Soyuz TMA-17 lands as Russian Rockot launches SERVIS-2

by Chris Bergin

Three members of Expedition 23 – Commander Oleg Kotov, Flight Engineers T.J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi – onboard the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft, have landed successfully in Kazakhstan on Wednesday morning local time. Meanwhile, a Russian Rockot has launched the SERVIS-2 satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northern Russia.

Soyuz TMA-17 Return:

The Soyuz Vehicle consists of three modules: the Orbital Module, the Descent Module (DM), and the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module (IPM). All three modules nominally separate simultaneously, shortly after the deorbit burn is completed – at around 140 km altitude.

The two ‘off nominal’ re-entries in 2007 and 2008 were the cause of separation failures on the modules, thus initiating the ballistic return for their three person crews.

However, no issues have been suffered with the vehicle since an investigation found that the most likely cause of the previous failures related to an open the latch located at ‘Plane I’ interface, much to the relief of all concerned, not least NASA, who will be relying on the Russian vehicle for several years after the retirement of the space shuttle.

The investigation findings noted issues with the long-term exposure to electromagnetic emissions on-orbit, and their potential to cause issues with the pyro bolts, came after an extensive investigation that included the removal and return of one pyro bolt from Soyuz TMA-12.

Following undocking from the International Space Station (ISS), Kotov, Noguchi and Creamer only have a matter of hours to prepare for re-entry – unlike the several days it takes for a shuttle orbiter to return home. The crew were already wearing their Russian Kentavr anti-G suit under their Sokol suits.

Russian crewmembers are also advised to ingest fluid-electrolyte additives, viz., three sodium chloride tablets during breakfast and after the midday meal, each time with 300 ml of fluid, and two pills during the meal aboard Soyuz before deorbit.

The landing is expected at 11:25 Eastern, around 145 km away from the city of Dzheskazgan, Kazakhstan. Airplanes and helicopters are on duty around all estimated landing spots – 12 in total – in the event of a ballistic landing.

The return of Soichi Noguchi will likely be missed by several hundred thousand members of the public, following his unique uploading of images of various landmarks on Earth during his stay onboard the ISS.


The Russian launch system Rockot is tailored to payloads requiring a performance of at least 1,950 kg for launches into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The three-stage liquid fuelled rocket has dedicated launch facilities at Plesetsk Cosmodrome under the control of Eurockot.

SERVIS-2 is an acronym for the second spacecraft in the “Space Environment Reliability Verification Integrated System” programme. The spacecraft was designed and built by USEF (Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer) of Tokyo, Japan, under a contract from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO).

The purpose of SERVIS-2 is the verification of commercial off the shelf (COTS) parts and technologies in the severe space environment, thus establishing evaluation and equipment design guidelines to use COTS in space.

SERVIS-2 has a mass of some 900 kg. Rockot will launch the spacecraft into a sun-synchronous orbit of 1,200 km altitude.

Eurockot Launch Services of Germany had already successfully launched the predecessor of SERVIS-2, the SERVIS-1 spacecraft, in October 2003 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Eurockot’s latest mission launched the KOMPSAT-2 satellite successfully for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute in July 2006.

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