight involves NASA’s next contracted unmanned Dragon cargo mission by commercial provider SpaceX on the CRS-7 flight.

Dragon CRS-7 is now slated for liftoff on June 26. Watch for my onsite reports from KSC.

The Dragon will be carrying critical US equipment, known as the International Docking Adapter (IDA), enabling docking by the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporters – due for first crewed launches in 2017.

The most recent unmanned Dragon cargo CRS-6 mission concluded with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 21.

The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Expedition 43 crews rests post landing  on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Terry Virts of NASA, comprising cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and record setting Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA).  Credit: NASA
Expedition 43 crews rests post landing on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Terry Virts of NASA, comprising cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and record setting Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA). Credit: NASA