Searching for details:
The author of this page will appreciate comments, corrections and imagery related to the subject. Please contact Anatoly Zak.
Soyuz MS-20 delivers tourists to ISS
Russia resumes commercial visits to the International Space Station, ISS, after a more than a 12-year break. The Soyuz MS-20 mission carrying two Japanese tourists to the orbital outpost on a 12-day flight launched on Dec. 8, 2021. The spacecraft arrived at the station after four orbits in autonomous flight.
Soyuz MS-20 mission at a glance:
In February 2019, Roskosmos announced that it signed a contract for a flight of two unnamed tourists aboard a dedicated Soyuz mission at the end of 2021. This was a return to practice in the 2000s, when seats aboard Soyuz that had not been claimed by international space agencies or foreign governments would be sold to private passengers. With the introduction of SpaceX' Crew Dragon vehicle, NASA shifted most of its ISS crew members to the new vehicle, freeing seats on Soyuz "taxi" flights supporting long-duration expeditions aboard the station. However in this case, the Soyuz mission would be specifically dedicated to a short tourist visit to the ISS and not one but two seats were made commercially available. In part, it became possible thanks to latest upgrades aboard Soyuz allowing one professional cosmonaut to pilot the vehicle. (INSIDER CONTENT)
By July 2020, a pair of tourists accompanied by one professional cosmonaut were assigned to the 12-day flight to the ISS officially designated Visiting Expedition-20. According to a preliminary flight manifest drafted by Roskosmos at the end of August 2020, the Soyuz MS-20 mission was expected to take place from December 8 to December 20, 2021, with the first four orbits or six hours of the flight spent on chasing the station.
At that time, the spacecraft was to dock at the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the MIM1 Rassvet module, however by November 2020, its destination on the Russian Segment was switched to the MIM2 Poisk module.
On May 13, 2021, Roskosmos announced that two space tourists from Japan, Yusaku Maezawa, e-commerce entrepreneur, and his work assistant Yozo Hirano, booked by the US-based Space Adventures company, would begin training in Star City for flight aboard Soyuz MS-20. By that time, both candidates had successfully passed the necessary medical checks to qualify for space flight.
Maezawa single-handedly paid undisclosed tens of millions of dollars for his and his associate's seats aboard Soyuz. He also reportedly planned a trip around the Moon as early as 2023 aboard SpaceX' Starship vehicle, but probably settled for a Soyuz visit to the ISS first, as realistic prospects for Starship's lunar missions started drifting toward the mid-2020s.
Onboard Soyuz, the tourists would be accompanied by a professional Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Misurkin, serving as the mission commander and the ship's solo pilot. The crew was officially confirmed as Visiting Expedition 20, EP-20, on May 19, 2021. Aleksandr Skvortsov was assigned as a backup commander for the mission, while Shun Ogiso, Maezawa's another associate from Japan, served as a backup for Hirano. Maezawa himself technically had no backup, but Russian cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev filled in for the role of the third crew member when it was crucial for training.
According to Roskosmos, a total of nine experiments and studies were assigned to Visiting Expedition 20.
Soyuz MS-20 launch campaign
The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft is being prepared for shipment to Baikonur on Aug. 30, 2021.
The spacecraft with production number 752, which was assigned to the Soyuz MS-20 mission, was shipped to Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 1, 2021, and went through initial processing at the launch site in the first half of September. On September 13, RKK Energia announced that its specialists had installed the vehicle into its testing rig, conducted its visual inspection and testing of default status of all the systems, connected the ship to diagnostics equipment, powered up onboard service systems and concluded autonomous tests and installation of Kazbek chairs inside the Descent Module, SA. The schedule of upcoming work included preparations of the spacecraft for integrated tests and leak tests of the thermal control system.
On October 27, the spacecraft underwent autonomous tests of its Kurs-NA radio rendezvous systems in the anechoic chamber at Site 254. Around the same time, the components of the Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle, which was shipped to Baikonur from its production factory in Samara on October 1, were unloaded at Site 31, Roskosmos announced on October 30. In the next step, the 1A and 2A sections of the rocket's second stage were to be bolted together, while propulsion systems of the V and G boosters of the first stage were undergoing pressure tests, Roskosmos said. These operations were completed by November 2. On the same day, Roskosmos announced that the Chief Medical Commission, GMK, at Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center had declared Misurkin, Maezawa and Hirano healthy for performing Visiting Expedition 20. Also, Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov and Japanese tourist Shun Ogiso were cleared for back-up roles in the VE-20 flight.
On November 5, Soyuz MS-20 was transferred to the 17T523MR vacuum chamber at Site 254 for pressure checks, from which it returned back for final processing on November 10.
On the morning of November 19, 2021, the members of the primary and back-up crews flew from Star City to Baikonur for the completion of their training, including familiarization with the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft undergoing final checks inside its processing building. That exercise took place on November 20. On November 21, Roskosmos announced that a meeting of technical management at Baikonur had cleared Soyuz MS-20 for fueling which started on November 22. By November 25, all fueling operations had been completed and the spacecraft was returned to its processing facility at Site 254. The next day, the spacecraft was integrated with its launch vehicle adapter.
On November 30, specialists conducted the traditional visual inspection of the spacecraft and it was then lowered in horizontal position and rolled inside its protective fairing. Next, the assembled upper composite was prepared for the test of launch readiness, Roskosmos said.
On December 1, specialists from RKK Energia loaded final cargo items inside the spacecraft, bringing the total amount of supplies carried during the mission to 162 kilograms, including 13 kilograms of fresh fruits, Roskosmos said. The deliveries to the ISS also included hand-written messages for the Russian cosmonauts aboard the station, New-Year presents, as well as hygiene and food items and medical research equipment. The next day, the primary and back-up crews conducted their final inspection of the Soyuz interior, including its Habitation and Descent Modules, checked the ship's flight configuration for the last time before the primary crew would board the vehicle on the launch pad ahead of its liftoff. The vehicle was then transferred from the processing building at Site 254 to the vehicle assembly building at Site 31, where it was integrated with its Soyuz rocket. By the end of the day on December 3, the vehicle was ready for the rollout to the launch pad which started at 7:30 in the morning local time in Baikonur on December 5.
A Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle with the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft is being erected on the launch pad on Dec. 5, 2021.
In support of potential search and rescue operations during the launch, the Central Military District, TsVO, deployed personnel and vehicles in Kazakhstan. More than 150 members of the parachute troops and military medics, as well as Mi-8 helicopters, An-26 and An-12 transport aircraft and more than 20 ground vehicles, including PEM-1 and -2 Siniya Ptitsa all-terrain amphibious trucks were sent from the Chelyabinsk Region. During the launch, military rescue teams would be stationed at air bases along the ground track of the orbital ascent trajectory in Karaganda, Baikonur, Dzhezkazgan and Arkalyk in Kazakhstan, as well as in Uprun, Gorno-Altaisk, Kyzyl and Yekaterinburg in Russian territory.
Soyuz MS-20 flight profile
A Soyuz-2-1a rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft (Production No. 752, ISS mission 66S) lifted off from Site 31 in Baikonur on December 8, 2021, at 10:38:15.584 Moscow Time (2:38 a.m. EST, 07:38 UTC).
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, at an altitude of around 45 kilometers and a velocity of 1.75 kilometers per second, the ship's main emergency escape rocket was jettisoned, immediately followed by the separation of the four boosters of the first stage. Around 35 seconds later, as the vehicle exited the dense atmosphere at an altitude of 79 kilometers and a velocity of 2.2 kilometers per second, the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft split into two halves and fell away.
The second (core) stage of the rocket 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 the lattice structure connecting the two stages. Moments after the separation of the core booster at an altitude of 157 kilometers and a velocity of 3.8 kilometers per second, the tail section of the third stage split into three segments and separated as well.
Following the 8-minute 49-second climb to orbit, the third stage of the rocket released Soyuz MS-20 into an initial parking orbit within planned parameters:
Rendezvous and docking operations
The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft was scheduled to dock at the Poisk module, MIM2, a part of the Russian ISS Segment, within three minutes from 16:41:30 Moscow Time on the day of the launch, after a four-orbit, six-hour autonomous flight with the following milestones:
The Russian mission control in Korolev planned a total of six maneuvers with the transport ship's engines, which were apparently executed close to schedule:
The maneuvers put the spacecraft into a 393.196 by 433.586-kilometer orbit during its 4th revolution around the planet. At the time, the station was the station was forecasted to be in a 419.447 by 434.766-kilometer orbit, close enough for the transport ship to perform a fully autonomous rendezvous.
According to NASA, the actual docking took place at 8:40 a.m. EST on December 8 (16:40 Moscow Time), as the two spacecraft were flying over the Atlantic Ocean. The data from the Russian mission control in Korolev showed that contact and capture was achieved at 16:40:44 Moscow Time, followed by the hooks closure, completing the hard mate between the spacecraft at 16:46:40 Moscow Time.
After a series of air leak checks, the Soyuz hatch into the station was opened around 11:11 a.m. EST (19:11 Moscow Time) on December 8.
Aboard the ISS, the tourist crew joined seven members of the 66th long-duration expedition.
After 12 days aboard the ISS, the Soyuz MS-20 crew, including two Japanese tourists and their pilot, wrapped up their expedition and returned back to Earth on Dec. 20, 2021.
In preparation for landing, the closure of hatches between the crew vehicle and the Poisk module, MIM2, a part of the Russian ISS Segment, was scheduled around 23:30 Moscow Time (3:30 p.m. EST) on December 19, according to NASA, but it actually took place ahead of schedule around 1:20 p.m. Houston Time (2:20 p.m. EST) on Dec. 19, 2021. The hatches were then briefly reopened between 2:30 and 2:32 p.m. Houston Time for some adjustments, but the crews did not move between the ships, NASA said.
The Russian mission control displayed the following timeline in preparation for undocking:
The Soyuz MS-20 undocked from the ISS close to a planned time at 02:50:30 Moscow Time on December 20, (6:50 p.m. EST on December 19), as the two vehicles were flying over Mongolia and were within range of Russian ground stations. The spacecraft then performed two short maneuvers with its DPO thrusters to increase its distance from the ISS and get in position for the deorbiting maneuver.
After a period of the autonomous flight, Soyuz MS-20 turned tail-first around five minutes ahead of the braking engine firing, which started at 05:18:56 Moscow Time on December 20 (9:18 p.m. on December 19). The engine burn lasted 4 minutes 39 seconds slowing down the vehicle by 128 meters per second, enough to leave orbit and begin the reentry into the atmosphere.
The separation of the Habitation Module, BO, and the Aggregate Compartment, PAO, from the Descent Module, SA, carrying the crew, took place at 05:47:02 Moscow Time on December 20 (9:47 p.m. EST a.m. on December 19). The capsule with cosmonauts then hit discernable atmosphere at 05:50 Moscow Time on December 20 (9:50 p.m. EST on December 19). The capsule then initiated the parachute deployment sequence at 05:58:41 Moscow Time on December 20 (9:58 p.m. EST on December 19).
The landing of the Descent Module was scheduled at 06:13:41 Moscow Time on December 20 (10:13 p.m. EST on December 19), in grasslands of Kazakhstan, some 148 kilometers southeast of Dzhezkazgan. The planned landing site had coordinates 47 degrees 21 minutes North latitude, 69 degrees 37 minutes East longitude. According to multiple official sources, the touchdown took place within seconds from schedule.
However, due to very low visibility at the landing side, the search and rescue teams did not get to the Descent Module until 10:33 p.m. EST (06:33 Moscow Time). They found the capsule in vertical position and all crew members in good shape, according to NASA.
Both, the crew and the capsule had to be evacuated from the landing site by PEM Siniya Ptitsa all-terrain vehicles instead of helicopters. For the exhausted and weaken by weightlessness space travelers it meant a 40-kilometer trek through the rocky steppe, followed by another 100 kilometers an the local road. However, as the weather cleared, the crew was apparently picked up along the way by a Mi-8MTV5-1 helicopter which delivered the trio to Dzhezkazgan.
Planned timeline for the Soyuz MS-20 landing on Dec. 20, 2021, according to Roskosmos:
Soyuz MS-20 crew members:
Official logo of the Soyuz MS-20 mission.
Yusaku Maezawa's mission patch.
Members of the Soyuz MS-20 crew (top to bottom: Yozo Hirano, Aleksandr Misurkin and Yusaku Maezawa during familiarization training inside Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft on Nov. 20, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz MS-20 is integrated with its payload fairing on Nov. 30, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Service gantry closes around Soyuz MS-20 shortly after its delivery to the pad on Dec. 5, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Crew board Soyuz MS-20 a few hours before liftoff. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz MS-20 lifts off on Dec. 8, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz MS-20 drops boosters of the first stage. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Third stage separates from the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft. Credit: NASA
Soyuz MS-20 approaches the ISS on Dec. 8, 2021. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos