Progress MS-17 lifts off to prepare Prichal module arrival
The 78th Russian cargo supply flight to the International Space Station, ISS, lifted off from Baikonur on June 30, 2021. Progress MS-17 spacecraft initially docked to the MIM-2 Poisk module, a part of the Russian ISS segment, but after the planned arrival of the MLM Nauka module on July 23, Progress was to be relocated to the new module's free port to prepare it for the addition of yet another Russian component -- the Prichal node module.
Progress MS-17 mission at a glance:
Progress MS-17's unusual flight program
During the early planning of the ISS flight manifest in 2014, the first Russian cargo mission of 2021 was planned for February 22, however by August 2020, the launch of what was then identified as Progress MS-17 was planned for March 19, then still the first supply flight to the station. At that time, Progress had been initially scheduled to dock at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module, SM, at the start of its 179-day mission. However, in case of a successful arrival of the MLM Nauka module at the station then expected in April 2021, Progress MS-17 would be re-docked to the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the newly arrived component at the end of July 2021. The move would allow Roskosmos to prepare the next step in the expansion of the Russian Segment, this time with the UM Prichal node module.
Upon the launch of Prichal, then scheduled for Sept. 6, 2021, the Progress MS-17 would be undocked from Nauka's nadir port, carrying with it a special docking adapter (Insider Content) on Nauka's docking mechanism, which was custom-designed for cargo ships and crew vehicles. With the removal of the adapter, the Prichal module would then be able to dock to the reconfigured port on Nauka on September 8, 2021. It would form a wider passageway between Nauka and Prichal than the one available through the adapter, which was to be discarded with Progress MS-17. If Prichal failed to reach orbit for any reason, the adapter discarding operation could be postponed, leaving the nadir docking port on Nauka still available for future transport ships equipped with standard docking ports.
When in 2020, the launch of the Nauka module slipped from April to July 2021, the launch of Progress MS-17 was also pushed back, keeping the cargo mission within the necessary timeframe for discarding the docking adapter on the MLM, just ahead of the Prichal's module arrival. According to the November 2020 revision of the ISS flight manifest, the launch of Progress MS-17 was set for June 30, 2021, or around took weeks ahead of Nauka's liftoff. It would now be the second Russian cargo mission heading to the ISS, after Progress MS-16.
The redocking of Progress MS-17 from Zvezda's aft port to Nauka's nadir port was then planned for the second half of October 2021 and its departure with Nauka's docking adapter would take place around a month later.
By early 2021, the original destination for Progress MS-17 aboard the ISS was changed from the aft port on the Zvezda module to the MIM2 Poisk module, because of a persistent air leak (Insider Content) in the Transfer Compartment, PrK, which provided a vestibule for the aft port on Zvezda. Also, in order to free a docking port on the MIM Rassvet module for the automated docking of the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft scheduled to launch on Oct. 5, 2021, the preceding Soyuz MS-18 crew ship would be re-docked to Nauka, thus becoming the first spacecraft to berth at the new module. Only after the departure of Soyuz MS-18 on October 17 would Progress MS-17 be re-docked to Nauka for its port reconfiguration. Of course, all these moves were dependent on the successful arrival of Nauka.
In addition to its unique port reconfiguration mission, Progress MS-17 was still fully capable of performing the cargo ship's traditional re-supply tasks, delivering around 2.5 tons of supplies, including 470 kilograms of propellant for the station's propulsion system, 420 liters of water in the tanks of the Rodnik system, 40 kilograms of air and oxygen in compressed gas tanks and 1,509 kilograms of equipment in the pressurized cargo section, Roskosmos said.
Mass breakdown of the cargo delivered aboard Progress MS-17, according to the mission control in Korolev:
According to some reports, the cargo aboard Progress MS-17 included equipment for filming scenes of a science fiction movie planned during a short-duration expedition to the ISS later in 2021.
Preparations for flight
Progress MS-17 is transported for vacuum testing on May 29, 2021.
Progress MS-17 arrived at the processing complex at Site 254 in Baikonur on March 10, 2020, and was mothballed in anticipation of its launch campaign in the following year. On May 7, 2021, Roskosmos announced that specialists at Yuzhny branch of the TsENKI infrastructure center and RKK Energia (the spacecraft manufacturer) had taken the spacecraft out of storage, installed it in its processing rig, inspected the vehicle, connected cable of the testing equipment and prepared it for electric checks and testing of the onboard the thermal control plumbing. The launch campaign testing was scheduled to begin in the following day, Roskosmos said.
On June 3, Roskosmos announced the completion of vacuum testing of Progress MS-17, initiated on May 30. According to the state corporation, tests of the ship's Kurs-NA radio system in the anechoic chamber was conducted at the end of May. On June 8, testing of the ship's solar panels was completed. Specialists also tested the lines of the Rodnik water supply system aboard the spacecraft, conducted routine disinfection of its pressurized cargo section and began loading cargo intended for delivery to the ISS, Roskosmos said on June 9.
On June 16, Roskosmos announced that the assembly of the first and second-stage boosters for the Soyuz-2-1a rocket assigned to the Progress MS-17 mission had been completed in Baikonur. On the same day, a meeting of technical management cleared the spacecraft for transfer to a fueling station at Site 91A for loading of its integrated propulsion system and tanker section with propellant components and pressurized gases. The transfer of the spacecraft to the fueling station was preceded by balancing and weight measurements at Site 254. The preparations of the launch equipment for the mission at Pad No. 6 (Vostok) at Site 31 started on June 17, according to Roskosmos.
On June 19, 2021, Progress MS-17 was returned from the fueling station to the vehicle processing building at Site 254 for final integration. Last minute cargo, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, was loaded into the pressurized section, while the insignia commemorating the 75th anniversary since the creation of RKK Energia was glued on the ship's payload fairing. On June 22, Progress MS-17 was integrated with its launch vehicle adapter, PKhO, which would be used to connect it to the Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle. Specialists then performed test activation of the ship's radio equipment and other systems.
On June 24, specialists conducted traditional final inspection of the spacecraft, after which it was lowered in horizontal position and rolled inside its payload fairing assembly. On the same day, the completed payload section with the spacecraft was shipped to the vehicle assembly building at Site 31 for integration with its Soyuz-2-1a rocket, which was completed on June 25. On the same day, the State Commission gave green light to the rollout of the vehicle to the launch pad, which took place on the morning of June 27.
A Soyuz-2-1a rocket carrying the Progress MS-17 lifted off as scheduled from Site 31 in Baikonur on June 30, 2021, 02:27:20.324 Moscow Time (7:27 p.m. EDT, 23:27 UTC on June 29). At the time, the ISS was circling the Earth over the Atlantic, east of Argentinian coast.
Following vertical liftoff under the combined thrust of the four RD-107 engines on the first stage and the single RD-108 of the second (core) stage, the launch vehicle headed eastward from Baikonur matching its ground track to an orbit inclined 51.67 degrees to the plane of the Equator. The four first-stage boosters separated nearly two minutes into the flight, followed by the split and drop of the two halves of the payload fairing slightly more than a minute later. In the meantime, the second stage continued firing until 4.7 minutes into the flight.
The third stage then ignited moments before the separation of the second stage, firing its RD-0110 engine through a lattice structure connecting the two boosters and ensuring a continuous thrust during the separation process. A fraction of a second after the boosters of the second and third stage parted ways, the aft cylindrical section of the third stage split into three segments and dropped off, ensuring the fall of the second stage and the aft section into the same drop zone.
The spacecraft separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle 8 minutes and 49 seconds after liftoff. According to Roskosmos, the Progress MS-17 reached orbit with following parameters as compared to planned:
Data displayed at the Russian mission control in Korolev indicated that the separation of the spacecraft from the third stage took place at 02:36:10 Moscow Time, the antennas of the rendezvous system had deployed at 03:36:23, followed by the antennas of the radio system at 02:36:25 Moscow Time and, finally, a pair of solar panels unfurled at 02:36:30 Moscow Time.
The Progress MS-17 mission was designed to follow a two-day, 33-orbit rendezvous profile to reach the International Space Station, ISS. The docking with the zenith (sky-facing) port of the MIM2 Poisk module was scheduled for July 2, 2021, around 04:02 Moscow Time (9:02 p.m. EDT on July 1) with a nominal accuracy of three minutes.
On June 30, Roskosmos announced that the Chief Informational and Analytical Center from the Automated Warning System on Dangerous Situations in Space within the TsNIIMash research institute had predicted a close encounter on July 2, 2021, between Progress MS-17 and two American objects. According to the preliminary data, the cargo ship was expected to pass within 1.5 kilometers from the Starlink-1691 satellite at 00:32 Moscow Time, followed three minutes later by a pass within 500 meters from a fragment of the Falcon-9 rocket that delivered that Starlink into orbit. The encounter would take place 3.5 hours before the planned docking between the cargo ship and the station, Roskosmos said.
The autonomous rendezvous process between Progress MS-17 and the station was planned according to the following timeline on July 2:
The Progress MS-17 approached the station as planned and performed a fully automated docking with ISS at 03:59:41 Moscow Time on July 2, 2021, (8:59 p.m. EDT on July 1), as the two spacecraft were flying over the South-Eastern Chile.
The Prichal Node Module, UM, is lowered in horizontal position on Oct. 20, 2021, in preparation for radio tests of its Kurs-NA rendezvous system.
To prepare for the arrival of the Prichal Node Module, UM, to the International Space Station, ISS, the Progress MS-17 cargo ship had to re-dock from the Poisk module, MIM2, to the newly arrived Nauka module. At its new location, the spacecraft would be used to test the interfaces of the docking mechanism slated to be permanently occupied by Prichal after its rendezvous with the station on Nov. 26, 2021.
In preparation for undocking, the hatches between Progress MS-17 and the station were closed on October 19, 2021, at 18:00 Moscow Time (11 a.m. EDT). The ISS was also pitched 90 degrees from its normal position, so that the main axis of the Poisk module was aligned with the outpost's velocity vector.
The cargo ship undocked from the Poisk module on command from the ground at 02:41 Moscow Time on October 21 (7:41 p.m. EDT on October 20), as the two spacecraft were flying over Mongolia. Physical separation between the two vehicles took place at 02:42:27 Moscow Time, according to Roskosmos.
According to Roskosmos, all Progress re-docking operations were planned in fully automatic mode but they would be monitored by cosmonauts aboard the ISS and by specialists on the ground.
Unlike piloted Soyuz crew transports, that periodically perform re-dockings in close proximity from the station under manual control, the Progress-MS vehicles can not do the same quick routine automatically. Neither can Progress fly around the ISS under control of cosmonauts aboard the station using the TORU remote-control system, because it is certified to safely operate only after the spacecraft had entered a narrow cone-shaped zone extending from the main axis of a destination port. Instead, mission controllers essentially let the Progress drift away from the station before it would naturally be "phased" back into a close proximity with the outpost around a day later. This method requires only minor propellant consumption to complete the rendezvous, while relying on navigation signals from GLONASS and GPS satellites and on the Kurs rendezvous system for the final approach, an expert familiar with the matter explained.
According to Roskosmos, during its 29-hour autonomous flight, Progress MS-17 was scheduled to perform a series of maneuvers, reaching a distance of 185 kilometers from the station. It would then re-dock at the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the Nauka module. According to preliminary information released by Roskosmos, the docking at Nauka was planned at 07:31 Moscow Time (12:31 a.m. EDT) on October 22, however, after Progress MS-17 had undocked from the ISS, head of Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin quoted 07:23:12 Moscow Time, as the target for the linkup between the ISS and the cargo ship. According to NASA, the docking was planned at 12:24 a.m. EDT on October 22.
Progress MS-17 would ultimately leave the ISS around 24 hours after a successful launch of the Prichal module scheduled for Nov. 24, 2021. A special docking adapter on Nauka's nadir port would be discarded with the departing cargo ship, opening the remaining mechanism on Nauka for docking with a modified port of the Prichal module.
Two components of the core stage appeared on the foreground of the photo released on May 4, 2021, likely belong to the Soyuz-2-1b rocket assigned to launch the Progress MS-17. The vehicle for the ninth OneWeb mission is on the background. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Progress MS-17 enters vacuum chamber on May 29, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Progress MS-17 is installed back in its access rig on June 3, 2021, after vacuum testing. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
On June 24, Progress MS-17 was rolled inside payload fairing which carried an insignia dedicated to the 75th anniversary since the foundation of RKK Energia. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
On June 25, Progress MS-17 was integrated with the third stage of the Soyuz rocket, which carried an insignia dedicated to the Chuvash Republic and Vostok-3's pillot Andryian Nikolaev, who was born there. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
It appears that in the wake of several recent problems with the separation of a payload fairing during Progress MS-13, MS-15 and MS-16 launches, the launch vehicle carrying Progress MS-17 had some additional hardware on the fairing separation system. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz-2-1a rocket with Progress MS-17 spacecraft is installed on the launch pad on June 27, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz sheds four boosters of the first stage at T+117.80 seconds in flight. Credit: Roskosmos
Progress MS-17 enters orbit as seen by a TV camera on the third stage of the launch vehicle. Credit: Roskosmos
Third stage of the launch vehicle separates from the Progress MS-17 cargo ship upon reaching orbit. Credit: Roskosmos
First view from the navigational TV camera aboard Progress MS-17 shortly after it had entered orbit on June 30, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos