A Russian Progress spacecraft loaded with food and supplies for the crew of the International Space Station is slated to take off on top of a Soyuz rocket tonight. NASA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, really need the mission to go well, because they’re running out of ways to restock the station.
Typically, a Progress launch doesn’t get much attention; it’s a routine method for resupplying the ISS. But numerous resupply missions have failed within the past year. On Sunday, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated en route to the station with supplies in tow. The company is still trying to determine what went wrong. And in April, a Progress spacecraft failed to reach the ISS after launching into orbit. Once in space, it ceased communications with ground control and started spinning wildly out of control. Roscosmos attributed the failure to a flaw in the linkage between the Soyuz and the cargo capsule.
NASA really needs the mission to go well
That means the ISS astronauts haven’t received any new supplies since April 14th, when SpaceX launched its sixth commercial resupply mission to the ISS. The station has enough supplies to last until the end of October, NASA says. Yet if this mission doesn’t pan out, then NASA and Roscosmos have cause to worry.
The loss of this Progress would place a significant amount of pressure on the next scheduled resupply mission — the launch of the Japanese HTV spacecraft in mid-August. That one is already crucial, since it will be carrying water for the crew as well as food. If the HTV spacecraft fails to make it to the ISS, NASA administrators may have to start thinking about the logistics of evacuating the station. At a press conference following the SpaceX failure, ISS Program Manager Michael Suffredini noted that the space agency will give strong consideration to a station evacuation if ISS reserves drop to 45 days worth of supplies.
Chances are it won’t come to that. There is another Progress launch scheduled for September 21st, and two crewed missions will launch before that, which may have room for some supplies. If evacuation does occur, however, it would be the first time since 2000 that the station doesn't have a crew onboard.
Watch the launch of ISS Progress 60P at 12:55AM EDT Friday. If all goes well, the Progress is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Sunday at 3:13AM.