Russia successfully launches space station resupply ship

Four first stage boosters separate from the Soyuz-2.1a rocket about two minutes after liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: Roscosmos

A Russian Progress supply ship launched Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, putting on a spectacular sky show as it commenced a two-day chase of the International Space Station with more than 5,000 pounds of fuel, water, spare parts, and experiments.

The Progress MS-17 cargo freighter, mounted on top of a Soyuz-2.1a rocket, lifted off from Baikonur at 7:27:20 p.m. EDT (2327:20 GMT) Tuesday to kick off the trip to the space station.

The launch occurred at 4:27 a.m. Wednesday local time at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a historic spaceport operated by the Russian government on the steppes of Kazakhstan. That was about a half-hour before sunrise at the launch base.

The Progress spacecraft’s pressurized compartment is loaded with 3,326 pounds (1,509 kilograms) of dry cargo, including hardware, research investigations, crew supplies, life support equipment, and other provisions, according to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

The Progress MS-17 spaceship will also deliver 1,036 pounds (470 kilograms) of propellant to refuel the propulsion system on the space station’s Russian segment, Roscosmos said. The freighter’s tanks are filled with 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of water for the crew aboard the space station. There’s also 89 pounds (40.5 kilograms) of air to replenish the atmosphere inside the research complex.

The mission’s total cargo and fuel load comes to 5,377 pounds (2,439 kilograms), according to Roscosmos.

Russian ground crews rolled the Soyuz rocket and Progress spacecraft to their launch pad Sunday at Site 31 at Baikonur. A hydraulic lift raised the rocket vertical, and gantry arms moved around the Soyuz launcher to give technicians access to the vehicle for final pre-flight preparations.

Russian officials met several hours before launch and gave approval to start loading kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Soyuz rocket.

After liftoff, the Soyuz core stage and four strap-on boosters steered the rocket northeast from Baikonur. Riding more than 900,000 pounds of thrust, the rocket climbed through the stratosphere and into sunrise before jettisoning the four first stage boosters about two minutes into the flight.

The aerodynamic shroud protecting the Progress supply ship during the ascent through the atmosphere will jettison about three minutes into the mission, followed by shutdown and separation of the Soyuz core stage around five minutes after liftoff.

The bright morning sun shined on the rocket and its expanding exhaust plume in the upper atmosphere. Live video showed the teardrop-shaped plume prominent over Baikonur, with the spent first stage boosters and payload fairing glinting against in the dawn sky.

A third stage engine ignited to finish the job of placing the Progress MS-17 spacecraft into orbit. The cargo freighter separated from the Soyuz third stage at about T+plus 8 minutes, 49 seconds, and immediately deployed navigation antennas and unfurl power-generating solar array wings.

The Progress will perform a series of thruster burns to set up for final approach to the space station. Docking with the station’s Poisk module is scheduled for 9:03 p.m. EDT Thursday (0103 GMT Friday).

Cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov will monitor the spacecraft’s automated rendezvous and docking. They can take over manual control of the cargo ship if necessary.

The Progress MS-17 supply ship during re-launch preparations at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos

The mission marks the 78th launch of a Progress supply ship to the International Space Station since 2000. The Progress MS-17 spacecraft will remain at the space station until November, when it will depart and head for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean to dispose of trash.

Elsewhere at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russian teams are readying a Proton rocket for launch July 15 with the Nauka lab module, the largest permanent addition to the International Space Station in more than a decade.

The Nauka module will link up with the lower port of the space station’s Zvezda service module July 23, taking the place of the Pirs airlock and docking compartment. Pirs will detach from the space station July 17 under the power of Russia’s previous Progress supply ship, which launched in February.

The Progress MS-16 spacecraft take the Pirs module away from the space station and back into the atmosphere to burn up on re-entry, clearing the way for arrival of the larger Nauka lab module.

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