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Progress M-28M arrives at ISS
The successful launch and docking of the unmanned Progress M-28M spacecraft (Mission 60P) at the International Space Station, ISS, in July 2015, marked the return to flight of the Russian cargo ship series after the failure of a previous mission on April 28, 2015. The resumption of Progress flights acquired even more significance after the loss of NASA's Dragon SpX-7 unmanned carrier in the failure of a Falcon-9 rocket on June 28, 2015.
Progress M-28M approaches the ISS on July 5, 2015.
Preparations for the mission in the shadow of two failures
The launch of Progress M-28M was originally planned for Aug. 6, 2015, however after the loss of Progress M-27M on April 28, the next cargo mission to the ISS was moved forward. A draft of the emergency schedule penciled the launch for the next Progess as early as June 30, however it was eventually set for July 3, at 07:52 Moscow Time, when orbital mechanics would enable a fast, six-hour rendezvous profile with the station. In contrast, the launch on June 30, would require a two-day flight.
However, within 24 hours after the new flight manifest had been approved, a previously unplanned ISS maneuver on June 8 to avoid space junk forced mission planners to switch to a two-day rendezvous profile even in case of an on-time launch on July 3 at 07:55 Moscow Time.
With the station's current altitude, the six-hour rendezvous profile would be possible when the angle between the spacecraft in its initial orbit, the Earth and the ISS stayed within range from 18 to 40 degrees. With a wider angel, the spacecraft would not have enough time to catch up with the station, while a narrower angle would bring the "intercept" too soon and require a propellant-hungry braking maneuver. In the meantime, the two-day flight profile could be done within a range from 210 to 400 degrees. In case of the Progress launch on July 3, the cargo ship would end up 340 degrees away from the station upon entering orbit.
There was an option to maneuver the ISS to an orbit that would place it within specifications for a six-hour rendezvous, however the same change would also rule out a six-hour trip to the station for the manned Soyuz mission scheduled for July 23. Naturally, mission planners decided that preserving a six-hour rendezvous for a flight with the crew would be more important than for a cargo-delivery mission.
In addition to cutting short the flight in cramped conditions onboard Soyuz, the six-hour rendezvous profile also provides some minor propellant savings, because it eliminates the need to put the spacecraft into a spin to even out the heat from the Sun between each orbit-correction maneuver during a long, two-day trek to the station.
On June 19, the State Commission overseeing the launch cleared the spacecraft for irreversible operations, including loading of propellants and pressurized gases. The fueling of the Progress M-28M was completed in Baikonur on June 22, 2015, and next day it was transferred back to its processing building at Site 254. On June 25, the Progress was integrated with its payload fairing.
The Progress M-28M mission attracted even more attention after the loss of the Dragon SpX-7 cargo ship 139 seconds into the launch of its Falcon-9 rocket on June 28, 2015. In the immediate aftermath of the failure, Russian space officials made a largely symbolic offer to NASA to carry emergency cargo to the station if required, even though the Progress was too far in the pre-launch processing for any major re-arrangement of its cargo. NASA also re-confirmed that there was no urgency in replacing cargo lost in the Dragon SpX-7 accident and the Progress M-28M mission could proceed as scheduled.
On May 29, a day after the Dragon accident, a payload section, including the Progress M-28M spacecraft, its protective fairing and a transfer section, was moved from its processing building at Site 254 to the launch vehicle assembly building at Site 112 for integration with its Soyuz-U rocket. The final assembly was completed on June 30.
Still, on July 1, a routine flight from Moscow to Kzyl-Orda, in Kazakhstan, delivered an American cargo destined for the Progress M-28M mission, industry sources said. The special package, which apparently required an assistance of the Russian Federal Customs Agency, FTS, had to be transported from Kzyl Orda to Baikonur, because the space center's own airfield had been closed for renovations.
A Soyuz-U rocket with Progress M-28M shortly after its rollout to the launch pad on July 1, 2015.
The Soyuz-U launch vehicle with the Progress M-28M spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad Pad No. 5 at Site 1 in Baikonur on the morning of July 1, 2015.
A Soyuz-U rocket with the Progress M-28M spacecraft lifted off on July 3, 2015, at 07:55:48 Moscow Time (12:55 a.m. EDT) from Pad No. 5 at Site 1 in Baikonur Cosmodrome. Following a vertical liftoff under the thrust of four strap-on boosters of the first stage and the core booster of the second stage, the rocket headed east to reach an orbit with an inclination 51.66 degrees toward the Equator.
At the time of the launch, the ISS was flying over Northwestern Sudan near the border of Egypt and Libya.
The third stage then ignited moments before the separation of the second stage and 10 seconds later, the tail section of the third stage split into three segments and fell away.
The third stage kept firing until almost 9 minutes into the flight and the spacecraft separated less than four seconds after a command to shut down the RD-0124 engine on the third stage at 08:04:39.18 Moscow Time (1:04 a.m. EDT).
According to reports from mission control, antennas and solar panels successfully deployed and all systems functioned well onboard the spacecraft.
Soyuz-U rocket lifts off with Progress M-28M on July 3, 2015.
Ground track and launch profile for the Progress M-28M mission on July 3, 2015.
Following the launch, Progress M-28M was expected to enter a 193 by 245-kilometer initial parking orbit. Without any additional maneuvers, the spacecraft would remain in this orbit for at least 20 revolutions around the planet or 30 hours after the liftoff, before plunging back to Earth due to atmospheric friction.
Preliminary data after the launch showed that the spacecraft entered a 193.78 by 243.26-kilometer orbit with an inclination 51.63 degrees toward the Equator, which was well within specifications.
On its way for an initial rendezvous with the ISS, Progress M-28M conducted two orbit correction maneuvers on July 3 (during the third orbit of the mission) and the third maneuver on July 4 during the mission's 18th orbit:
At the time of the rendezvous between the cargo ship and the station on July 5, the ISS was circling the Earth in a 402.85 by 426.87-kilometer orbit. The Progress began an autonomous approach toward the outpost at 07:51:02 Moscow Time (12:51 a.m. EDT). Upon reaching the vicinity of the station at 09:51:20 Moscow Time (02:51 EDT), the cargo ship conducted a flyaround of the outpost, then spent few minutes in a station-keeping position before initiating its final approach.
Progress M-28M docked at the Earth-facing port of the Pirs Docking Compartment, SO1, a part of the Russian segment of the International Space Station, ISS, on July 5, 2015, at 10:11 Moscow Time (3:11 a.m. EDT), just two minutes ahead of the scheduled time at 10:13:02 Moscow Time. At the time, two spacecraft were flying over the South Pacific, southeast of New Zealand, out of range of Russian ground control stations, which required maintaining communications with ground control via US data relay satellites.
The Progress M-28M is scheduled to remain at the ISS for four months.
On Sept. 7, 2015, at 07:25 Moscow Time, the propulsion system onboard Progress M-28M was used to adjust the ISS orbit, to form the necessary parameters for the departure and landing of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft on Sept. 12, 2015.
The 538-second maneuver added 0.55 meters per second to the outpost and increased its altitude by 950 meters, bringing the average altitude to 401.9 kilometers.
According to the Russian mission control, the station entered a 401.8 by 419.3-kilometers orbit with an inclination 51.665 degrees toward the Equator. The orbit period reached 92.541 minutes.
According to Roskosmos, during the mission of Progress M-28M, its engines were used for three routine orbit corrections of the ISS and for one unscheduled maneuver to avoid space junk.
Progress M-28M undocked from ISS' Pirs Docking Compartment on December 19, 2015, at 10:35 Moscow Time (2:35 a.m. EST). The deorbiting maneuver was initiated at 13:42 Moscow Time (5:42 a.m. EST) with the vehicle's surviving debris predicted to fall into the Pacific Ocean at 14:28 Moscow Time (6:28 a.m. EST).
Cargo onboard Progress M-28M:
Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:
Progress M-28M is being prepared for vacuum testing. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Progress M-28M (right) during pre-launch processing on June 23, 2015, next to a Soyuz spacecraft. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Click to enlarge. Credit: TsENKI
Progress M-28M is integrated with its launch vehicle adapter on June 25, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: TsENKI
Progress M-28M is being integrated with its protective fairing on June 25, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Progress M-28M and its upper stage are integrated with the rest of the Soyuz-U launch vehicle on June 30, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Progress M-28M leaves the assembly building on July 1, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: TsENKI
Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz-U rocket lifts off with Progress M-28M on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roskosmos
Planned configuration of the ISS after the arrival of Progress M-28M (mislabeled by NASA as Progress 60) on July 5, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA
The ISS as seen by a TV camera onboard Progress M-28M spacecraft during its rendezvous and docking at the outpost on July 5, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA
At the time of docking, two spacecraft (left) were flying over the South Pacific, southeast of New Zealand, out of range of Russian ground control stations, which required maintaining communications with ground control via US data relay satellites. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA