Russian rocket launches don't get nearly as much play as, say, a SpaceX launch. But in light of recent events, the Soyuz rocket blasting into orbit at 12.55am EST (2.55pm AEST), which will carry a spacecraft loaded with food and supplies to the International Space Station, is more important than usual.
The eight-ton Russian Progress M-28M craft will be packed with 420kg of water, 47kg of air and oxygen, 1392kg of food, medical supplies and hardware, and 520kg of propellant, according to Spaceflight Now. While Russian Progress missions to the ISS are quite routine (this will mark the 60th such mission since 2000), the recent string of failed resupply missions is fresh on everybody's mind, and makes a successful launch tonight really, really important.
On Sunday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated minutes after liftoff, taking with it a Dragon capsule packed with over 1800kg of supplies and 30 student research projects. On April 28, a Progress freighter bound for the ISS started spinning dizzily out of control shortly after launch, a problem that was blamed on vibrations in the connection between the spacecraft and the third stage of its rocket, which was flying an upgraded Soyuz-2.1a configuration. (Friday's launch will employ the older Soyuz-U rocket, which Russia says isn't susceptible to the anomaly that caused the last mission to crap out.)
What this all boils down to is that the ISS astronauts haven't received any new supplies since April 14, when SpaceX's sixth commercial resupply capsule successfully rendezvoused with the station. But on Sunday, NASA assured the public that the three-person crew currently in orbit has enough supplies to make it until October. And if tonight's launch fails, there's still a Japanese HTV resupply craft going up in mid-August. What's more, NASA says it's still on-track to launch three additional crew members on July 22nd, pending a last round of readiness reviews. If NASA felt there was a serious supply shortage, that crewed mission would have already been cancelled.
In other words, the space powers that be aren't too worried — yet. Still, let's all cross our fingers, hold our breath, and pray to a higher power of choice that tonight's launch is a success. NASA will be live streaming the event and you can tune in right here:
Picture: A Russian Progress supply ship gears up for launch strapped to a Soyuz rocket Friday (via Roscosmos).