Roscosmos has had quite the run of bad luck lately. In addition to sanctions putting pressure on their space program and the cancellation of agreements (all due to the war in Ukraine), the Russian space agency has experienced several problems in space. On December 14th, 2022, and February 11th, 2023, two space capsules reportedly suffered radiator coolant leaks (Soyuz MS-22 and Progress 82). In addition to delivering fresh supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), one of the spacecraft (M-22) was slated to bring three members of Expedition 68 back to Earth.
Luckily, on February 25th, Russia announced it was sending another Soyuz capsule to replace the M-22 (Soyuz M-23) and retrieve the three crew members, cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, and astronaut Frank Rubio (who will return to Earth now on September 27th). In addition, Tuesday, March 28th, Russia undocked the M-22 from the ISS and successfully brought it home without crew. NASA provided live coverage of the undocking and departure of the uncrewed spacecraft via NASA TV, the agency website, and the NASA app.
An unmanned Russian space freighter hauling fresh fruit and over three tons of food, water, supplies and science experiments blasted off today, Thursday, March 31, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, commencing a two-day orbital trek to the six person crew living aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The successful nighttime liftoff of the Progress 63 cargo ship atop a three stage Soyuz 2.1a booster took place at 12:23 p.m. EDT (10:23 p.m. local time in Baikonur) from Site 31 at Baikonur as the orbiting outpost was flying about 251 miles (400 km) above northeast Iraq.
NASA astronaut and Expedition 47 crew member Jeff Williams captured several elegant views of the Progress launch from his heavenly perch on the station inside the Cupola.
“Fresh fruit is on the way! Here are some of the best pics taken from @Space_Station during today’s #Progress launch,” Williams said on his social media accounts from space.
“Today’s #Progress launch occurred about 5 minutes before we passed over the launch site in Baikonur.”
“Sunset occurred for us about a minute later and shortly after we caught site of the rocket ahead and below us from the Cupola. We continued to catch up to it until it was directly below. We saw the flash of 3rd stage ignition and the subsequent 3rd stage was spectacular. Here are some of the best shots taken from the International Space Station. (note the one taken just after the moment of engine cutoff!) Spectacular!” Williams elaborated.
The Progress 63 resupply ship, also known by its Russian acronym as Progress MS-02, is due to arrive at the station on April 2 for an automated docking to the aft port of the Russian Zvezda Service Module.
After a picture perfect eight and a half minute climb to its initial orbit, the Progress MS-02 separated from the Soyuz third stage and deployed its pair of solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned.
“This was a flawless ascent to orbit for the Progress 63 cargo craft carrying just over three tons of supplies,” said NASA launch commentator Rob Navius during a live launch webcast on NASA TV. “Everything was right on the money.”
“All stages of the Soyuz booster performed to perfection.”
The planned longer two-day and 34 orbit journey rather than a faster 3 or 4 orbit rendezvous and docking is designed to help engineers test out new computer software and vehicle communications gear on this new version of the Progress.
“The two-day rendezvous for the Progress is deliberately planned to enable Russian flight controllers to test new software and communications equipment for the new vehicle configuration that will be standard for future Progress and piloted Soyuz spacecraft,” according to NASA officials.
Docking to the orbiting laboratory is set for approximately 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2.
NASA TV will provide live docking coverage of the Progress 63 arrival starting at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday.
Today’s Progress launch counts as the second of a constellation of three resupply ships from the US and Russia launching to the station over a three successive weeks.
The Orbital ATK ‘SS Rick Husband’ Cygnus resupply spacecraft that launched last week on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 was at the vanguard of the cargo ship trio – as I reported here from on site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Cygnus was successfully berthed at the Earth-facing port of the Unity module this past Saturday, March 26 – as I reported here.
Following Progress is the SpaceX Return To Flight (RTF) mission dubbed SpaceX CRS-8.
It is slated to launch on April 8 and arrive at the ISS on April 10 for berthing to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module – at the end of the station where NASA space shuttles formerly docked. It carries another 3.5 tons of supplies.
So altogether the trio of international cargo ships will supply over 12 tons of station supplies in rapid succession over the next 3 weeks.
This choreography will set up America’s Cygnus and Dragon resupply craft to simultaneously be present and reside attached at adjacent ports on the ISS for the first time in history.
Plans currently call for Cygnus to stay at station for approximately two months until May 20th., when it will be unbolted and unberthed for eventual deorbiting and reentry.
Progress 63 will remain at the station for six months.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Learn more about Orion, SLS, ISS, NASA Mars rovers, Orbital ATK, ULA, SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
Apr 9/10: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs” and “Curiosity explores Mars” at NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club – http://rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.html
Apr 12: Hosting Dr. Jim Green, NASA, Director Planetary Science, for a Planetary sciences talk about “Ceres, Pluto and Planet X” at Princeton University; 7:30 PM, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton, Peyton Hall, Princeton, NJ – http://www.princetonastronomy.org/
Apr 17: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs”- 1:30 PM at Washington Crossing State Park, Nature Center, Titusville, NJ – http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html
Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Special Guest: This week we welcome Stephen Fowler, who is the Creative Director at InfoAge, the organization behind refurbishing the TIROS 1 dish and the Science History Learning Center and Museum at Camp Evans, Wall, NJ.
NASA is preparing a contingency spacewalk to deal with a broken backup computer component on the International Space Station, the agency said in an update Saturday (April 12). While there’s no timeline yet for the spacewalk, the agency must consider carefully when to do it given a cargo ship is supposed to arrive at station on Wednesday.
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft — already delayed due to an unrelated radar problem — is still scheduled to launch Monday at 4:58 p.m. EDT (8:58 p.m. UTC) to arrive at station two days later. Although the computer controls some robotic systems, NASA added the Canadarm2 that will grapple Dragon has other redundancies in place. The question is if the station itself has enough redundancy for the launch to go forward.
“A final decision on whether to launch Dragon Monday will not be made until another status meeting is conducted Sunday morning,” NASA stated.
The failure poses no risk to the crew and normal station operations are not affected, NASA emphasized. The failure was uncovered Friday “during a routine health check” of a box called EXT-2, which backs up a primary component that sits outside on the S0 truss (near the station’s center).
Earlier Saturday, a docked Progress robotic spacecraft boosted the station’s altitude in a planned maneuver to ready for the next Soyuz spacecraft launch, which will carry half of the Expedition 40 crew in May.
If spacewalks do go forward, this would be the second required contingency set required since Luca Parmitano experienced a life-threatening leak in a NASA spacesuit last July. NASA ordered an investigation, received a report in February and has halted all nonessential spacewalks while it addresses the recommendations. (Russian spacewalks in Orlan spacesuits are unaffected.)
The only NASA spacewalks that happened since summer took place in December, when an ammonia pump failure crippled science experiments on station. NASA’s Rick Mastracchio and his now returned-to-Earth crewmate Mike Hopkins performed two contingency spacewalks, successfully replacing the pump. The agency has snorkels and absorbent pads ready for its spacesuits as backup if another leak occurs.
Cargo resupply ships are vital for space exploration. These days they bring food, experiments and equipment to astronauts on the International Space Station. And in recent years, it hasn’t just been government agencies sending these things up; SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and (just this week) Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft brought up cargo of their own to station in recent months.
NASA just published a brief timeline of (real-life) cargo spacecraft, so we thought we’d adapt that information in pictorial form. Here are some of the prominent members of that elite group. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.
A space launch marking a new era is departing from the Virginia coast this Wednesday evening, and if you live anywhere along a wide area of the US Eastern seaboard, you’ll have a great opportunity to witness the launch with your own eyes. Here’s all the information you’ll need to see it, plus some tips for capturing it with your camera.
Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket will launch from Pad 0A at NASA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport based on Wallops Island, Virginia. This will mark not only the first launch of Antares, but the first orbital launch of a liquid-fueled rocket from Wallops. The launch window runs from 5:00 to 8:00 PM EDT (21:00-24:00 UT).
There were some concerns when a technical anomaly shutdown a “Wet Dress Rehearsal” test this weekend at T-16 minutes, but Orbital Sciences has stated that the problems have been resolved and the launch is pressing ahead as planned.
Space shots are a familiar sight to the residents of the Florida Space Coast, but will provide a unique show for residents of the U.S. central Atlantic region. The launch of Antares from Wallops will be visible for hundreds of miles and be over 10° above the horizon for an arc spanning from Wilmington, North Carolina to Washington D.C. and north to the New York City tri-state area as it heads off to the southeast. Antares is a two stage rocket with a 1st stage liquid fueled engine and a solid-fueled 2nd stage. The primary mission for Wednesday’s Antares A-One flight will be to demonstrate the ability for the Antares rocket to place a payload into orbit. If all goes well, Orbital Sciences will join SpaceX this summer in the select club of private companies with the ability provide cargo delivery access to the International Space Station in Low Earth Orbit.
Antares will deploy a dummy mass simulating the Cygnus module. Also onboard are the Phonesat-1a, -1b, and -1c micro-cubesats and the Dove 1 satellite.
Be sure to watch for the launch of Antares if you live in the region. Find a spot with a low uncluttered eastern horizon and watch from an elevated rooftop or hilltop location if possible. I live a hundred miles west of Cape Canaveral and I’ve followed launches all the way through Main Engine Cutoff and first stage separation with binoculars.
Be sure to also follow the launch broadcast live for any last minute delays via NASA TV or Universe Today will have a live feed as well. Antares is aiming to put the Cygnus test mass in a 250 x 300 kilometre orbit with a 51.6° inclination. This is similar to what will be necessary to head to the ISS, but this week’s launch will not be trailing the ISS in its path. This also means that the launch window can be extended over three hours rather than having to be instantaneous.
If the launch goes at the beginning of the window, the local sun angle over the launch facility will be 30° to the west. Sunset at Wallops on the evening of April 17th occurs at 7:41PM EDT, meaning we could be in for a photogenic dusk launch of Antares if it stretches to the end of the target window.
And speaking of which, a pre-sunset launch means short daytime exposure settings for photography. Be prepared to switch over for dusk conditions if the launch extends into the end of the window. Conditions during twilight can change almost moment-to-moment. One of the most memorable launches we witnessed was the pre-dawn liftoff of STS-131 on April 5th, 2010:
Once in orbit, the launch of Antares should generate four visible objects; the test mass payload, the two clam-shell fairings, and the stage two booster. This configuration is similar to a Falcon 9/Dragon launch, minus the solar panel covers. These objects should be visible to the naked eye at magnitudes +3 to +5. The cubesat payloads are tiny and below the threshold of naked eye visibility.
Preliminary visibility for the objects will favor latitudes 0-30° north at dusk to 10-40° at dawn. Keep in mind these predictions could change as the launch window evolves. The next NORAD tracking ID in the queue is 2013-015A. Yesterday’s launch of Anik G1 from Baikonur was just cataloged today as 2013-014A plus associated hardware. The weather is forecast to be 45% “go” for tomorrow’s launch. In the event of a scrub, the next launch window for Antares is April 18-21st.
It’ll be exciting to follow this first flight of Antares and its first scheduled mission to the International Space Station this summer. Also watch for the first ever lunar mission to depart Wallops on August 12 with the launch of the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).
Finally, if you’ve got a pass of the International Space Station this week, keep an eye out for Progress M-17M currently about 10 minutes ahead of the station in its orbit. The unmanned Progress vehicle just undocked yesterday from the station and will be conducting a series of experiments monitoring the interactions of its thrusters with the ionosphere before burning up on reentry over the South Pacific on April 21st.
The ISS and more can be tracked using Heavens-Above. Also, we’ll be tweeting all of the updates and orbital action as it evolves as @Astroguyz. Let us know of those launch sightings both near and far. It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact launches visible to a large portion of the U.S. population will have on the public’s perception of spaceflight. Be sure to look up tomorrow night!
When you’re cruising along in low-Earth orbit, running out of supplies is not an option. Fortunately there are Progress vehicles: Russian spacecraft that carry much-needed supplies and equipment to the astronauts aboard the Space Station.
The photo above, taken by Expedition 30 crew members, shows the unmanned Progress 46 vehicle approaching the ISS on January 27, 2012.
Progress 46 carried 2,050 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 2,778 pounds of parts and experiment hardware, for a total of 2.9 tons of food, fuel and equipment for the Expedition 30 crew.
The Progress is similar in appearance and design to Soyuz spacecraft, which serve as human transportation to and from the Space Station, but differs in that the second of the spacecraft’s three sections (as prior to launch) is a refueling module, and the third uppermost section is a cargo module.
In addition to bringing supplies to the ISS, Progress vehicles also serve as – for lack of a better term – “garbage trucks”, undocking from the Station loaded with trash and re-entering the atmosphere, during which time much of the refuse inside gets incinerated.
Progress 46 successfully docked to the Space Station at 7:09 p.m. (EST) on Jan. 27, 2012.