Russian supply ship launches to International Space Station

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome Wednesday with the Progress MS-23 cargo ship. Credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s Progress MS-23 cargo freighter launched Wednesday from Kazakhstan on a mission hauling more than 2.7 tons of fuel, food, experiments, and supplies to the International Space Station.

The Progress MS-23 supply ship lifted off at 8:56:07 a.m. EDT (1256:07 UTC) from the Site 31 launch complex at Baikonur, located in a remote part of Kazakhstan east of the Aral Sea. Russian ground teams at Baikonur rolled the Progress MS-23 spacecraft and its Soyuz rocket to the launch pad Sunday, then raised the launcher vertical for final mission preparations.

The Soyuz team loaded kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the three-stage rocket in the final hours before liftoff, timed for 5:56 p.m. local time at the spaceport in Central Asia.

After liftoff, the Soyuz 2.1a rocket headed northeast to line up with the space station’s flight path, then shed its four liquid-fueled boosters about two minutes into the flight. The aerodynamic shroud covering the Progress MS-23 spacecraft jettisoned moments later, followed by separation of the Soyuz core stage nearly five minutes after liftoff. A third stage engine ignited to finish the job of putting the cargo ship into orbit about nine minutes into the mission.

The Progress supply ship separated from the rocket and unfurled its solar panels and navigation antennas, then commenced a sequence of engine firings to adjust its orbit to match that of the space station. After a radar-guided rendezvous, the cargo freighter lined up with its docking port at the Poisk module on the Russian segment of the space station. Docking with the Poisk module occurred at 12:19 p.m. EDT (1619 UTC).

Russian cosmonauts on the station, part of the lab’s long-duration seven-person crew, will open hatches to begin unpacking cargo from the pressurized cabin of the Progress spacecraft. This is the 84th Progress cargo ship to launch to the space station, and the mission is designed Progress 84P by NASA.

There are currently 11 people on the space station, including the four-person private astronaut mission from Axiom Space that arrived Monday for an eight-day stay.

Russian managers met a few hours before launch to approve loading of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Soyuz rocket. The gantry arms at the launch pad retracted away from the rocket in the final hour of the countdown, and ground crews at Baikonur inserted the launch key into a control panel about six minutes before liftoff.

Propellant tanks on the launcher pressurized beginning about two-and-a-half minutes prior to liftoff, and engines on the core stage and strap-on boosters ignited and ramped up to full power to propel the Soyuz off the pad with more than 900,000 pounds of thrust.

Russia’s space agency said the Progress MS-22 cargo ship carries 5,492 pounds (2,491 kilograms) of supplies and fuel to the space station. Here’s a breakdown of the cargo manifest:

• 3,399 pounds (1,542 kilograms) of dry cargo

• 1,080 pounds (490 kilograms) of liquid propellant to refuel the Zvezda service module

• 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of fresh water

• 88 pounds (40 kilograms) of nitrogen to replenish the station’s atmosphere

Russia’s Progress MS-23 supply ship is prepared for encapsulation inside the payload shroud of its Soyuz launch vehicle at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: Roscosmos

The dry cargo includes food and clothing for the space station crew members, medical equipment, and experiments. The Russian supply ship could also reboost the orbital altitude of the station, and perform any required burns to steer the complex out of the path of space junk.

The equipment aboard the Progress MS-23 supply ship also includes a student-built nanosatellite from Bauman Moscow State Technical University. The small spacecraft, designed to test solar sail deployment technology, will be released into orbit by a cosmonaut during a future spacewalk outside the station.

The cargo mission also delivered a video system for observing Earth’s surface as part of Russia’s Uragan experiment, which tracks changes on the planet associated with natural and human-made disasters. The Progress spacecraft also carried a scientific glove box, and equipment for biomedical experiments.

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