Russia completes preliminary design for Progress replacement

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The competition heats up: Russian engineers have completed their preliminary design for a proposed Progress replacement, first revealed August 22.

The main rationale for the development of the new cargo ship was the urgent need to reduce the number of cargo launches to the ISS from four to three annually, while still supporting three crew members on the Russian segment of the station.

The preliminary design for the new cargo ship was originally to be completed in December 2016, but the work was apparently sped up to be completed in August of the same year. Still, even if the go ahead for the full-scale development of the project was given immediately, the new cargo ship was not expected to fly before 2020. In the meantime, the Russian crew onboard the ISS could be reduced from three to two people beginning in March 2017 onward, with the exception of a time period in 2018, when Russian cosmonauts would have to conduct spacewalks to outfit the newly arrived MLM module.

The new design, radically different from Russia’s present Soyuz and Progress capsules, would be able to place 8.2 tons in orbit, one ton more than Progress. That the Russians accelerated the design process suggests to me that they are putting a high priority on this project, and that they will build it.


  • Alex

    Hello Mr. Zimmerman: There is small error. Progress does not carry 8.2 tons of cargo. This number is the total weight/mass of Progress, cargo is much less.

  • Dick Eagleson

    The new ship’s maximum payload is only 200 kg. more than Progress’s and 90 kg. more than Dragon’s, but its pressurized cargo maximum is about 1/3 higher (2,400 kg. vs. 1,800 kg.). Like Progress, the new vehicle would routinely be doing tanker duty, hauling up water, and/or propellant for ISS’s station-keeping/re-boost engines. Like Progress, the new vehicle is expendable, lacking a heat shield.

  • Alex: Thank you. I have revised the post to be more accurate, though I am not sure even now that I have it right. You have made me realize that the story is unclear about the improvements, if any, the new replacement will have in carrying cargo into orbit.

  • Dick: Now you have clarified things for me. Doesn’t look like they are gaining that much, does it?

  • Localfluff

    AFAIK this proposed (i.e. won’t happen) new capsule weighs one ton more empty than the Progress. The new Soyuz launcher can lift one ton more than the old one. So it would be better to stow one ton more in the Progress, if there’s room in it. Anyway, any advantage of this new vehicle seems so small that it should not be a priority for the troubled Russian space program (so maybe it will be?).

  • Edward

    I think people are missing the point that the new cargo ship should have the net effect of saving money, costing around 25% less annually in rocket and spacecraft costs for resupply. Three launches, rather than four, should be a nice savings. The articles did not specify costs or savings, so it is hard to know, but depending upon development costs, this could break even in the first few years of operation. Since the Russians have a long-term plan to continue manned space operations, this should have great benefits over the next few decades, as they tend to keep using their successful designs for decades.

    I applaud these kinds of attempts at saving money, as it frees up funds for additional research, development, and exploration.

  • Localfluff

    But the spacecraft empty seems to have one ton more mass. How can that be good for logistics economics? Maybe it is more spacious, Progress seems to bring low value cargo like water, food clothes to ISS (but I suppose that will change with a 100% Russian space station). Or am I misreading the mass it can take? Can it bring tons of fuel in addition to the dry cargo? (And if so, is it really useful to bring tons of fuel each time, does a space station need that much?)

  • Edward

    Localfluff wrote: “Or am I misreading the mass it can take?”

    Apparently so. The new ship is supposed to have greater capacity: 3,400 kg. The Progress has a 2,400 kg capacity. To reduce the number of launches from four to three, the new ship only needs a capacity 33% greater than Progress, but it has a 40% greater capacity.

    Propellant is one of the things that the first article specifies can be taken, up to 1,840 kg. I saw no requirement to take a full load of propellant if it was not needed.

  • Localfluff

    But isn’t the extra tonne because of the upgraded Soyuz launcher? And isn’t that ton consumed by the larger mass of the planned new spacecraft? The proposed (=won’t happen) spacecraft consumes that benefit. What would a space station do with all the fuel?

    This might be a small improvement, but I don’t see how it should be a priority in the Russian space program. I’m not buying.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “I’m not buying.”

    That’s OK, but the article specified: “Cargo mass deliverable to the space station, including: up to 3,400 kilograms” I can only go by what is stated. It is possible that the final design could end up being something else or being cancelled.

    If the Russians want to save the cost of a rocket launch, then that is their decision. You may disagree with it, but they seem to believe that this savings is advantageous.

    If the ISS does not carry that much propellant (I am not going to bother looking it up), then perhaps the Russians expect their next, planned, space station to carry that much (I am not going to bother looking that up, either), but it seems that part of the propellant is also intended for the new cargo ship’s own use, as the Popular Mechanics article stated:

    The most important new feature of the proposed cargo ship will be the six-tank cluster to carry more than 1.8 tons of propellant to the station. It will simultaneously serve as a tanker for the space station while also feeding the ship’s own propulsion system. As a result, the new design provides significant mass savings in comparison to the current Progress ships

    Most likely, this new spacecraft is being designed to the capabilities of the available rocket(s) rather than the future Angara rocket. The Popular Mechanics article stated: “In addition to the latest design, Russian engineers were also considering a concept of an even larger cargo vehicle, which would need Russia’s new-generation Angara rocket for launch.”

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