Soyuz-U Successfully Launches, Heads To International Space Station

Soyuz-U, with the Russian progress cargo vehicle, Progress M-26M (58P), was successfully launched today at 11:00 UTC from the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Progress M-26M was fast tracked to launch for a quick-rendezvous, “launch-to-dock” mission to the International Space Station (ISS) that is meant to be accomplished in six hours.

Despite frozen fog and -18 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, as well as challenges with the transfer of the rocket to the launch complex, the Soyuz-U achieved lift-off as scheduled, with some spectators even commenting that it was a perfect launch.

The Soyuz-U aims to hook up with the ISS in in six hours to deliver an estimated 3.1 tons of cargo to the station, including fuel propellant, food provisions, medical supplies, sanitary items and spacecraft hardware. The Progress cargo vehicle will also be delivering the Space Station’s supply of fresh water. Currently, the United States only has one available resupplier launch vehicle at the moment, SpaceX’s Dragon.

With over 750 missions under its belt, the Soyuz-U has been a dependable launch system and is the most flown orbital launch system ever developed. In use since 1973, the Soyuz-U was initially developed to replace the Voskhod and Soyuz, the first two Soviet human spaceflight programs, and was able to provide a standardized launch system. This also promoted commonality with the Molniya-M Russian carrier rocket. With its success, the first two programs, as well as the Soyuz-M, were all retired with Soyuz-U taking over its launches. It has been delivering Progress cargo for the past few years, and has been commissioned for several military missions as well.

The six-hour delivery will be achieved with a fast rendezvous technique that has been successfully used on previous Soyuz-Progress missions. This will require several engine burns on the vehicle’s initial orbit of the Earth, as well as on its second orbit. This will be assisted by the Progress computers as well as a Russian Ground Site.

The Soyuz-U aircraft will deliver the Progress vehicle in three stages and is expected to be in orbit less than nine minutes after liftoff. The Progress vehicle will then dock at the Zvezda service module with the help of an automated radar guiding system, marking the 58th mission of the spacecraft to the International Space Station since 2000. For the previous Progress missions, arrival of a new cargo vehicle meant the departure of a previously docked vehicle, but this time will be different since the M-26M will be landing on the same dock that was vacated three days earlier by the ATV-5, the last ESA resupply Automated Transfer Vehicle that completed an ISS mission.

The docking of the Progress at the International Space Station is expected to occur at 16:58 UTC or 11:58 EST.