Grounding of Soyuz Rocket prompts Space Station Schedule Revision
The International Space Station program has worked out schedule changes in the wake of the recent Soyuz launch vehicle failure, leaving the Progress M-27M cargo resupply spacecraft on the fast lane to re-entry instead of the expressway to the orbiting outpost. The Soyuz rocket is likely looking at an extended grounding while teams work out how to recover from the recent failure, requiring a number of changes to planned ISS operations. Schedule requests from the Russian side were already made last week, but the ISS partnership had to complete a series of meetings to formally confirm the new schedules.
The investigation into the failure of the Progress M-27M mission is currently underway to piece together a detailed picture of what led the 7,289-Kilogram spacecraft to suffer multiple systems problems starting in the last seconds of its ride into orbit atop the Soyuz 2-1A rocket back on April 28.
After what is currently believed to be an energetic event in the late stages of the operation of the third stage and a bad separation of the spacecraft, the Progress lost attitude control, part of its flight control capabilities, and pressurization in its propulsion system. The spacecraft eventually re-entered the atmosphere last Friday while teams were already busy trying to identify what happened to the third stage of the rocket that caused damage to the booster and spacecraft, releasing a number of debris that were later tracked in orbit.
Directly affected by the Soyuz 2-1A failure are all launches of the Russian Soyuz rocket, including the next crewed launch of the ISS Expedition 44/45 crew consisting of veteran Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and rookie Astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui that was originally planned for May 26. To provide sufficient time for the failure investigation and corrective measures to be implemented, this launch is being pushed to the second half of July, the current target penciled in for the 24th.
With the next crew arrival at ISS slipping by two months, the Station would be looking at an extended period of time only staffed by a crew of three. To prevent that, the Soyuz TMA-15M crew members – Anton Shkaplerov, Samantha Cristoforetti and Terry Virts will get to stay in orbit for an additional month, their departure being delayed from May 12 to June 11/12.
This still creates a period of over a month during which ISS will only be staffed by Russian Crew members Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko and US Astronaut Scott Kelly – likely resulting in a loss of science due to the missing hands aboard the complex. With ISS crew departures and arrivals being rescheduled there will be a knock-on effect to other operations that had been on the agenda for some time.
Current schedules show the relocation of the Permanent Multipurpose Module planned in late May (NET 27), being moved to the left from a mid-June planning date. PMM is being robotically moved from Node 1 Nadir to Node 3 Forward to open up the Nadir location on Node 1 for the berthing of cargo vehicles which is currently only possible on Node 2 Nadir. This relocation will enable ISS to handle two cargo vehicles and add a backup berthing port.
Delaying the next crewed Soyuz launch will allow the next Progress mission to be pulled from an early-August launch target to a liftoff in early July (NET 3rd) to provide an additional launch of the Block I upper stage with an uncrewed payload before Soyuz returns to crewed missions. Progress M-28M will be lofted by a Soyuz U rocket to complete a six-hour rendezvous with ISS for the delivery over 2,300 Kilograms of cargo. Progress missions are processed at the Baikonur Cosmodrome with the ability to advance subsequent vehicles in case of a mission failure to ensure the Space Station remains in a good situation from a supplies point of view.
Two Soyuz missions from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, one lofting the final Kobalt-M film-return satellite and the other launching a Persona optical reconnaissance satellite are currently planned to occur before the next crewed launch. No official information has been released on changes to the planned mid May and June 5 launch targets of these missions, but delays are to be expected in the current situation.
The upcoming launches use different Soyuz versions – Soyuz FG for Soyuz TMA-17M, Soyuz U for Progress M-28M, Soyuz 2-1A for Kobalt and Soyuz 2-1B for Persona.
Soyuz TMA-15M Crew
Progress Docked to Pirs Module
Despite the use of the different launch vehicle versions, there is a great deal of commonality between the Block I stage of the launch vehicle that has been identified to be the culprit in the failure of the Progress M-27M mission. Aside from the Soyuz 2-1B, all Soyuz versions use a similar architecture in the Block I stage including the same engine, known as RD-0110.
The difference between Soyuz 2-1A and the older FG/U versions lies mainly in the use of different Flight Control Systems and a modified design of the fuel tank to increase its capacity, but leaving the overall design of the stage the same.
Further impacts to ISS operations include a delay of USOS EVA-32 that will have to wait until Kjell Lindgren takes up residence aboard ISS as he and Scott Kelly are planned to conduct this spacewalk that will see the installation of the first International Docking Adapter on the Space Station’s Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 – one of two future docking ports for Commercial Crew vehicles.
The scheduling of the next SpaceX Dragon mission, showing an NET June 19 launch target, is currently under evaluation because with the current schedule, only one USOS crew member would be onboard ISS for Dragon’s arrival which usually requires two Astronauts to split the duty of capturing the spacecraft with the robotic arm and monitoring/commanding the Dragon from the Station’s Cupola.
From a consumables standpoint, the Space Station remains in a comfortable situation with supplies lasting until mid-August until hitting critical levels, reaching exhaustion in early to mid September if no cargo makes it to ISS until then. However, before that deadline, missions of the Russian Progress, the SpaceX Dragon and the Japanese HTV are expected to stock up the Station’s shelves. HTV-5 in particular will be filled up with plenty of consumables including water for use aboard ISS to allow supplies to last well into 2016.