Progress cargo freighter readied for fast-track space station delivery

Credit: Energia

A Russian Progress resupply and refueling freighter is set for launch Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on top of a Soyuz booster. If everything goes according to plan, the cargo carrier will dock with the International Space Station less than three-and-a-half hours later.

The Progress MS-11 supply ship is packed with more than 3.7 tons (3.4 metric tons) of propellant, food, hardware, water and breathing air for the space station and its six-person crew, according to a cargo manifest provided by NASA.

Liftoff is scheduled for 1101:35 GMT (7:01:35 a.m. EDT) Thursday from Launch Pad No. 31 at Baikonur aboard a Soyuz-2.1a rocket. The launch is timed for just before the space station passes over Baikonur, allowing the Progress spacecraft to rapidly catch up to the orbiting complex during two orbits around Earth, arriving within a few hours after separation from the Soyuz third stage.

After its late afternoon blastoff from Baikonur, the Soyuz-2.1a rocket will head northeast on a track aligned with the space station’s orbit. The Soyuz rocket’s four first stage boosters will consume their supply of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants around two minutes after liftoff, followed by jettison of the launcher’s aerodynamic shroud covering the Progress cargo capsule at about T+plus 3 minutes.

The core stage, also known as the second stage, will shut down its four-nozzle engine around five minutes into the mission, giving way to an RD-0110 engine on the third stage to power the Progress cargo craft into a preliminary orbit around Earth. The Progress MS-11 supply ship will separate from the Soyuz third stage at T+plus 8 minutes, 45 seconds, and immediately unfurl two power-generating solar array wings and a set of navigation antennas.

A series of burns to fine-tune the Progress spacecraft’s approach to the space station will begin at 1141 GMT (7:41 a.m. EDT), and the resupply freighter’s automated rendezvous sequence will begin at 1204 GMT (8:04 a.m. EDT), barely one hour into the mission.

The Progress spacecraft’s Kurs rendezvous radar will be activated at 1254 GMT (8:54 a.m. EDT), and the approaching cargo ship will move within a mile (1.6 kilometers) of the space station by 1355 GMT (9:55 a.m. EDT). Flying on autopilot, the cargo carrier will line up with the space station’s Pirs module and begin a final approach at 1414 GMT (10:14 a.m. EDT).

Docking with the Pirs module is set for 1425 GMT (10:25 a.m. EDT). If the link-up in orbit occurs on time, the docking will mark the quickest rendezvous with the International Space Station in its 20-year history.

A Progress resupply mission last July achieved the first two-orbit rendezvous with the station, but the parameters of the flight led to a docking around three hours and 40 minutes after launch. Russian Progress cargo ships and Soyuz crew capsules previously followed six-hour or two-day rendezvous profiles.

The launch from Baikonur on Thursday is the first of two flights by the Russian Soyuz rocket family in five-and-a-half hours. A separate team is preparing a Soyuz ST-B rocket for liftoff at the Guiana Space Center, the European-run spaceport in South America, with four commercial communications satellites at 1630 GMT (12:30 p.m. EDT).

According to NASA, the Progress supply ship set for launch Thursday will carry 3,375 pounds (1,530 kilograms) of propellant, 3,117 pounds (1,413 kilograms) of dry cargo in the spacecraft’s pressurized compartment, 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of water, and 104 pounds (47 kilograms) of oxygen and air.

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