Three days after launching on its Soyuz booster rocket, the Russian ISS Progress 45 cargo ship docked to the International Space Station on Nov. 2, 2011, delivering almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies. This is great news for the Space Station program, as the successful launch and today’s efficacious docking certainly bodes well for the resumption of crewed flights to the ISS, diminishing the prospect for having the ISS unmanned. Soyuz rocket launches were halted for almost 2 months after the unexpected failure and loss of the Progress 44 vehicle in August. Today, the unmanned Progress automatically linked up to the Pirs Docking Compartment on the Russian segment and the crew will soon begin unloading the supplies.
Video caption: Liftoff of unmanned Russian Progress craft atop Soyuz booster on Oct. 30, 2011 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: NASA TV/Roscosmos.
Photos and rocket rollout video below
The very future of the International Space Station was on the line this morning as the Russian Progress 45 cargo ship successfully launched this morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:11 a.m. EDT (4:11 p.m. Baikonur time) on Oct. 30, 2011, bound for the ISS.
Today’s (Oct. 30) blastoff of the Soyuz rocket booster that is used for both the Progress cargo resupply missions and the Soyuz manned capsules was the first since the failure of the third stage of the prior Progress 44 mission on August 24 which crashed in Siberia.
The third stage is nearly identical for both the manned and unmanned versions of the normally highly reliable Soyuz booster rocket.
Today’s success therefore opens up the door to resumption of crewed flights to the ISS, which were grounded by Russia after the unexpected loss of the Progress 44 mission.
If this Progress flight had failed, the ISS would have had to be left in an uncrewed state for the first time since continuous manned occupation began more than 10 years ago and would have significantly increased the risk for survival of the ISS in the event of a major malfunction and no human presence on board to take swift corrective action.
NASA issued the following statement from Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington, about the launch of the Progress 45 spacecraft.
“We congratulate our Russian colleagues on Sunday’s successful launch of ISS Progress 45, and the spacecraft is on its way to the International Space Station. Pending the outcome of a series of flight readiness meetings in the coming weeks, this successful flight sets the stage for the next Soyuz launch, planned for mid-November. The December Soyuz mission will restore the space station crew size to six and continue normal crew rotations.”
Progress 45 is carrying nearly 3 tons of supplies to the ISS, including food, water, clothing, spare parts, fuel, oxygen and science experiments for use by the resident crews.
The resupply vehicle achieved the desired preliminary orbit after the eight and one half minute climb to space and deployed its solar arrays and communications antennae’s.
After a two day chase, Progress 45 will automatically link up with the ISS at the Pirs Docking Compartment on Nov. 2 at 7:40 a.m (EDT) and deliver 1,653 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 3,108 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and other supplies for the Expedition 29 crew.
The successful launch sets the stage for the launch of the station’s next three residents on Nov. 13. NASA’s Dan Burbank and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin will arrive at the station Nov. 16, joining NASA’s Mike Fossum, Russia’s Sergei Volkov and Japan’s Satoshi Furukawa for about six days before Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa return home.
Liftoff of Burbank’s crew was delayad from the original date on September 22 following the Progress failure in August. Because of the delayed Soyuz crew launch, the handover period from one crew to the next had to be cut short.
Since the forced retirement of the Space Shuttle, the US has absolutely no way to send human crews to orbit for several years to come at a minimum and is totally reliant on Russia.
The survival of the ISS with humans crews on board is therefore totally dependent on a fully functioning and reliable Soyuz rocket.
Video caption: Rollout of Soyuz rocket and Progress cargo craft to Baikonur launch pad.
Just a bit of a traffic jam at the International Space Station has prompted a 10-day delay of the targeted launch for space shuttle Endeavour’s 25th and final mission, STS-134. Originally scheduled for April 19, the shuttle launch is now scheduled for 3:47 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 29. The delay removes a scheduling conflict with a Russian Progress supply vehicle scheduled to launch April 27 and arrive at the station April 29. Current restrictions do not allow a Progress to dock to the station while a shuttle is there.
Meanwhile, A Russian Soyuz spacecraft emblazoned with Yuri Gagarin’s face and name is scheduled to liftoff today (Monday, April 4, 2011) at 6:18:20 p.m. EDT (22:19 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, bringing two cosmonauts and one astronaut to the ISS to round out the current Expedition 27 crew, returning the crew size to 6. On board will be Soyuz commander Alexander Samokutyaev, flight engineer Andrey Borisenko and NASA astronaut Ron Garan.
The Soyuz will launch from the same launch pad used by Yuri Gagarin when he became the first human in space 50 years ago on April 12, 1961. The Russian Space Agency is dedicating this launch of the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft to the anniversary. You can watch the launch on NASA TV.
NASA managers will hold a Flight Readiness Review on Tuesday, April 19 to make sure everything is go for the April 29 launch date for STS-134. The primary goals of Endeavour’s mission are to deliver critical supplies and equipment to the International Space Station, along with a $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics experiment. Four spacewalks also are planned to carry out needed maintenance on the orbiting lab complex.
The shuttle launch is already generating a lot of interest – not only because it is Endeavour’s final flight, but also because Commander Mark Kelly’s wife, Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords, is hoping to be present at Kennedy Space Center for the liftoff. She was shot in the head in January of this year, but has recovered sufficiently to consider attending her husband’s final shuttle launch.
One other item of note: NASASpaceflight.com is reporting that a Soyuz flyaround is being considered again while the space shuttle is docked at the ISS. NASA had requested such a flyaround during the previous shuttle mission, STS-133, to be able to take images—both engineering and documentary – of the ISS with spacecraft from each of the partnering space agencies present. Japan’s HTV-2 has now departed, so if the flyaround is approved to take place during the STS-134 mission, that spacecraft would, of course, be missing from the family photo.
The international partners have decided against an historic ‘fly-about’ of the International Space Station, which would have provided one-of-a-kind images of the nearly completed ISS with space shuttle Discovery and an assortment of vehicles from the different participating space agencies docked to the station.
“This morning, our Russian colleagues, after doing their own independent review processes … have determined that they are not in position to recommend doing the fly about, because this particular vehicle is what they consider a new vehicle, the Series 700 vehicle, which is in its maiden flight,” said Kenneth Todd, a manager for Mission Integration and Operations at NASA, speaking at a mission briefing this morning.
The Russians felt they didn’t have the time or opportunity to fully understand, review and work through all the risks of the request of flying the Soyuz around the ISS, an idea which was presented only recently, and after the new Soyuz had already launched to orbit.
“From a MMT perspective, we knew it was critical for all partners to go through their processes,” Todd said. “It wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping to get back, but at the same point I applaud the Russians for doing the right thing, for not disregarding their own processes and making sure they do their own due diligence the way they should. I accepted the recommendation.”
Mission Control in Houston radioed up to ISS commander Scott Kelly and STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey that the possible Soyuz fly about was a no-go, even though mission managers had already approved an extra day extension of the shuttle mission.
“We’ll now use that extra day for transfer work between the PMM (Permanent Multipurpose Module) and the ISS, to leave the station and crew in the best possible shape when Discovery undocks.” said Capcom Stan Love. “The fly about will not happen during this flight.”
The fly-about –- only proposed about two weeks ago — would have had cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka along with Kelly to undock from the Russian Poisk module in the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft, back away from the ISS so they could show the ISS in its nearly completed configuration, with the shuttle attached, along with the Russian Progress and Soyuz, the European ATV and the Japanese HTV-1.
Todd said the images would not only be historic from an aesthetic perspective, but also provide valuable engineering views and data.
“There are multiple reasons this was going to be a good thing, to do this photo documentation,” he said. “Everytime we do one of these things we learn a lot, and we get a lot of good data about our ability to do this type of function, not just on our side but on the Russian side. I don’t see our review of this as wasted time or effort, and if we ever need to do this in the future, we will have to assess that at the time.”
Todd added that they should be able to get most of the images and data they were hoping for when the shuttle undocks and departs from the ISS next week – save for the historic aspect of having a shuttle docked to the station, along with all the other visiting vehicles.
Earlier today, the crews of STS-133 and the space station successfully installed the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, essentially storage space (a “float-in” closet – which has also been referred to as a potential Man-cave) which includes supplies. Also tucked inside is Robonaut-2, the first human-like robot to serve on board the space station.
Discovery’s landing is currently set for 11:36 am EST on Tuesday, March 8, 2011.
Check out the spectacular launch photo (above) of the Johannes Kepler ATV streaking skyward atop an Ariane 5 rocket as captured by astronaut Paolo Nespoli from his unparalleled vantage point looking out the windows aboard the International Space Station (ISS), in orbit some 350 km above Earth.
The launch photo shows the rising exhaust trail from the rocket just minutes after blast off of the Ariane booster on Feb. 16 from the ESA rocket base in Kourou, French Guiana, South America. The rocket was still on a vertical ascent trajectory to orbit. Additional launch photos below from space and Earth.
The photo vividly illustrates the maturity of the European space effort since the launch base, Ariane booster rocket, Kepler payload and astronaut Nespoli all stem from Europe and are crucial to the future life of the ISS.
Kepler is set to dock at the ISS on Feb. 24 and an on time arrival is essential because of an impending orbital traffic jam.
Space Shuttle Discovery is due to link up with the ISS just six hous after Kepler if the orbiter launches according to schedule on Feb. 22.
Everything is nominal with Kepler’s spacecraft systems and orbital performance at this time say European Space Agency (ESA) officials, including the deployment of ATV’s four large solar wings.
The ATV, or Automated Transfer Vehicle, is a European built resupply vessel designed to transport essential cargo and provisions to the ISS. It is Europe’s contribution to stocking up the ISS.
Kepler is carrying carries more than seven metric tons of supplies and cargo for the ISS and will be used to reboost the outpost to a higher orbit during its planned four month mission.
“ATV is a truly European spacecraft. Flying it requires experts from ESA, partner agencies and industry across half a dozen countries,” said ESA’s Bob Chesson, Head of the Human Spaceflight Operations Department.
“Getting it built, into orbit and operating it in flight to docking requires a lot of hard work and dedication from hundreds of people.”
The ATV is named after Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the German astronomer and mathematician who is best known for discovering the laws of planetary motion. NASA also named its powerful new planet hunting space telescope after Kepler, which recently discovered the first earth sized planets orbiting inside the habitable zone.
After the shuttle is forcibly retired later this year in 2011, the very survival and continued use of the ISS will be completely dependent on a steady train of cargo and payloads lofted by unmanned resupply vessels including the ATV from Europe, HTV from Japan, Progress from Russia and commercial carriers such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences.
Photos of Ariane rockets rising exhaust trail from Feb. 16 ATV launch photographed from the ISS. Credits: ESA/ NASA
If all goes well and space shuttle Discovery arrives at the International Space Station the end of February, there will be a distinctive configuration: all the international partners will have a vehicle docked to the completed ISS. With the shuttle program about to retire, this configuration will be unique enough – this is the only time it will happen during the shuttle program — that NASA is considering putting three cosmonauts/astronauts in one of the Soyuz capsules that are docked to the station, have them undock and fly around to take pictures of the entire complex.
The Soyuz could photograph the station, showing the ISS in its final, completed configuration, with the shuttle attached, along with the Russian Progress and Soyuz, the European ATV and the Japanese HTV-1.
NASA managers, engineers and contractors are meeting today, Feb. 18 in a Flight Readiness Review to discuss the photo op. Of course, the Russian space agency would have to go along with the idea, as the task would not be insignificant.
Anytime a spacecraft undocks, there is the possibility of a problem or malfunction, and with people involved, the problems multiply fairly quickly. If for some reason the crew could not re-dock, they would have to deorbit and return to Earth, and the ISS crew would all of a sudden be reduced from six to three. Of course, the shuttle crew would be there, but their stay would be limited.
If the plans gets the OK, the crew doing the photo-op mission would ber Alexander Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka and Expedition 26 commander Scott Kelly.
But you have to admit, the pictures and videos would be spectacular, and as things stand now, this would be the one and only chance to get a picture like this, a sort of family photo of the station and all the vehicles that support it.
The feat is not without precedence, however. The Russians took a similar photo on July 4, 1995, when the shuttle Atlantis was docked to the Mir space station, the first time a shuttle visited the Russian space station. Just before Atlantis undocked to return home, cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Nikolai Budarin undocked in a Soyuz spacecraft and photographed the shuttle’s departure from a distance of about 300 feet.
There was a computer problem during the maneuver, however, and the cosmonauts had to dock manually and everything turned out just fine. And the picture was great, too.
The NASA Twitter feed reporting from today’s FRR meeting said the decision to do the photo op will probably not be made until during the STS-133 mission. NASA management is also deciding today when the Discovery mission will actually launch – right now it is scheduled for February 24, 2011 but they are weighing waiting until February 25, as the ATV Johnnes Kepler will arrive at the ISS on the 24th about 6 hours before the shuttle is scheduled to launch. If there were any problems with the ATV, the shuttle might have to stand down.