Soyuz TMA-19 lifts off for ton-up launch to the ISS

by Chris Bergin

ISS veteran Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA astronaut Douglas Wheelock and first time flying Shannon Walker have launched on a three day journey to the International Space Station (ISS), after their Soyuz TMA-19 lifted off at 5:35:19 pm EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They will spend three days on orbit ahead of docking with the Station.


The launch vehicle lofting the Soyuz TMA-19 into orbit is the Soyuz-FG. The vehicle was introduced in 1966, deriving from the Vostok launcher, which in turn was based on the 8K74 or R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile. It has become the world’s most used space launcher, flying over 850 times.

This launch will achieve the milestone of 100 flights in support of the ISS since the orbital outpost began its life in 1998.

“The ballistics team has finalized our trajectory and has set the precise time of launch at 03:35:19, local Kazakh time, in the early morning hours of June 16th,” wrote Col. Wheelock in an expansive report to controllers at the Johnson Space Center (L2).

“The launch site is 10 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, and 11 hours ahead of the Mission Control Center in Houston (CDT). So, that converts to a launch time on Tuesday afternoon/evening, June 15th, at 17:35:19 (5:35:19pm) Eastern Time; 16:35:19 (4:35:19pm) Central Time.”

The shuttle veteran, and US Army Colonel, spoke about his awe of not only being involved with a highly historic space program, but also his dream of working with a former Cold War enemy.

“Kind of surreal knowing that as an active duty Army officer, I will pass this spot on my way to the launch pad. What incredible changes we have seen in just a generation. It excites me to think of what our children and grandchildren will witness in the next 50 years.

“Having spent time at West Point and my early years as an Army officer during the ‘Cold War’, it is quite literally like a dream come true to be training here with our Russian partners.

“What an incredible experience, here in Baikonur, where the impossible dream of space travel first took flight.

“You can feel the spirit of those early days of Sergei Korolev’s vision and the launch of that first ‘R-7’ rocket in October of 1957, the space shot that carried ‘Sputnik’ (Russian for ‘Satellite’) and ignited the space race.

“It is so incredibly humbling standing at that same launch pad and knowing that what happened here, so many years ago, inspired a generation of engineers, scientists, space explorers, and dreamers; at the same time terrifying nations.  About 200 meters from the launch pad, there is small grove of trees planted in the barren landscape, with this monument standing in silent reverence.

“Paraphrased the inscription reads, ‘On this site, the ingenuity and hard work of the Soviet people launched an assault on the cosmos’.”

The launch vehicle the trio are riding on consists of four boosters on the first stage, arranged around the central core and are tapered cylinders with the oxidizer tank in the tapered portion and the kerosene tank in the cylindrical portion. As in the entire Soyuz lower composite, the RD-107A engines of the boosters are powered by nontoxic liquid oxygen – kerosene propellants.

These spark ignition engines are fed by a turbopump running off gases generated by the catalytic decomposition of H2O2 in a gas generator. Each RD-107A has four combustion chambers and nozzles. Liquid nitrogen is used for pressurization of the propellant tanks.

Attitude control is carried out through two movable vernier thrusters and one aerofin. Three-axis flight control is made possible through these eight engines (two per booster) and four aerofins (one per booster). The boosters burn for 118 seconds and are then discarded.

Thrust is transferred through a ball joint located at the top of the cone-shaped structure of the booster, which is attached to the central core by two rear struts.

The second stage – or Core Stage – is similar in construction to the booster stages, using the RD-108A engine and four vernier thrusters for three-axis flight control. The core stage nominally burns for 290 seconds. The stage is shaped to accommodate the boosters, and a stiffening ring is located at the upper interface between the boosters and central core.

The boosters and the central core are ignited on the ground. They burn at intermediate thrust levels for approximately 20 seconds before actual liftoff in order to verify their health and nominal level of operation. The core stage continues to function after booster shutdown and separation.

“When we left the processing facility, we got a chance to go the rocket assembly building to see the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd stages of the rocket body before assembly,” added Wheelock. “Very impressive! The business end of the Soyuz rocket is complete with 20 main engine nozzles and 12 gimbaling vernier thrusters.

“All of these engines are liquid-fueled and burn kerosene and liquid oxygen. The four ‘1st Stage’ boosters are assembled around the central core. Following liftoff the boosters burn for 118 seconds and then are jettisoned, much like the solid rocket boosters on the Space Shuttle. The central core is the ‘2nd Stage’ and will continue burning for 290 seconds. The ignition sequence of the 1st and 2nd Stages occurs 20 seconds prior to liftoff. Should be a great light show!

Ignition of the third stage’s single main engine occurs approximately two seconds before shutdown of the central core. The separation of the stages takes place at a predetermined velocity. After separation, the lower skirt of the third stage is jettisoned in three sections. The third stage of the Soyuz is powered by the RD-0110 engine.

The third-stage engine is powered by a single turbopump spun by gas from combustion of the main propellants in a gas generator. These combustion gases are recovered to feed four vernier thrusters that handle attitude control of the vehicle. For deorbitation and collision avoidance, a reaction nozzle is positioned on the side of the stage and vents the oxygen tank.

The LOX tank is pressurized by the heating and evaporation of the oxygen, while the kerosene tank is pressurized by combustion products from the gas generator. An interstage truss structure connects the core stage with the third stage, thereby allowing for the ignition of the third stage before separation of the second. In fact, this ignition assists the separation of the second stage.

“This stage is connected to the 2nd Stage central core by a lattice-type truss. Ignition of the 3rd Stage occurs approximately 2 seconds before shutdown of the 2nd Stage central core. The thrust of the 3rd Stage directly jettisons the central core,” added the Colonel.

“I’ve heard this described as the most eye-watering part of the ascent phase, when these engines light and you shed the weight of the central core, there is a pretty ‘sporty’ g-force onset. The 3rd Stage burns for 240 seconds, and after main engine cut-off, in just less than 9 minutes, you are in Earth orbit traveling 17,500 mph, about 5 miles per second!”

The Soyuz Vehicle the crew are riding on consists of three modules: the Orbital Module, the Descent Module (DM), and the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module (IPM). The DM is the only module that returns to Earth, after all three modules nominally separate simultaneously, shortly after the deorbit burn is completed.

“It will take us a little more than two days to get to the International Space Station, and our docking is scheduled for Thursday evening, June 17th, at 18:25 (6:25pm) EDT;  17:25 (5:25pm) CDT,” added Wheelock. “Our 6-month expedition will take us into December, and we hope to be back to the Earth, and back home in the States by Christmas.

“We currently have 2 EVAs (spacewalks) scheduled in August, so I’ll get another chance to go ‘outside’ again, first on August 5th, and the second 12 days later on August 17th. Thank you again for your continued support, I’ll look forward to sharing the experiences over the next six months with you, my family and friends. Many greetings to everyone! Light the fire!”

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