Progress MS-09 flies ISS supply mission
A Russian cargo mission departed Baikonur Cosmodrome to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, ISS. The Progress MS-09 spacecraft lifted off at 00:51 Moscow Time on July 10, 2018 (5:51 p.m. EDT on July 9). For the first time in the ISS program, the Progress flight successfully reached the outpost after a two-orbit rendezvous profile, however, its ascent to orbit had a close call.
Progress MS-09 mission at a glance:
Progress MS-09 mission
As usual, the Progress MS-09 cargo ship was expected to deliver around 2.5 tons of cargo to the ISS, including propellant, pressurized gases, food, water, scientific equipment, components of the life-support system, clothing, medical supplies and hygiene items. Among highlights of the cargo was the Orlan-MKS spacesuit to be worn by crew members during spacewalks staged from the Russian Segment of the outpost. A representative of the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems of Space flight, IMBP, was also quoted by RIA Novosti as saying that the food items carried to the station would include an assortment of fish dishes and snacks.
Like in the preceding launch of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft a month earlier, the Progress MS-09 mission was expected to carry a new external camera designed to capture the ascent and the separation between the spacecraft and the third stage of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket. As before, the imaging exercise had the primary goal of monitoring the behavior of the third stage in the wake of the two failures, which destroyed a pair of Progress cargo ships in 2015 and 2016.
To prepare the transition of the Soyuz MS launches from Soyuz-U/FG series to the Soyuz-2-1a variant, Roskosmos approved a series of various measures on Feb. 14, 2017. They included the installation of the KL-152M video camera on the exterior of the Soyuz MS spacecraft, beginning with the MS-09 mission and on the Progress MS series, also beginning with the MS-09 launch.
The camera was designed to beam pictures back to Earth via the Klest TV system already available aboard the spacecraft. The experiment required a few modifications of the ship's flight control avionics, including onboard measurement and telemetry systems.
The KL-152M camera was installed on the Habitation Module of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft between its 1st and 2nd engineering planes and pointed toward the launch vehicle.
Preparing the Progress MS-09 mission
The active preparation for the Progress MS-09 mission began in Baikonur on Feb. 15, 2018, when RKK Energia specialists unpacked the fresh vehicle and began its initial testing. The first acceptance tests and pneumatic checks on the components of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket began at the launch site around June 19.
On June 25, 2018, Roskosmos announced that the testing of the ship's solar panels had been completed and the final preparations for fueling had begun. They included balancing and weighing of the vehicle. On June 26, a meeting of technical management confirmed the readiness of the spacecraft for the loading of propellant components and pressurized gases into the ship's Integrated Propulsion System, KDU, and refueling tanks, RKK Energia, the prime contractor, said. Also on June 26, inside the vehicle assembly building at Site 31, specialists completed the assembly of the first and second stages of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket for the Progress MS-09 mission.
The fueling operations were completed as scheduled on June 27 and 28. On June 29, RKK Energia said that the spacecraft had been returned back to the spacecraft assembly building at Site 254 and placed into its processing rig for final preparations. The integration of the spacecraft with its launch vehicle adapter was completed as scheduled on July 3. Shortly before the integration, specialists loaded last-minute items into the dry cargo section of the vehicle, including fresh fruits and vegetables for the ISS crew.
On July 4, specialists conducted the final visual inspection of Progress MS-09, before the spacecraft was covered with its protective fairing. The next day, the assembled payload section with the cargo ship was transported on a rail platform from Site 254 to the vehicle assembly building at Site 112.
The assembly of the Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle for the Progress MS-09 mission was completed on July 6, when the payload section with the cargo ship was first integrated with the third stage of the rocket and the resulting upper composite was then connected to the first and second stages. On the same day, a meeting of the technical management and the State Commission overseeing the testing declared the vehicle ready for the rollout to the launch pad next day.
The rollout of the launch vehicle to Pad 6 at Site 31 took place on the morning of July 7, 2018. That gave the personnel in Baikonur three days for the processing of the vehicle on the launch pad, instead of the two-day routine. The extra day was reportedly added in the wake of last-minute scrubs during two previous attempts to launch Progress MS-07 and Progress MS-08 spacecraft.
According to Roskosmos, the operations of the first launch pad day had been started, including planned integrated tests with a subsequent analysis of the telemetry data. The meeting of the State Commission overseeing the testing is planned on July 9, 2018, giving permission for the fueling of the launch vehicle for the liftoff scheduled at 00:51 Moscow Time on July 10, Roskosmos announced.
The liftoff of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket carrying the Progress MS-09 (No. 439) cargo ship took place as scheduled on July 10, 2018, at 00:51:34.452 Moscow Time (5:51 p.m. EDT) from Pad 6 at Site 31 in Baikonur.
Following a vertical liftoff, the launch vehicle headed eastward from Baikonur matching an orbital inclination of 51.66 degrees toward the Equator. The four boosters of the first stage separated nearly two minutes into the flight, while the second stage continued firing until 4.7 minutes into the flight.
Before the separation of the second stage, the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft split into two halves and fell off.
The third stage ignited moments before the separation of the second stage, firing its engine through a lattice structure connecting the two boosters and ensuring the continuous thrust during the entire ascent to orbit. A fraction of a second later, the aft cylindrical section of the third stage split into three segments and dropped off, ensuring the fall of all the debris into the same drop zone 1,576 kilometers from the launch site.
In the meantime, the third stage kept firing until almost nine minutes into the flight. Progress MS-09 separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle at 01:00:22 Moscow Time on July 10, 2018, (6:00 p.m. EDT on July 9).
Although the ride to orbit for the Progress MS-09 on July 10, 2018, went seemingly well, a technical article published in 2020 revealed that the separation between four boosters of the first stage and the second (core) stage during the launch had nearly caused a catastrophic failure. The post-launch telemetry analysis showed that one of the four boosters (designated Block V) had had a delayed opening of a valve on its oxidizer tank which lets the pressurized gas inside to escape and push the booster away from its host rocket during its separation.
Without that powerful jet force, the empty booster's tip came close to slashing a tank of the second stage as it was propelling the vehicle away from the first-stage boosters. Despite a night-time launch (and a partly cloudy weather), the subsequent review of the available imagery confirmed that Block V's pointed nose had been moving within dangerous proximity from the core stage at the time, when the empty booster's pressure release valve had finally opened, the article said. Ironically, just three months later, an abnormal separation of the first stage (though for a different reason) during the launch of the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft with a crew onboard did result in a fatal collision between the boosters and the emergency termination of the flight. (935)
Thanks to its on-schedule launch, the Progress MS-09 mission embarked on a new rendezvous profile with the ISS, which should allow the ship's docking at the station just three hours and 48 minutes after its departure from Baikonur or after around two revolutions around the Earth in the autonomous flight. The two-orbit rendezvous method will cut in half the shortest time that has been required to reach the ISS prior to the Progress MS-09 mission. However, it should be noted that the two-orbit rendezvous scenario is not record-breaking in the history of space flight either in Russia or elsewhere. For example, the world's first automated docking between a pair of unmanned Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft more than 50 years ago was accomplished in just 77 minutes after the liftoff of the second (chase) vehicle. Still, the shortening of the ferry flight to the ISS will be welcomed news for all Soyuz passengers, because during the current six-hour rendezvous process, their typical work day lasts up to 16 hours including 10 hours in a spacesuit, which is close to the limit of discomfort even for seasoned pilots. (817)
The Progress MS-09 cargo ship undocked from the SO1 Pirs Docking Compartment, a part of the Russian Segment of the International Space Station, ISS, on Jan. 25, 2019, at 15:55 Moscow Time (7:55 a.m. EST), Roskosmos announced.
According to the Russian mission control, the start of the deorbiting maneuver was scheduled for 19:08 Moscow Time (11:08 a.m. EST) on the same day, followed by a destructive reentry in the Earth's atmosphere at 19:41 Moscow Time (11:41 a.m. EST).
Any surviving debris of the vehicle were estimated to impact in the remote region of the Pacific Ocean at 19:50 Moscow Time (11:50 a.m. EST) on Jan. 25, 2019.
Progress MS-09 is being prepared for transfer to a fueling station on June 26, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Progress MS-09 returns to its processing site at Site 254 after completion of fueling on June 28, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Cargo is loaded aboard Progress MS-09 on July 2, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
The payload section with Progress MS-09 spacecraft is being prepared for loading on a rail platform for a transfer to the vehicle assembly building on July 5, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Final assembly of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket with Progress MS-09 on July 6, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
An external camera on the Progress MS-09 spacecraft captured a fragment of the tail section of the third stage, which was dropped moments after the separation of the second stage. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Russian cosmonauts monitor the approach of the Progress MS-09 cargo ship to the ISS. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Progress MS-09 approaches the ISS. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Russian cosmonauts prepare to check air quality inside the cargo section of the Progress MS-09 spacecraft after its arrival at ISS. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
A look inside the cargo section of the Progress MS-09 after its arrival at ISS. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos