Soyuz TMA-13 launches trio on journey to the ISS

by Chris Bergin
A Russian Soyuz launch vehicle has launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 03:01 EDT, carrying Expedition 18’s Michael Fincke and Yuri Lonchakov, along with space tourist Richard Garriot.

Expedition 18 Commander and Science Officer Fincke and Russian Flight Engineer Lonchakov are heading for a long haul duration flight on the orbital outpost. They are due to dock with the ISS on Tuesday.

Garriot, however, will return to Earth with Expedition 17 and Soyuz Commander Sergei Volkov and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko on Thursday, Oct. 23 in their Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft, currently docked to the station.

That return will be under intense scrutiny, following two off-nominal ballistic re-entrys in a row on the previous Soyuz return – the latter with Soyuz TMA-11 proving to be a very close call for its crew of three.

As part of the investigation into the problems with the Soyuz vehicle, EVA 20A – a special Russian spacewalk – was conducted by Volkov and Kononenko. Their task was to remove one of 10 pyrotechnic bolts from the docked Soyuz TMA-12, and place it in the blast-proof canister.

Early findings point towards the issue being related to long-term exposure of the vehicle’s hardware on orbit, and the associated electromagnetic emissions.
Despite the lack of a specific root cause for the problems with the vehicle, NASA’s Stage Operations Readiness Review (SORR) for Increment 18 gave the green light for the launch and return of their astronauts via the TMA-12 and TMA-13, and also outlined some of the events for Expedition 18.  

“A few notes of possible interest: The Board is Go for Inc 18/Soyuz 16s return, Soyuz 17 launch,” noted minutes from the SORR on L2. “Some of the primary increment items of interest: Two Shuttle Flights, ULF2 and 15A. Several Progress operations, Progress 30P undock, Progress 31P dock.”

“Progress 31P has new avionics capability. No longer requires matching unit hook-up to SM (Service Module) with hatch drag thru to provide Progress thrusters as part of the overall Russian segment attitude control scheme.

“One Russian EVA (21). Activate the new US Regenerative Life Support system. There will be a 90 day test of ability to generate potable water by recycling Russian Urine.

“Some software updates primarily for Crew Quarters and six person crew. Prox and GPS checkout for the new Japanese cargo transfer vehicle. Provide ability to cool crew drink bags via MERLIN equipment

“There is a reduced MTL flow available to payloads due to the increase cooling needs of the Regen ECLS system. For the first time, this may require careful planning to ensure that the number of active payloads are managed within the available cooling budget.

“Russians are flying a new version of the Orlan called the Orlan MK (vs the Orlan M). The primary difference is the addition of a system monitoring computer like the EMU. It provides system data to the EVA crewman via display panel, and to the ground via TLM.”

The Soyuz TMA-13 trio will also be greeted by NASA Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff, who has been on the station since June. He will remain with Fincke and Lonchakov until the arrival of Endeavour on its STS-126 mission, targeted to launch on November 14.

Endeavour will be bringing NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus to be Chamitoff’s replacement, before taking the Expedition 16 crewmember home at the conclusion of the shuttle mission.


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