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Russian space plans visualized!


In-orbit view of the aft docking port on the Zvezda service module marking the area potentially impacted by Progress M-19M in April 2013.

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Progress M-19M enters orbit with a stuck antenna

The launch of the Soyuz-U rocket from Site 1 in Baikonur took place as scheduled on April 24, 2013, at 14:12:16 Moscow Time (6:12 a.m. EST).

The rocket was carrying the 7,290-kilogram Progress M-19M cargo ship (production No. 419) with 2,366 kilograms of supplies. The launch vehicle followed a standard ascent trajectory to enter an initial Earth orbit, which was reached successfully.

However soon after the launch, NASA reported that the 2ASF-VKA antenna of the Kurs rendezvous system on the cargo ship had not deployed. The second attempt to open the device was also unsuccessful. The 2ASF antenna provides high-precision navigation data and the information on the roll of the spacecraft during approach to the docking target. As a backup, the station crew could use the TORU remote-control system to guide the cargo ship to docking. There was also a possibility that a spacewalk could be required to deploy the antenna, since in its folded position, the antenna could prevent proper docking with the station.

According to NASA, the Russian ground control would be able to "mask" data from the improperly positioned 2ASF antenna with a special software patch, but still use available rendezvous and docking hardware of the Kurs system for an automated docking process. The crew would be ready to take over the docking process with the TORU remote control, in case of problems with Kurs. On instructions from mission control, TORU was activated around 7:50 a.m. EST.

A fully automated docking of Progress M-19M with the outpost's aft port on the Zvezda service module took place as scheduled on April 26, 2013, at 16:25:27 Moscow Time (8:25 a.m. EST) as two vehicles were flying over Kazakhstan. Next, mission control had to ensure that the docking probe could fully retract pulling two vehicles together and the faulty antenna would not prevent proper interface between the station and the spacecraft. The station crew reported a normall full docking (around 7:34 a.m. EST) with no suspicious sounds, however Russian mission control said they had still considered a short (1-1.5-hour-long) spacewalk to ensure no problem in the docking port interface.

Due to a possible obstruction from the antenna, only a "soft" docking would be conducted first, followed by the analysis of the situation on the ground. Based on that review, the decision would be made to proceed with "hard" docking.

This mission was originally scheduled for liftoff on February 2, 2013. It became the 5th mission for the Soyuz family of rockets in 2013 and the 18th world's orbital launch attempt during the year.

Troubled Progress docking clouds next station delivery

Following technical problems during the docking of the fresh Progress cargo ship at the International Space Station, partners in the project evaluate whether the mishap could affect the flight schedule of a next supply vehicle bound to the outpost, sources said.

The Russian Progress M-19M cargo and tanker spacecraft successfully reached the station on April 26, however one of its rendezvous antennas remained folded due to the failure of its deployment mechanism following the launch of the ship two days earlier. Although no problems were reported in achieving reliable sealed transfer tunnel between the station and the cargo vehicle, engineers were still concerned that the folded antenna pressed against external elements of the Zvezda service module. Particularly, European engineers evaluated whether there was any damage to sensitive laser reflectors used by the European Space Agency's ATV cargo ship during its approach to the same docking port. The aft port on Zvezda is the only docking location on the ISS where ATV can berth. One out of three long-range laser reflectors mounted around the aft docking port happened to be in the way of a stuck antenna structure as Progress was completing its docking.

With limited visibility in the area, engineers would not be able to assess potential damage until the Progress was unloaded and sent away. Only then, external cameras on the departing vehicle could be used to survey the area. Alternatively, an already scheduled spacewalk from the Russian segment of the station could be moved to an earlier date to allow for additional inspection and planning of repairs. In case of a damage to a mounting bracket of the reflector, engineers were yet to determine whether it would be possible to replace the device, sources said.

Following the Progress M-19M mission, the European ATV-4 cargo ship was scheduled to dock at the same port, following its launch on the Ariane-5 rocket from the ELA-3 facility in French Guiana.

Antenna onboard Progress opens after undocking

Progress M-19M undocked from the aft port of the Zvezda service module of the ISS on June 11, 2013, at 17:58:13 Moscow Time and was scheduled to remain in the autonomous flight until June 19 for the Radar-Progress experiment planned for June 15-8 period.

Soon after undocking of the spacecraft, it was discovered that the troubled 2ASF antenna onboard the spacecraft opened, which was confirmed with the telemetry and with visual observations of the station crew.

Available video footage indicated that the antenna started opening immediately upon the movement of the spacecraft but could not confirm whether it impacted any hardware on the service module. Pre-undocking analysis by NASA ground specialists indicated that should the antenna deploy, a nominal clearance of two millimeters between the antenna and in other service module obstructions should have existed. However Russian analysis, showed that under certain conditions, the antenna could, in fact, impact the hardware on the service module with an overlap between 5 and 5.5 millimeters.

According to NASA, the opening of the antenna caused some minor destabilization of the spacecraft.

End of mission

A troubled flight of Progress M-19M concluded on June 19, 2013, with a routine deorbiting over the Pacific Ocean. According to mission control, the braking engine firing started at 16:52 Moscow Time and the impact of any surviving debris in the ocean would take place at 17:40 Moscow Time.


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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: June 19, 2013

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Progress M-19M

Progress M-19M lifts off on April 24, 2013. Credit: NASA TV


ISS as viewed by approaching Progress M-19M cargo ship around 7:45 a.m. EST on April 26, 2013. Credit: NASA TV


ISS as viewed by approaching Progress M-19M cargo ship shortly before 8 a.m. EST on April 26, 2013. Credit: NASA TV


Progress M-19M as viewed by the station crew around 8 a.m. EST on April 26, 2013. Credit: NASA TV


Faulty antenna on Progress M-19M as viewed from the station around 8:15 a.m. EST on April 26, 2013. Credit: NASA TV



Progress M-19M separates from the International Space Station at 9:58 a.m. EDT, on June 11, 2013. A dent on its docking antenna is clearly visible. Credit: NASA