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Soyuz TMA-18M mission

The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft launched on Sept. 2, 2015, carrying a member of the 45th and 46th long-duration expeditions to the International Space Station, ISS, and two members of the 18th visiting crew. In the ISS schedule the mission had a designation 44S.

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crew

Soyuz TMA-18M's primary crew (left to right): Aidyn Aimbetov, Sergei Volkov and Andreas Mogensen during a familiarization training with their spacecraft in Baikonur on Aug. 19, 2015. Credit: RKK Energia

Liftoff

Soyuz TMA-18M lifts off on Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: ESA

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Crew and launch date changes

The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft, known under its production designation as No. 718 and in the ISS schedule as 44S, arrived at Baikonur on May 2, 2015.

The original crew of Soyuz TMA-18M included the Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, serving as a commander, a flight engineer Andreas Mogensen, representing the European Space Agency, ESA, and a British singer Sarah Brightman, who was expected to pay for her seat as a commercial tourist. However in June 2015, a Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov officially replaced Brightman as the third crew member in the Soyuz TMA-18 crew. The Chairman of the Kazakh space agency Talgat Musabaev told the Khabar TV channel that the president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev and the Russian president Vladimir Putin had reached a deal on May 6, 2015, to fly Aimbetov, leaving a Kazakh cosmonaut only three months to train for the Soyuz TMA-18M mission.

According to the Russian media, Kazakh government would pay $20 million or 2.5 times less for the mission, than a going charge for a private tourist, such as Brightman.

Mogensen and Aimbetov were scheduled to return back to Earth onboard Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft on Sept. 12, 2015, after 10 days in space along with Gennady Padalka from the Expedition 44 crew. Volkov would remain onboard the station for 188 days.

The launch of Soyuz TMA-18M was previously planned for Oct. 4, 2015, but had to be rescheduled for September 1 in the wake of the Progress M-27M launch failure on April 28, 2015. However, within 24 hours after the new flight manifest had been approved, a previously unplanned ISS maneuver on June 8 to avoid space junk forced mission planners to postpone the launch by 24 hours in order to enable a six-hour rendezvous profile between the Soyuz and the station, as well as the subsequent Soyuz landing into a routine location in Kazakhstan on September 11, 2015.

Another space junk avoidance maneuver performed by the ISS on July 26, prompted mission planners to default to a two-day, 34-orbit rendezvous profile, resulting with the launch on Sept. 2, 2015, at 07:37 Moscow Time and docking at the ISS on Sept. 4, 2015, at 10:42 Moscow Time. The solar activity during the previous month turned out to be lower than predicted resulting in less atmospheric drag on the station. As a result, the ISS ended up to be beyond the orbital parameters that would be required for a six-hour rendezvous. In turn, an orbit-lowering maneuver would require extra propellant expenditure and push the September 12 landing of Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft beyond the southern edge of the landing area in Kazakhstan. The only alternative way to provide a six-hour rendezvous for Soyuz TMA-18M would be to postpone the launch from September 2, which would result in its own domino effect of changes in the ISS program.

Pre-launch activities

core

The assembly of the Soyuz-FG rocket No. G15000-054, which was assigned to launch the mission, started in Baikonur on July 27, 2015. The Soyuz spacecraft went through vacuum testing on August 9, 2015, at Site 2B and was returned to Site 254 for further processing.

The primary and backup crews arrived at Baikonur on August 18 for the familiarization training, which took place the next day. Also, on August 19, mission officials gave go ahead to the fueling of the spacecraft with propellants and loading of pressurized gases. The operation was completed by August 21 and the spacecraft was returned to Site 254 for final processing and encapsulation into its payload fairing.

Soyuz

On August 28, the Soyuz TMA-18M was integrated with an adapter ring, which would later connect it to the third stage of the Soyuz launch vehicle. On the same day, the spacecraft was enclosed into its payload fairing and transferred from its processing building at Site 254 to a launch vehicle assembly building at Site 112.

Fairing

The payload section was integrated with the rest of the Soyuz-FG rocket and topped with an emergency escape system on August 30, 2015. The vehicle was then loaded onto the transporter for a trip to the launch pad. On the same day, the meeting of the State Commission scheduled the move to the launch pad to begin at 04:00 Moscow Time next morning.

The Soyuz-FG launch vehicle was rolled out to Site 1 in Baikonur on August 31, 2015. On the same day, the ISS altitude was raised by one kilometer to form a rendezvous orbit with Soyuz TMA-18M. The maneuver was conducted with the use of the propulsion system on Progress M-28M cargo ship docked at the station. The vehicle's engine was activated at 09:54 Moscow Time (06:54 GMT) for a 495-second burn.

Soyuz TMA-18M lifts off

A Soyuz-FG rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft lifted off as scheduled on Sept. 2, 2015, at 07:37:43 Moscow Time (12:37 a.m. EDT) from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Site 1 in Kazakhstan. After a less than nine-minute ascent, the spacecraft separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle in a 200.34 by 248.67-kilometer orbit with an inclination 51.67 degrees toward the Equator, nearly matching all planned parameters.

During the two-day, 34-orbit chase of the station, the spacecraft is expected to conduct three orbit correction maneuvers during the 3rd, 4th orbit of the first day and during the 17th orbit on the second day of the flight.

All three maneuvers were conducted as planned with the final engine firing initiated on September 3, at 10:30 Moscow Time. However the resulting orbit took the spacecraft just four kilometers from a third stage of a Japanese launch vehicle, which delivered a satellite into orbit in 1989. The closest approach between Soyuz TMA-18M and a space junk took place between 11:30 and 11:40 Moscow Time, however tracking centers in Russia and the US had confirmed before the third orbital maneuver that the Soyuz would still be in a safe orbit, Roskosmos announced.

rendezvous

The docking at the MIM2 Poisk module, a part of the Russian segment of the ISS was scheduled on Sept. 4, 2015, at 10:42 Moscow Time (3:42 a.m. EDT). The actual contact took place at 10:39 Moscow Time (3:39 a.m. EDT) as the two spacecraft were flying over Russian-Kazakh border.

The hatches between the Soyuz and station opened also as scheduled at 13:15 Moscow Time (6:15 a.m. EDT).

Soyuz TMA-18M crew (Expedition 45/46):

Primary crew Backup crew
Sergei Volkov, Soyuz commander, Roskosmos Oleg Skripochka, Soyuz commander, Roskosmos
Andreas Mogensen, Flight Engineer, ESA/Denmark Thomas Pesquet, Flight Engineer, ESA/France
Aidyn Aimbetov, Flight Engineer 2, Kazakhstan Sergei Prokopiev, Flight Engineer 2, Roskosmos

Soyuz TMA-18M returns home with "Year in Space" crew

300

Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko mark their 300th day on ISS on Jan. 21, 2016.

After spending 340 days onboard the International Space Station, ISS, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly landed in Kazakhstan. They landed onboard the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft accompanied by the ship's original pilot Sergei Volkov, who logged nearly 182 days in orbit. Volkov's former crew mates on the way to the station, Andreas Mogensen and Aidyn Aimbetov, returned to Earth onboard the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft on Sept. 12, 2015.

Scott Kelly made a formal handover of the station's command to a fellow NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra on February 29.

The actual departure activities started a day later, with a hatch closure between Soyuz TMA-18M and the station, which took place at 4:43 p.m. EST on March 1.

Crew members will then don their Sokol entry suits and take seats inside the descent module of the Soyuz spacecraft. Sergei Volkov, the ship's commander, will occupy the center seat, with Kornienko to his left and Kelly sitting in the right-hand position.

According to the Russian mission control center in Korolev, the undocking command was to be issued 1.5 minutes before the physical separation between the MIM2 (Poisk) module on the Russian segment and Soyuz TMA-18M, during the outpost's 98,831st orbit and the transport ship's 2,831st orbit around the Earth.

The undocking took place as scheduled on March 2, 2016, at 04:02:30 Moscow Time (8:02 p.m. EST on March 1), as the two spacecraft were flying over Eastern Mongolia. Three minutes later, the Soyuz made its first maneuver with its small thrusters to increase its distance from the ISS. Another small firing was performed one minute 20 seconds later.

undocking

The departure of the Soyuz TMA-18M, marked the beginning of Expedition 47 onboard the outpost, which at the time, will remain occupied by three members of the Soyuz TMA-19M crew: Yuri Malenchenko, Timothy Kopra and Timothy Peake. They are scheduled to stay on the ISS until June 2016.

After around two orbits in solo flight, Soyuz TMA-18M initiated a deorbiting burn at 06:32 Moscow Time on March 2 (10:32 p.m. EST on March 1) at an altitude of 425 kilometers above the Southern Atlantic Ocean and around 12 kilometers from the ISS. The maneuver slowed down the vehicle by around 128 meters per second, initiating its reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.

Some 22 minutes later, as the spacecraft descended to an altitude of 140 kilometers, the Soyuz split into a Descent Module, SA, carrying the crew, a Habitation Module, BO, and an Instrument Module, PAO.

The descent module of the Soyuz TMA-18 was expected to make a parachute landing on March 2, 2016, at 07:25 Moscow Time (11:25 p.m. EST on March 1) around 147 kilometers southeast of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, according to the mission control in Korolev. NASA reported landing time as 10:26 p.m. Houston Time. The touchdown took place nearly 2.5 hours after local sunrise.

Recovery services found the descent module of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft in vertical position after touchdown. All crew members were extracted from the descent module in seemingly excellent condition.

A special field test tent was set up in the landing zone to conduct post-landing checkups and tests on the crew, including vision and balance.

parachute

crew

Planned landing timeline for Soyuz TMA-18M on March 2, 2016, Moscow Time:

Milestone
Moscow Time
Altitude, km
Latitude, deg. min
Longitude. deg, min.
Velocity, km/s
G-force
Braking engine firing starts
06:32:43
425.5
-48.18
316.17
7.348
0.00
Braking engine firing ends
06:37:23
416.5
-39.26
336.47
7.233
0.05
Spacecraft sections separation
06:59:59
139.9
+27.17
035.17
7.570
0.00
Atmospheric entry
07:02:48
100.0
+35.23
044.37
7.618
0.00
Aerodynamic control starts
07:04:19
080.2
+39.22
050.28
7.619
0.09
Maximum G-loads
07:09:13
031.9
+46.59
068.35
1.885
3.95
Parachute release command
07:11:03
010.6
+47.22
069.35
0.211
1.17
Landing
07:25:27
000.0
+47.19
069.35
0.000
1.00
Main parachute opening in case of emergency ballistic descent
07:08:58
010.7
+46.00
064.08
0.205
1.27

landing

trajectory

 

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The article and photography by Anatoly Zak

Last update: March 3, 2016

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IMAGE ARCHIVE

logo

Soyuz TMA-18M mission logo included musical notes to mark flight to the ISS of a British singer Sarah Brightman, which never happened, but symbols were too late to remove. Credit: NASA


tail

Assembly of the Soyuz rocket for the Soyuz TMA-18M mission on July 27, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


mik

Soyuz TMA-18M mission on Aug. 9, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


side

Integration with the launch vehicle adapter on August 28, 2015. Credit: RKK Energia


rollout

Soyuz-FG rocket with Soyuz TMA-18M leaves the assembly building on the way to the launch pad on Aug. 31, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia


roll

Soyuz-FG rocket with Soyuz TMA-18M rolls toward Site 1 in Baikonur on Aug. 31, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Installation

Soyuz-FG rocket with Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft is being installed on the launch pad on Aug. 31, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


iss

The ISS as viewed by a TV camera onboard approaching Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft at a distance of around 200 meters. Credit: Roskosmos


hatch

The ISS crew closes hatches to Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft on March 1, 2016, several hours before the ship's departure. Credit: NASA


sm

View of the service module onboard the ISS from the departing Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft on March 1, 2016. Credit: NASA


descent

Soyuz TMA-18M returns to Earth on March 2, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos