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Progress cargo ship

The Progress cargo spaceship, based on the same design as the Soyuz and developed by NPO Energiya, has been a major factor in enabling the Russian space program’s long-duration space station flights. It is a relatively cheap method of keeping a space station supplied. The original Progress design was first launched on 20 January 1978.

Like the Soyuz manned spaceship, the Progress launches on the Soyuz booster (-U or -FG versions). It follows the same two-day flight profile from launch to docking. Also like the Soyuz, the Progress is constructed in three main sections:

Cargo Module
Грузовой отсек
The spherical front end of the spacecraft, which is filled with cargo supplies. The crew enters this section after the Progress has docked and pressures equalized. After the cargo is removed, the area gets filled with rubbish, unneeded equipment and wastewater over the months the Progress is docked to the Station. All this is burned up when the spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere – an environmentally-friendly method of garbage disposal!
Refueling Module
Отсек Компонентов Дозаправки
The middle part of the Progress, replacing the Descent Module of the Soyuz. The M-1 version has four fuel and four oxidizer tanks; the M version has two of each, plus two water tanks. Fluid connectors in the docking ring enable the fuel and oxidizer to be pumped to holding tanks in the Russian segment’s own propulsion system. The Progress thrusters can also use this fuel to increase the Station’s altitude or change its orientation (attitude) in space.
Instrumentation/Propulsion Module
Приборно Агрегатный Отсек
In this last segment are contained the avionics for the spacecraft’s systems and sensors. Surplus fuel in this module (i.e. which hasn’t been used for rendezvous and docking) can be utilized to boost the Station’s altitude. This surplus fuel can vary from 185 to 250 kg.

A Progress mission usually follows much the same flight path as that of the Soyuz, launching into a 51.6° incline to the Equator to put the ship into the orbit path of the International Space Station, then undertaking a two-day catch-up to the altitude of the ISS.

Rendezvous and docking are automated, though TsUP and the Station crew monitor the Progress’s approach when it comes to 150 meters range. The «Курс», Kurs (“Course”) equipment controls this procedure; the active part is on the Progress and the passive on the ISS.

An example of a Kurs display showing a docking sequence (the Poisk module, via the Progress M-MIM-2 launch thread at NASASpaceflight.com): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Status data and co-ordinates are displayed on the screen; some of the abbreviations are listed below:

Automatic mode
ВКЛ: Включить
VKL: Vklyuchit’
On, turn on, activate
ГСО: Готовность Системы Ориентации
GSO: Gotovnost’ Sistemyi Orientatsii
Readiness of orientation system
ИМП: Импульс
IMP: Impul’s
Impulse; burn
ИН: Инструкция
IN: Instruktsiya
“Course” (radar rendezvous system)
ЛСК: Лучевая Система Координат
LSK: Luchevaya Sistema Koordinat
Line-of-Sight Coordinate System
СБ: Сближение
SB: Sblizhenie
ТМ: Телеметрия
TM: Telemetriya
Braking (deaccelerating)

Should the Kurs not work properly, the crew have a back-up called TORU (Оборудование Телеоператорного Режима Управления, Teleoperator’s Remote-Control Equipment) in Zvezda’s Work Compartment. This consists of a computer laptop monitor which shows the remote view from a camera on the Progress, and manual controls which remotely fire the spacecraft’s thrusters. The TV system is called the “Simvol-TS,” «Символ-ТС» (Symbol); a docking symbol is displayed on the screen, which the operator has to keep lined up with the docking target.

A Progress has enough propellant for 3 docking attempts. The fuel mass for the second and third docking attempts is not counted in the cargo manifest.

After being unpacked, the Progress is filled up with containers of assorted rubbish items during the next few months. A Progress ship being discarded burns up in the atmosphere after redocking, though occasionally it might stay in independent orbit for longer to perform experiments or tests, as was the case with Progress M1-4, which was undocked and flown in autonomous orbit for nearly three weeks for experiments before redocking.

One or two Progresses are docked to the ISS at a time (to the rear end of Zvezda) and one is undocked a day before the next Progress is launched. For example, in June 2003 the previous M-47 was left in place when the M1-10 arrived so both craft could be used to maintain the Station. M1-10 docked to the base of Pirs, but was later undocked to make way for Soyuz TMA-3.

The cost per kilogram for cargo on a Progress ranges from USD$22,000 to $25,000.

Launch failure

On the 136th launch of a Progress – Progress M-12M on 24 August 2011 – 325s into flight, the third (Block-I) stage failed, and the vehicle with the Progress attached re-entered after achieving a sub-orbital trajectory, crashing in Siberia. This was the first such incident since the first Progress launch in January 1978. The failure was initially announced as being caused by a malfunction in the gas generator in the Soyuz-U rocket’s third-stage engine (Block-I, Блок-и).


The Raduga was a small container that enabled payloads to be returned to Earth from Space Station Mir. It was discontinued as it did not have a good recovery record and took up valuable space inside the Progress. From Mir Hardware Heritage:

Return payload capability when equipped with Raduga (“Rainbow”) ballistic return capsule (figure 1-27). The Russians use this capsule to return small, valuable payloads from Mir. It was named Raduga largely for marketing purposes. The capsule is carried in the Progress M dry cargo compartment. At the beginning of Raduga’s return to Earth, the Progress-M completes its deorbit burn. At an altitude of about 120 km, the capsule separates. The Progress M undergoes destructive reentry, while the capsule makes an intact reentry, with landing and recovery in central Asia. Raduga is used to return up to 150 kg of payloads to Earth two or three times each year. Each Raduga capsule is about 1.5 m long, is 60 cm in diameter, and weighs about 350 kg empty. Use of the Raduga 44 ballistic return capsule lowers Progress M cargo capacity by about 100 kg, to a maximum of about 2400 kg. Progress M-5 carried the first Raduga capsule.

Name: Возбращаемая баллистическая капсула / Ballistic capsule cylinder / Vozbrashchaemaya ballisticheskaya kapsula


Some NASA officials refer to Progress and Soyuz flights by incorrect designations – e.g. Progress 18/18P (the 18th Progress flight to the ISS – which is in actuality Progress M-53). From Chris van den Berg’s ISSCOM 038 (25 August 2003) on the designation of Progress-es (it also applies to Soyuz flights):

Confusion caused by NASA self-conceit or ignorance.

Many interested persons use to their entire satisfaction the NASA status reports of the ISS. Those reports give very good information, but ridiculously mix up Progress serial numbers. For instance the most recent status report refers to the freighters Progress-10, Progress-11 and Progress-12. (Status report nr. 03.39, paragraph 5) In the past there have been remarks, also by prominent insiders, but this did not help. The use of these names has been caused by the fact that in the official ISS schedule the freighters get the abbreviation “P” and a number. It is wrong to write the word or name Progress plus that ISS schedule number. Using the word Progress demands the use of the official Russian name of the ship. So it would be correct to give only the “P” plus the number and between brackets the real Russian name.

It is quite normal that the Russians use their own names and serial numbers of their products and objects and these are fully respected and even registered by official international organizations, like for instance the IFRB in Geneva. Even a scientist that cannot be praised enough, Dr. Kelso, does not refrain from the Russian names and numbers.

The freighters of the type Progress-M1 are modifications of the older type Progress-M and designed especially to be used with the ISS, but the Russians still have some Progress-M freighters in stock and the situation in that economically harassed country demands the use of all still utilizable stuff.

History: And of course a lot of present NASA people still had to be born or at least to grow up so for them I want to lift a little corner of the veil:

Progress-10 choose open space in 1980 to serve space station Salyut-6. Progress-11 did the same in the fall of that year, also to bring all what was necessary to the Salyut-6 and the Progress-12 concluded the logistic operations for the Salyut-6 in the spring of 1981.

– C.M. van den Berg, NL-9165/A-UK3202


Updated 25 Aug 2011