What is Russian Spacecraft Progress 59?

The Russian Progress resupply mission that went out of control on Tuesday hours after its launch was an unmanned version of the Soyuz spacecraft that is used to carry cargo supplies and fuel to the International Space Station, similar to such missions undertaken by NASA regularly on SpaceX and Orbital spacecraft.

The Progress is important since it can raise the International Space Station’s altitude and control the orientation of the Station using the vehicle’s thrusters. It has two versions M and M1, both possessing a pressurized Cargo Module to carry supplies, a Refueling Module that holds fuel tanks containing propellant and pressurized gases, and an Instrumentation/Propulsion Module where the Progress systems equipment and thrusters are stored.

The Progress 59 spacecraft was launched on Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket, and was destined to dock with the ISS on Thursday, April 30. It normally docks to the end of the Station’s Zvezda Service Module and can dock to the bottom of the Pirs Docking Compartment as well.

Cargo Module

The Progress Cargo Module can carry up to 1,700 km (3,748 pounds) of supplies to the Space Station in a pressurized volume of about 6 cubic meters (212 cubic feet) and once the Progress docks with the Space Station, the crew enters the Cargo Module through the docking hatch.

Progress spacecraft approaches the StationAfter transferring the cargo to ISS, the crew refills it with trash and wastewater, used equipment and other material that can burn up when it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. The Cargo Module can hold 1,000 to 1,700 kilograms (2,205 to 3,748 pounds) of trash.

Refueling Module

Unlike the Russian Soyuz Descent Module, the Progress module has a Refueling system. The Progress M1 Refueling Module has 8 propellant tanks that can hold up to 1,740 kg (3,836 pounds) of fuel, depending on how much weight is carried in the Cargo Module. Four of the tanks contain fuel, while the other 4 contain the fuel’s oxidizer and the Progress M has four tanks — two for fuel and two for oxidizer — and two water tanks, whereas the M1 has no water tanks.


Rendezvous, Docking and Undocking

The Progress 59 was supposed to take 2 days to reach the Space Station. Once the spacecraft is within 150 meters, the Russian Mission Control Center just outside Moscow and the ISS crew monitor the approach and docking using an automated, radar-based system called Kurs to dock to the Station.

In case the Kurs system fails, the Station crew can also dock the Progress using the TORU system, a backup remote control docking system in the Station’s Zvezda Service Module.

After re-loading the Progress with trash, the Station crew closes the hatches and initiates the undocking process. Once the Progress has undocked, the vehicle’s thrusters are fired to maneuver it into an orbit that will send it into the Earth’s atmosphere, where it will burn up on re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.(NASA). The difference is that it is not under control to maneuvre its descending speed.


Progress Specifications
First launch to ISS 2000
Launch site Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Launch vehicle Soyuz rocket
Length 7.4 m (24.3 ft)
Diameter 2.7 m (8.9 ft)
Launch mass 7,440 kg (16,402 lb)
Cargo mass 1,700 kg (3,748 lb)
Pressurized volume 7 m3 (247.2 ft3)
Unpressurized volume N/A
Length on orbit 6 months
Docking method/location Automatic docking/Russian segment
Return method Destructive reentry


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