Russian Progress Cargo Ship Launch Failure Deals Setback to ISS

The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA TV
The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan but failed to reach orbit minutes later. Credit: NASA TV

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – An unmanned Russian Progress resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) was lost shortly after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday when its Soyuz booster suffered a catastrophic anomaly in the third stage, and the craft and its contents were totally destroyed.

The Russian launch failure deals somewhat of a setback to the ever ongoing efforts by all the space station partners to keep the orbiting outpost well stocked with critical supplies of food and provisions for the multinational six person crew and science experiments to carry out the research activities for which the station was assembled.

The three stage Soyuz-U rocket failed in flight around six and a half minutes after what had been an otherwise flawless nighttime liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time), Thursday, Dec. 1.

Telemetry from the Progress 65 vehicle, also known as Progress MS-04, stopped after 382 seconds of flight while soaring about 190 km over the southern Russian Republic of Tyva.

“The Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed a Progress cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station and her six person crew has lost shortly after launch,” said NASA.

“According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva,” said Roscosmos in a statement.

The Progress vehicle burned up during the resulting and unplanned fiery plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere.

This was the second failure of a Russian Progress launch in the past two years. The last failure took place in April 2015 when the third stage separation failed – sending the vehicle spinning wildly out of control and destroying the Progress 59 freighter.

Per protocol, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has formed a state commission to investigate the accident, seek out the root cause and implement measures to prevent such failures in the future.

“The first few minutes of flight were normal, but Russian flight controllers reported telemetry data indicating a problem during third stage operation. The Russians have formed a State Commission and are the source for details on the specific failure cause,” NASA said.

Crew launches on a different version of the Soyuz rocket were delayed and put on hold several months following last year’s Progress 59 failure and accident investigation.

Despite the failure there was no immediate impact on the current Expedition 50 crew and life goes on.

“The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew,” said Roscosmos.

“The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station,” NASA reported.

Currently there is a satisfactory level of supplies.

“Six crew members living aboard the space station are safe and have been informed of the mission’s status. Both the Russian and U.S. segments of the station continue to operate normally with onboard supplies at good levels.”

However the continued useful utilization of the million pound station is totally dependent on receiving a steady train of supplies from Earth – comprising Russian, US and Japanese cargo freighters launching multiple times per year.

The Progress 65 cargo freighter was jam packed with 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew, including approximately 1,400 pounds of propellant, 112 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water, and 2,750 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware.

The Russian Progress 62 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on July 1, 2016.  Credits: NASA
The Russian Progress 62 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on July 1, 2016. Credits: NASA

The Progress was carrying a few items from NASA but they are all replaceable, says NASA. The US items packed on board included spare parts for the station’s environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and crew clothing.

Had all gone well, Progress 65 would have docked to the rear port of the space station’s Russian Zvezda Service Module at 11:43 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3.

Japan is all set to launch the next cargo flight to the ISS on Friday, Dec. 9 when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) HTV-6 resupply ship will blast off atop the H-II rocket.

The most recent US commercial cargo launch to the ISS took place on Oct. 17 with blastoff of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket from NASA Wallops in Virginia, which delivered the Cygnus OA-5 resupply freighter to orbit. It docked to the ISS on Oct 23.

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

The next US cargo launch could be either an Orbital ATK Cygnus launch atop a ULA Atlas V in March 2017 or a SpaceX Dragon launch perhaps in Jan 2017.

The US has also suffered ISS cargo launch failures from both of the commercial resupply providers; SpaceX on the Dragon CRS-7 mission in Jun 2015 and Orbital ATK on the Cygnus Orb-3 mission in October 2014.

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

The cargo ships function as a railroad to space and function as the lifeline to keep the station continuously crewed and functioning. Without periodic resupply by visiting vehicles from the partner nations the ISS cannot continue to operate.

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

Ken Kremer

Longest Woman Spaceflyer to Return as Russia Reshuffles Station Launches After Rocket Failure

The longest space mission in history by a female astronaut is now set to conclude on Thursday, following Russia’s confirmation of a significant reshuffling of the crew and cargo flight manifest to the International Space Station (ISS) for the remainder of 2015 – all in the wake of the unexpected Russian launch failure of a station bound Progress resupply ship in late April with far reaching consequences.

The record setting flight of approximately 200 days by Italian spaceflyer Samantha Cristoforetti, along with her two Expedition 43 crewmates, will come to an end on Thursday, June 11, when the trio are set to undock and depart the station aboard their Russian Soyuz crew capsule and return back to Earth a few hours later.

NASA TV coverage begins at 6 a.m. EDT on June 11.

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, officially announced today, June 9, a revamped schedule changing the launch dates of several upcoming crewed launches this year to the Earth orbiting outpost.

Launch dates for the next three Progress cargo flights have also been adjusted.

The next three person ISS crew will now launch between July 23 to 25 on the Soyuz TMA-17M capsule from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The exact timing of the Expedition 44 launch using a Russian Soyuz-FG booster is yet to be determined.

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

Soon after the Progress mishap, the Expedition 43 mission was extended by about a month so as to minimize the period when the ISS is staffed by only a reduced crew of three people aboard – since the blastoff of the next crew was simultaneously delayed by Roscosmos by about two months from May to late July.

Indeed Cristoforetti’s endurance record only came about as a result of the very late mission extension ordered by Roscosmos, so the agency could investigate the root cause of the recent launch failure of the Russian Progress 59 freighter that spun wildly out of control soon after blastoff on April 28 on a Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket.

Roscosmos determined that the Progress failure was caused by an “abnormal separation of the 3rd stage and the cargo vehicle” along with “associated frequency dynamic characteristics.”

The Expedition 43 crew comprising of Cristoforetti, NASA astronaut and current station commander Terry Virts, and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov had been scheduled to head back home around May 13. The trio have been working and living aboard the complex since November 2014.

The 38-year old Cristoforetti actually broke the current space flight endurance record for a female astronaut during this past weekend on Saturday, June 6, when she eclipsed the 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), also counts as Italy’s first female astronaut.

The Progress 59 cargo vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, along with all its 2.5 tons of contents were destroyed during an uncontrolled plummet back to Earth on May 8.

NASA astronaut Terry Virts (left) Commander of Expedition 43 on the International Space Station along with crewmates Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (center) and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on May 6, 2015 perform a checkout of their Russian Soyuz spacesuits in preparation for the journey back to Earth - now set for June 11, 2015.  Credits: NASA
NASA astronaut Terry Virts (left) Commander of Expedition 43 on the International Space Station along with crewmates Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (center) and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on May 6, 2015 perform a checkout of their Russian Soyuz spacesuits in preparation for the journey back to Earth – now set for June 11, 2015. Credits: NASA

Roscosmos announced that they are accelerating the planned launch of the next planned Progress 60 (or M-28M) from August 6 up to July 3 on a Soyuz-U carrier rocket, which is different from the problematic Soyuz-2.1A rocket.

Following the Soyuz crew launch in late July, the next Soyuz will blastoff on Sept. 1 for a 10 day taxi mission on the TMA-18M capsule with cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen. After British opera singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from participating as a space tourist, a new third crew member will be named soon by Roscosmos.

The final crewed Soyuz of 2015 with the TMA-19M capsule has been postponed from Nov. 20 to Dec. 15.

Also in the mix is the launch of 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 most recent unmanned Dragon cargo CRS-6 mission concluded with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 21.

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

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti enjoys a drink from the new ISSpresso machine. The espresso device allows crews to make tea, coffee, broth, or other hot beverages they might enjoy.  Credit: NASA
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti enjoys a drink from the new ISSpresso machine. The espresso device allows crews to make tea, coffee, broth, or other hot beverages they might enjoy. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka will remain aboard the station after the Virts crew returns to begin Expedition 44.

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

Ken Kremer

Weekly Space Hangout – April 26, 2013

We had an action packed Weekly Space Hangout on Friday, with a vast collection of different stories in astronomy and spaceflight. This week’s panel included Alan Boyle, Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, Scott Lewis, Jason Major, and Dr. Matthew Francis. Hosted by Fraser Cain.

Some of the stories we covered included: Pulsar Provides Confirmation of General Relativity, Meteorites Crashing into Saturn’s Rings, Radio Observations of Betelgeuse, Progress Docks with the ISS, Hubble Observes Comet ISON, Grasshopper Jumps 250 Meters, April 25th Lunar Eclipse, and the Mars One Reality Show.

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12 pm Pacific / 3 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Google+, Cosmoquest or listen after as part of the Astronomy Cast podcast feed (audio only).

Success! Progress Spacecraft Overcomes Stuck Antenna, Arrives at Station

A software fix solved a sticky antenna problem on an unmanned cargo ship, a problem that threatened to interfere with the approach and docking to the International Space Station Friday.

Progress 51 successfully docked with the massive orbiting complex at 8:35 a.m. EDT (12:35 p.m. GMT) Friday without the need of assistance from the station crew, which was standing by to take over the docking just in case.

“Progress is safely docked! Big moment for the crew. Hooray!” wrote astronaut Chris Hadfield, the commander of Expedition 35, on Twitter moments after the spacecraft and station docked.

Watch all the action in the video, below:

Crew members are expected to start unloading the three tons of food, fuel, supplies and experiment on board later today (Friday), if all goes according to schedule.

The Russian supply ship has five antennas on board that are used for approaching the station for a docking using the KURS automated system. One of them refused to unfurl as usual after the spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday (April 24).

As a backup, crew members could bring the spacecraft in using a manual system that also allows them to view the station from a camera inside Progress.

The International Space Station as seen through the eyes of Progress 51. Credit: NASA TV (screencap)
The International Space Station as seen through the eyes of Progress 51. Credit: NASA TV (screencap)

This particular antenna, NASA said, is normally used to help keep the vehicle properly oriented as it gets closer to the station.

When the Progress spacecraft and station are 65 feet (20 meters) apart, the antenna also provides data on the relative roll of the vehicle with respect to the station.

NASA initially told the crew it was expected to bring the spacecraft in manually. Shortly after 6 a.m. EDT (10 a.m. GMT), however, capsule communicator David Saint-Jacques radioed that NASA was confident a software patch created by Russian ground controllers would address the problem.

Progress 51’s final approach proceeded normally, but controllers took it a little slower than usual to ensure the automated system was working properly with the  fix. The approach started slightly early, allowing capture to occur at 8:25 a.m. EDT (12:25 p.m. GMT) — two minutes earlier than planned.

Ground control and the Expedition 35 crew then spent several minutes verifying that the antenna would not interfere with the docking port. With crew members saying they couldn’t hear any funny noises from inside the station, NASA went forward with the hard docking.

Follow updates from Expedition 35 at Universe Today, and live on NASA’s television channel online.

Progress Cargo Ship Launches to Space Station

The Russian Progress 51 cargo craft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan April 24, at 12:12 UTC (6:12 am EDT) and is on its way to the International Space Station. Unlike its three predecessors, Progress 51 will take the typical two-day rendezvous instead of the new 6-hour fast-track to reach the ISS. This is because of the phasing and orbital mechanics associated with this launch date. The unpiloted Progress is scheduled to dock to the aft port of the station’s Zvezda Service Module on April 26; however a problem arose when a rendezvous antenna did not deploy, which may affect the docking.

The Progress made it safely to orbit and deployed its solar arrays as planned. But one of the five sets of KURS automated rendezvous antennas used as navigational aids did not deploy. Russian ground controllers are assessing the antenna, which is used to measure orientation of the Progress vehicle, and how to troubleshoot the problem. We’ll keep you posted if the docking time changes.

On board are more than three tons of food, fuel, supplies and experiment hardware for the ISS Expedition 35 crew.

Freaky Fast Delivery: Progress Blasts Off, Docks at ISS Hours Later

The Progress 50 resupply ship has now arrived at the International Space Station, just hours after it launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch took place at 9:41 a.m. EST, (14:40 UTC) today (February 11, 2013) and it took only a four-orbit journey to rendezvous with the ISS, docking at 3:34 pm EST (20:35 UTC).

“Progress 50 just docked to our Space Station!” Tweeted astronaut Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) “I was right at the hatch, it made a quick sliding scraping noise & then a solid thud. Success!”

This is third successful execution of the new, modified launch and docking profile for the Russion Progress ships, and its success is paving the way for its first use on a manned mission – possibly as early as March 2013 for Soyuz TMA-08, Roscosmos said via Facebook. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka has been quoted as saying it is every cosmonaut’s dream to only have a 6-hour flight in the cramped Soyuz.

Watch the launch and docking video below:


Normally, Progress supply ships –and manned Soyuz capsules — are launched on trajectories that require about two days, or 34 orbits, to reach the ISS. The new fast-track trajectory has the rocket launching shortly after the ISS passes overhead — today, the space station was just 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) downrange from the launch site at the time of liftoff. Then additional firings of the Progress engines early in its mission expedites the time required for a Russian vehicle to reach the complex.

That also give the ISS crew the chance to actually see the launch from orbit. Today, NASA-TV commentator Kyle Herring said that ISS commander Kevin Ford reported he was able to see the first stage separation, which occurred about two minutes after launch. Herring said the cameras on the International Space Station were pointed to try and observe the launch. We’ll add any images here, if the cameras were able to capture anything.

Progress 50 is carrying 2.9 tons of supplies and equipment, including 800 kg (1,764 pounds) of space station propellant, 50 kg (110 lbs)of oxygen and air, 420 kg (926lbs) of water and 1,360 kg (3,000 lbs) of spare parts, science gear and other dry cargo. Right now, this Progress is scheduled to remain docked at the ISS until late April. The previous Progress cargo ship undocked from the Pirs module of the International Space Station at 13:15 GMT on Saturday February 9 and re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, burning up during re-entry.

Earlier this month, NASA’s Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffradini said the space station partners have tentatively agreed to try a the fast-track trajectory with a manned mission “at least once or twice to show we have the capability in case we need to get to ISS quick for any reason.”

He added that the decision to fly like this long-term is still to be determined.

This article has been updated.

Zoom Zoom! Progress Ship Goes from Launch to Docking in 6 Hours

The Progress 49 cargo craft ship went from zero to 28,000 km/h in about 8 minutes — as it usually does — but it then caught up and docked to the International Space Station in super-fast time, in less than six hours. This is the second Progress to take advantage of the abbreviated four-orbit rendezvous with the ISS which uses additional firings of the Progress engines early in its orbital flight to expedite the time required for a Russian vehicle to reach the station. Other flights take about 2 days to reach the ISS.

Launch of the Progress 49 cargo ship from Kazakhstan. Screenshot via NASA TV.

The launch took place at 7:41 UTC (3:41 a.m. EDT) from Kazakhstan and the docking occurred at 13:33 UTC (9:33 a.m. EDT) on Wednesday. The resupply ship is filled with 2,050 pounds of propellant, 62 pounds of oxygen, 42 pounds of air, 926 pounds of water and 2,738 pounds of spare parts, crew supplies and equipment. It will stay docked to the space station until April 2013.

Following the launch, ISS commander Suni Williams radioed to Mission Control, “Happy Halloween, and hopefully our little trick-or-treat vehicle is on its way. We just got to see it out the window and that’s pretty special.”

The space station crew is currently busy getting ready for a spacewalk on Thursday to try and determine the problem with a coolant leak in one of the solar arrays. (They may need to call in Georgi LaForge for reinforcements!)

Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will conduct the spacewalk and they hope to deploy a spare radiator and reconfigure coolant lines to close off a radiator that may have been hit by a meteoroid or piece of space debris. It is a very small leak, so it may take several weeks for flight controllers to find out if they have located the area of the leak. If this doesn’t solve the problem, the next plan of attack is to replace a pump.

The spacewalk is scheduled to begin around 12:15 UTC (8:15 a.m. EDT) on Thursday, November 1.

The fast-track flight to the ISS is being considered for the manned Soyuz vehicles in the future to improve crew comfort and extend the life of the Soyuz return vehicle. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka has been quoted as saying it is every cosmonaut’s dream to only have a 6-hour flight in the cramped Soyuz!

Progress Resupply Ship Takes Fast-Track to ISS, Arriving 6 Hours After Launch

After a flawless launch, an unmanned Russian Progress resupply ship used a new expedited technique to reach the International Space Station in hours instead of days. Progress 48 was loaded with almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the six crew members, and it docked successfully to the Pirs docking compartment on August 1, just six hours after the launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 19:35 UTC (3:35 p.m. EDT, 1:35 a.m. Aug. 2 Baikonur time). The fast trip and rendezvous was designed to test a method for conducting additional firings of the Progress engines early in its mission to expedite the time required for a Russian vehicle to reach the complex.

Russian officials say the technique could be applied to manned Soyuz vehicles in the future to improve crew comfort and extend the life of the Soyuz return vehicle.

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka has been quoted as saying it is every cosmonaut’s dream to only have a 6-hour flight in the cramped Soyuz!

Russian engineers and managers are still assessing the new technique, but by all appearances the quick trip seemed to be a great success. This Progress vehicle will stay at the ISS until December.

During the docking, NASA also tested a new technique of attitude control for the ISS which will save fuel, requiring 10 times less fuel to put the station in the proper orientation relative to Earth for the unpiloted cargo vehicle’s arrival.

According to Pooja Jesrani, lead attitude determination and control officer (ADCO) for this expedition at the Mission Control Center in Houston, the new maneuver is called the optimal propellant maneuver, or OPM. OPM is an improvement on the standard zero propellant maneuver, or ZPM, also developed by Draper Laboratory. The OPM takes into account the need to make the orientation, or attitude, changes to the space station faster than the ZPM. This speed avoids thermal concerns on the exterior of the station’s modules.

“Maneuvers such as the OPM will increase the International Space Station’s efficiency by using less propellant,” Jesrani said. “Additionally, the reduction in thruster firings during an OPM results in the station enduring lower structural loads. These benefits, among others, will help increase the longevity of the station.”

The maneuvers to and from the docking attitude are expected to save more than 90 percent of the fuel typically used when a Russian cargo spacecraft docks with the orbiting outpost.

Source: NASA

Progress Supply Ship Re-docks to ISS After Abort

A Russian Progress supply ship has been successfully re-docked to the International Space Station after an initial re-docking failed. The ship has been at the station since April and it was undocked on July 22 to perform a series of engineering tests during re-docking to make sure an upgraded automated rendezvous system was working. However, the new Kurs rendezvous system, Kurs-NA, failed and the re-docking was aborted. After directing the ship to move to a safe distance away from the ISS, engineers assessed the problems, and then successfully completed the re-docking on July 28.

Complicating the decision of when to try the re-docking again was the arrival of the Japanese HTV-3 supply ship, which arrived on July 27. Russian engineers decided to wait until after the HTV was successfully berthed using the station’s Canadarm-2 before a second attempt with the Progress. All systems worked perfectly on the second try.

The Progress, which is loaded with trash and items no longer needed on the station, will undock for good on July 30 and will depart the vicinity of the station for several weeks of tests by ground controllers before being sent into a destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean in late August.

Caption: A Progress resupply ship approaching the International Space Station. Credit: NASA