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Progress M-26M mission
The Progress M-26M cargo ship became the first Russian vehicle to fly to the International Space Station, ISS, in 2015 to re-supply Expedition 42 onboard the outpost. After several delays, the launch took place on February 17.
Soyuz rocket with Progress M-26M spacecraft lifts off on Feb. 17, 2015.
Ground track and launch profile for Progress M-26M mission on Feb. 17, 2015.
Preparations of the Progress M-26M spacecraft for launch started at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the middle of August 2014. This launch was previously scheduled for Oct. 23, 2014, however it was later postponed to Feb. 3, 2015. By the beginning of that year, the mission was rescheduled for February 17.
The Soyuz-U rocket for the mission arrived at Baikonur on December 12, 2014. On February 3, the cargo ship was cleared for irreversable operations and a day later shipped to a fueling station at Site 31. The spacecraft was returned to its processing building at Site 254 on February 6. Five days later, it was integrated with the transfer ring of the launch vehicle and on February 12, the spacecraft was covered with its payload fairing. Next day, the payload section was transferred from Site 254 to an assembly building at Site 112, where it was integrated with its Soyuz-U launch vehicle. The rollout to the launch pad at Site 1 took place on the morning of February 15.
Launch and ride to orbit
The liftoff of the Soyuz-U rocket took place as scheduled on Feb. 17, 2015, at 14:00:17 Moscow Time (6:00 a.m. EST, 11:00 GMT) from Pad No. 5 at Site 1 in Baikonur. The launch vehicle carried the 7,287-kilogram Progress M-26M spacecraft bound to the International Space Station, ISS. Following a standard ascent, the spacecraft separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle at 14:09:06 Moscow Time (6:09 a.m. EST, 09:09 GMT) in a 192.7 by 246.3-kilometer orbit with an inclination 51.65 degrees toward the Equator, the mission control in Korolev confirmed.
The deployment of external structures onboard the spacecraft was confirmed along the following timeline:
Rendezvous and docking
Progress M-26M followed a six-hour, five-revolution rendezvous profile with the outpost, aiming to achieve docking at 19:58:59 Moscow Time (11:58 EST, 16:58 GMT) on the day of the launch at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module, SM on the Russian segment. At the moment of the rendezvous with the cargo ship, the space station was expected to be in a 398.25 by 421.47-kilometer orbit.
To reach the outpost, Progress M-26M was scheduled to conduct four orbit-boosting engine firings, two during the mission's first revolution around the Earth and two more during the second orbit:
The autonomous rendezvous process was scheduled to start at 17:50:14 Moscow Time (9:50 a.m. EST, 14:50 GMT). The final maneuvering, including a flyaround of the station, a short period of station-keeping and, finally, berthing would be initiated at 19:36:10 Moscow Time (11:36 EST, 16:36 GMT).
The actual docking took place at 11:57 a.m. EST, around one minute ahead of schedule.
In early hours of May 16, 2015, just weeks after the loss of Progress M-27M spacecraft, the mission control in Korolev planned to fire engines onboard the Progress M-26M spacecraft (still docked at the International Space Station, ISS) to place the outpost into a planned orbit for the upcoming landing of the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft on June 11 and for the arrival of the fresh cargo ship at the beginning of July.
However shortly before the maneuver, it was aborted by the flight control computer, after it had detected that engines had not been ready.
After the review of the problem, the mission control re-scheduled the orbit correction attempt for a backup opportunity on May 18. Engines suspected of causing the initial failure were excluded from the operation, while the duration of the maneuver was extended to compensate for less thrust.
On May 18, the 1,922-second engine firing started as scheduled at 03:30 Moscow Time, boosting the outpost's altitude by 2.8 kilometers, Roskosmos announced. According to the mission control in Korolev, the average altitude of the ISS was raised by 3.2 kilometers, placing the station into a 400.76 by 417.75-kilometer orbit with an inclination 51.66 degrees and an orbital period of 92.54 minutes.
According to a pre-programmed sequence, the spacecraft activated its braking engine at 16:28 Moscow Time on the same day any surviving debris of the vehicle were expected to impact in the remote region of the Pacific Ocean around 17:17 Moscow Time, Roskosmos said.
The departure of the Progress of M-26M freed the aft docking post on the service module for the re-docking of the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft, scheduled on August 28. In turn, this operation would make that docking location available for the arrival of Soyuz TMA-18M on Sept. 2, 2015.
Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:
Pre-launch processing of Progress M-26M spacecraft in February 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Progress M-26M is covered with its payload fairing on Feb. 12, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
The rollout of the Soyuz-U rocket to the launch pad in Baikonur in the yearly hours of Feb. 15, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz rocket with Progress M-26M spacecraft lifts off on Feb. 17, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia