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Soyuz MS-09 arrives at ISS
In the second manned launch of 2018, the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft is carrying three members of Expedition 56 and 57 to the International Space Station, ISS. Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopiev, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on June 6, 2018, for a long-duration shift aboard the orbiting outpost. It is the 55th flight of the Soyuz spacecraft series to the ISS, denoted in the outpost's official flight manifest as 55S.
Members of the primary crew of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor (left), Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopiev (center) and European astronaut Alexander Gerst, during training inside Descent Module of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.
The Soyuz MS-09 mission at a glance:
Preparations for launch
As of 2014, the launch was set for Sept. 30, 2018, but by Oct. 1, 2017, it was rescheduled for April 25, 2018. It was later set for June 6, 2018. On May 3, Roskosmos released a video showing Soyuz MS-09 being installed into echoless chamber in Baikonur in preparation for tests of the vehicle's radio systems.
On May 19, the primary and backup crews for ISS Expeditions 56 and 57 arrived at Baikonur for final training before the launch of Soyuz MS-09. The group included Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopiev, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor from the primary crew and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency David Saint-Jacques and NASA astronaut Anne Macclain comprising the backup crew. The next day, the meeting of the technical management gave the go ahead to the loading of propellant components and pressurized gases into the Soyuz MS-09. However, before the vehicle was transferred to the fueling facility, the cosmonauts and astronauts tried on their Sokol-KV spacesuits and practiced operations inside the spacecraft. They also reviewed their onboard documentation, tested onboard systems and conducted other activities in preparation for launch.
Fueling of Soyuz MS-09 was completed on May 22, when the spacecraft was returned to the processing building at Site 254 and installed back into its work site for further operations. The integration of the spacecraft with an adapter ring of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle took place on May 24.
The final visual inspection of Soyuz MS-09 and its integration with the payload fairing took place on May 29, 2018.
Soyuz MS-09 is rolled inside its protective fairing on May 29, 2018.
On May 31, the crew members conducted their second series of "fit checks" inside Soyuz MS-09 in its launch configuration and the next day, the spacecraft was lowered into horizontal position, loaded on a railway trailer and transferred from Site 254 to the vehicle assembly building at Site 112 for integration with its Soyuz-FG launch vehicle. Also on June 1, the assembled stack of the first and second stages of the Soyuz-FG rocket was loaded on the transporter-erector, where it was integrated with its upper composite comprised of the payload section with the spacecraft and the third stage of the launch vehicle on June 3, 2018. After the completion of the assembly, a meeting of the technical management the gave green light to the rollout of the launch vehicle to the launch pad.
On the morning of June 4, 2018, the Soyuz-FG rocket with the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft left the vehicle assembly building and arrived at Site 1, where it was erected in vertical position.
Soyuz MS-09 lifts off
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 51.6 degrees toward the Equator. Slightly less than two minutes into the flight, the ship's emergency escape system was jettisoned, immediately followed by the separation of the four boosters of the first stage. Almost exactly 40 seconds later, the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft in the dense atmosphere split into two halves and fell away.
The second (core) stage of the booster continued firing until 4.8 minutes into the flight. Moments before the second stage completed its work, the four-chamber engine of the third stage ignited, firing through a lattice structure connecting the two stages. Moments after the separation of the core booster, the tail section of the third stage split into three segments and fell away.
The third stage continued firing until the command to cut off its engines 8.7 minutes into the flight at 14:21:29 Moscow Time (7:21 a.m. EDT).
Planned Soyuz MS-09 launch timeline:*
During its ride to orbit, Soyuz MS-09 captured a dramatic view of the separation between the spacecraft and the third stage of the Soyuz-FG rocket. Unannounced to the general public ahead of time, the imaging exercise was conceived in the wake of the two failures of similar rocket boosters from Soyuz-2-1a and Soyuz-U rockets, which destroyed a pair of Progress cargo ships in 2015 and 2016. To prepare the transition of the Soyuz MS launches from Soyuz-U/FG series to the Soyuz-2-1a variant, Roskosmos approved a series of various measures on Feb. 14, 2017. They included the installation of the KL-152M video camera on the exterior of the Soyuz MS spacecraft, beginning with the MS-09 mission. The camera was designed to beam pictures back to Earth via the Klest TV system already available aboard the spacecraft. The experiment required a few modifications of the ship's flight control avionics, including onboard measurement and telemetry systems.
The KL-152M camera was installed on the Habitation Module of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft between its 1st and 2nd engineering planes and pointed toward the launch vehicle.
Soyuz MS-09 docks at ISS
Soyuz MS-09 followed a two-day rendezvous profile with the International Space Station. The spacecraft was scheduled to perform an automatic docking at the MIM1 Rassvet module, a part of the Russian segment on June 8, 2018, at 16:07 Moscow Time (09:07 a.m. EDT, 13:07 GMT), after a 34-orbit solo flight.
The final rendezvous was planned according to the following timeline (Moscow Time):
13:47:00: Beginning of autonomous rendezvous
The actual docking took place at 16:01 Moscow Time (9:01 a.m. EDT) or around six minutes ahead of scheduled, because mission control saw no need for station keeping during very smooth automated process.
Upon opening the hatches into the station around 11:30 a.m. EDT, Prokopiev, Gerst and Auñón-Chancellor will join Drew Feustel, Oleg Artemyev and Ricky Arnold from the Soyuz MS-08 crew. The joined six-member crew will form the 56th long-duration crew aboard the International Space Station.
As of the beginning of 2018, the Soyuz MS-09 was expected to remain docked to the ISS until Oct. 28, 2018, however before its launch, the mission was extended until mid-December 2018.
During the night from August 29 to August 30, 2018, a slow air leak aboard the International Space Station, ISS, caused some pressure drop inside the outpost and was eventually isolated to a small hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked at the orbital lab.
Russian plans to send a pair of cosmonauts on a spacewalk outside the station to investigate a mysterious air leak aboard the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft triggered big concerns among the space station partners, industry sources say.
In the process of planning the work on the exterior of the station, specialists at RKK Energia, the Soyuz manufacturer, had conducted a series of simulations to prepare cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko for the two most challenging tasks of the spacewalk: first getting to the location of the hole on the Soyuz spacecraft using an extendable Strela boom controlled by Prokopiev and then cutting the exterior layers of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.
On Dec. 11, 2018, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopiev embarked on a risky and controversial spacewalk, designated VKD-45a, to investigate an unexplained hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, which led to an air leak aboard the International Space Station, ISS, in August. The pair attempted to literally uncover the mystery around the origin of the hole, by cutting through the soft thermal insulation and the aluminum meteoroid shielding on the exterior of the Soyuz' Habitation Module.
The three members of Expedition 57 aboard the International Space Station, ISS, returned to Earth after a 197-day flight, punctuated by a mysterious leak aboard their Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft and the aborted launch of Soyuz MS-10. The failed launch left Expedition 57 short two of its members and required postponing the return of Soyuz MS-09 from December 11 to Dec. 20, 2018, to wait for the delivery of three other crew members aboard Soyuz MS-11.
In preparation for landing, the six-member crew on the Earth-orbiting outpost conducted the traditional change of command ceremony on December 18, when Alexander Gerst handed over the formal control over the station to Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko from the Soyuz MS-11 crew.
Following their transfer aboard Soyuz MS-09, the closure of the hatches between the transport vehicle and the station took place around 01:30 Moscow Time on December 20 (5:30 p.m. EST on December 19). Aboard Soyuz MS-09, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopiev took the center seat in the Descent Module, with European astronaut Alexander Gerst occupying the left-hand seat and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor taking right seat. During preparation for undocking, the crew discovered a broken communications cable in Sergei Prokopiev's spacesuit, which prevented his communications with mission control and search teams on the ground, when his suit's visor is closed. After extensive discussions of the issue, flight officials decided to proceed with the planned timeline for the return to Earth, but to transfer communications responsibilities to Alexander Gerst, who was fully trained for the task, according to NASA.
At the time, mission control expected broken clouds at the landing site, with temperatures around 8-11 degrees F and winds around six knots.
The Soyuz MS-09 undocked from the MIM1 Rassvet module, a part of the Russian Segment of the ISS, at 04:40:30 Moscow Time on Dec. 20, 2018, (8:40 p.m. EST on December 19), as the two spacecraft were flying over South-eastern Mongolia. The Soyuz then performed two small separation maneuvers with its DPO attitude control thrusters to increase its distance from the ISS.
Reentry and landing
After reaching a safe distance of around 100 kilometers from the ISS during a two-orbit autonomous flight, the spacecraft initiated a braking maneuver at 07:10:52 Moscow Time on December 20 (11:10 p.m. EST on December 19). The braking engine firing lasted 4 minutes 36 seconds and was completed at 07:15:28 Moscow Time. It delivered 128.2 in velocity change necessary for leaving orbit.
As the spacecraft was losing the altitude, the Descent Module with crew separated from its battered Habitation Module, BO, and the Instrument Compartment, PAO, at 07:38:10 Moscow Time on December 20 (11:38 p.m. EST on December 19). Just two minutes later (at 07:40:59 Moscow Time), the crew capsule hit the dense atmosphere and after another nine minutes initiated the deployment of its parachute system (scheduled time: 07:49:10 Moscow Time).
The touchdown of the Descent Module was planned 147 kilometers southeast of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, at 08:03:21 Moscow Time (12:03 a.m. EST) on Dec. 20, 2018. However, according to NASA, the landing took place a bit earlier, at 11:02 p.m. Houston Time on December 19.
As usual, the search and rescue operations in the landing area are supported by the personnel of Russia's Central Military District, TsVO. On December 17, eight Mil-8 transport helicopters were deployed in Kazakhstan from the Uprun air field in Southern Ural region in Russia. Also, Antonov-12 transport planes carried four Siniya Ptitsa (blue bird) amphibious vehicles to the landing zone near Dzhezkazgan and two of those vehicles then drove to the backup landing site further west, according to the Interfax news agency. The search and rescue assets supporting the landing of Soyuz MS-09 included a total of 10 Mil-8 helicopters, two Antonov-12 and one Antonov-26 fixed-wing aircraft, 22 ground vehicles, including six amphibious vehicles and around 200 members of personnel. Two helicopters were also used to inspect the landing area ahead of the touchdown.
Soyuz MS-09 crews:
The Soyuz MS-09 mission logo.
Logo for Expedition 57 aboard ISS. Credit: NASA
Members of the primary crew of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor (left), Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopiev (center) and European astronaut Alexander Gerst, are preparing to board the flight-worthy spacecraft during its pre-launch processing at Site 254 in Baikonur on May 20, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-09 was integrated with the adapter ring of its Soyuz-FG rocket on May 24, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Payload section with the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft being prepared for a transfer to the vehicle assembly building on June 1, 2018. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-09 returns to processing building at Site 254 on May 22, 2018, after the completion of fueling operations. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-09 is rolled inside its protective fairing on May 29, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-09 lifts off on June 6, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: ESA
First images from the newly installed camera aboard Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft captured separation of the payload fairing. Credit: NASA
Tail section of the third stage splits in three sections and separates, shortly after the separation of the second stage. Credit: NASA
An external KL-152M camera transmitted first dramatic images during the Soyuz spacecraft launch of the third stage separation on June 6, 2018. Credit: NASA
The external camera also caught a glimpse of the solar panel deploying aboard Soyuz MS-09. Credit: NASA