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Soyuz MS-03 arrives at ISS
In the final manned launch of 2016, the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft successfully delivered three members of the 50th and 51st expeditions to the International Space Station, ISS. The liftoff took place as scheduled on November 17 and docking completed on Nov. After nearly half a year aboard the station, the same crew will ride Soyuz MS-03 back to Earth on May 16, 2017.
The crew of Soyuz MS-03 during final qualification exams at the Gagarin Training Center in Star City on Oct. 25, 2016, (left to right): Thomas Pesquet, Oleg Novitskiy, Peggy Whitson.
Soyuz MS-03 mission at a glance:
Preparations for flight
The launch of Soyuz MS-03 was initially scheduled for Nov. 30, 2016. Following the Soyuz MS-02 launch delay in September 2016, the mission was rescheduled for Nov. 16, 2016, at 00:05 Moscow Time. On October 28, the State Commission announced that the launch was re-scheduled for Nov. 17, 2016, at 23:20:13 Moscow Time, to enable a two-day rendezvous scenario, rather than a six-hour flight to the station, which was possible in case of the launch on November 16. According to public statement, the two-day scenario was chosen to complete planned tests of the new systems on the Soyuz MS series, however the six-hour rendezvous scheme was hampered by the delay in the completion of the Klen-R ground station near Vostochny, which would be compatible with a brand-new EKTS system onboard Soyuz-MS.
On November 4, RKK Energia announced that Soyuz MS-03 had returned to its processing building at Site 254, after the completion of fueling. Three days later, the spacecraft was integrated with a transfer ring, which will serve as an interface with the launch vehicle. On November 9, engineers conducted final inspection of Soyuz MS-03 and then rolled it inside the protective fairing of its Soyuz-FG rocket. Two days later, the payload section with Soyuz MS-03 was transferred from the spacecraft assembly building at Site 254 to the vehicle assembly building at Site 112 for the final integration with the rocket.
On November 12 and 13, the payload section was integrated with the launch vehicle and the mission management gave green light to the rollout of the Soyuz-FG rocket to the launch pad at Site 1, which took place on the morning of November 14.
Launch of Soyuz MS-03
Propelled by the simultaneous thrust of the four engines of the first stage and the single engine of the second stage, the rocket headed east to align its ascent trajectory with an orbital plane inclined 51.67 degrees toward the Equator. Slightly less than two minutes into the flight, the ship's emergency escape system jettisoned, immediately followed by the separation of the four boosters of the first stage. The second (core) stage of the booster continued firing for less than five minutes into the flight. Almost exactly 40 seconds after the separation of the first stage, the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft in the dense atmosphere split into two halves and fell away. Moments before the second stage completed its firing 4.7 minutes into the flight, the four-chamber engine of the third stage ignited, firing through a lattice structure connecting two boosters. Moments after the separation of the core booster, the tail section of the third stage split into three segments and fell away.
According to the mission control in Korolev, the separation of the Soyuz MS-03 from the third stage of the launch vehicle took place as scheduled at 23:29:01.26 Moscow Time into an orbit with the following parameters:
Without any additional maneuvers, the spacecraft is guaranteed to remain in its initial orbit for around 20 revolutions around the Earth during the next 30 hours, before reentering the Earth's atmosphere due to air friction.
Rendezvous and docking of Soyuz MS-03 at ISS
Upon reaching its planned orbit, Soyuz MS-03 was expected to be 246.2 degrees away and below the ISS, which at the time was circling the planet in the 404.01 by 420.22-kilometer orbit with an inclination 51.63 degrees toward the Equator.
The mission followed a two-day rendezvous profile with the station. According to the Russian mission control in Korolev, the Soyuz was scheduled to perform two orbital maneuvers during the 3rd orbit and another one during the 17th orbit of the flight, which would bring the spacecraft into the vicinity of the station, according to the following planned timeline:
Following its orbit corrections, Soyuz MS-03 was scheduled to begin an autonomous rendezvous with the ISS around 22:40:54 Moscow Time on Nov. 19, 2016, aiming to lock sensors of its Kurs-NA rendezvous system onto the station during the 33rd orbit of the mission.
The final maneuvers, including a flyaround of the ISS, a short station-keeping period and berthing were scheduled to commence at 00:39:53 Moscow Time on November 20.
The docking of the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft and the ISS took place at 4:58:35 p.m. EST (November 19) over the northeastern coast of Brazil, around three minutes ahead of schedule. (The milestone was originally scheduled on Nov. 20, 2016, at 01:01:46 Moscow Time (5:01 p.m. EST on November 19).
The spacecraft berthed at the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the MIM1 Rassvet module, a part of the Russian segment of the ISS. According to NASA, hooks of the docking mechanism, securing the Soyuz at its docking position were successfully closed at 5:04 p.m. EST.
According to NASA, hatches between the spacecraft and the station were opened at 7:40 p.m. EST on November 19, around five minutes behind schedule. (It was 3:40 a.m. Moscow Time on November 20).
The crew of Soyuz MS-03 is expected to remain onboard the ISS until May 2017.
ISS at the time of Soyuz MS-03's docking on Nov. 19, 2016.
Soyuz MS-03 crew:
Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:
Mission patch of the Soyuz MS-03 crew.
Mission patches for Expedition 50 and 51.
Soyuz MS-03 arrives at the spacecraft processing building at Site 254 on Nov. 4, 2016, after the completion of fueling. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-03 is being integrated with its launch vehicle transfer ring on Nov. 7, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-03 is being prepared for integration with its payload fairing on Nov. 9, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
A payload section with the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft is transferred from the spacecraft processing facility at Site 254 to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Site 112 on Nov. 11, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Crew of Soyuz MS-03 waves to well wishers before shortly before boarding the ship. Due to a very cold weather in Baikonur, crew members wore winter overcoats on their way to the launch pad, often confused with new spacesuits. The crew would entered Soyuz wearing regular Sokol suits. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA
Soyuz MS-03 lifts off on Nov. 17, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA