Soyuz TMA-01M launches with trio heading to the ISS

by Chris Bergin

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka have begun their journey to the International Space Station (ISS), launching in their Soyuz TMA-01M at 7:10 pm. EDT (23:10 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They are scheduled to arrive at the Station on Saturday at 8:02 pm EDT (00:02 GMT Sunday).

Soyuz TMA Launch:

The Soyuz TMA 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.

TMA-01M is debuting new improvements to the veteran vehicle, featuring new guidance, navigation, control and data processing systems, along with an improved cooling device for the vehicle’s electronics.

With the required approval from the State Commission and State Board at Baikonur, Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov noted he was satisfied with the launch preparations, and deemed them to be nominal. Mr Perminov also noted this new Soyuz is unlikely to suffer the undocking anomalies which delayed the undocking of Soyuz TMA-18 by 24 hours – prior to a nominal re-entry last month.

“Only Russian technologies are applied in the Soyuz. We got rid of analogue systems which could cause any anomaly, as it happened recently during failed departure of the Soyuz with the previous ISS crew,” noted the head of the Russian Space Agency. “Digital systems applied everywhere, so we also use the up-to-date approach in the rocket and space industry.”

The launch will be monitored by a fleet of eight airplanes, 12 helicopters and one rescue ship in the Sea of Japan, all located along the Soyuz launch trajectory.

Soyuz History:

Soyuz development began in 1962, and was originally intended for development tests of orbit docking systems and spacecraft design for lunar orbit and return to earth.

Changes in the Russian space program reverted the design to a 2nd generation general purpose orbiting vehicle performing auto/manual docking and navigation and science experiments – as prefaced in one of several presentations in L2’s new Soyuz “Bible” section.

“A series of flights followed: 11/28/1966, first unmanned flight (Kosmos -133). 4/23/1967, first manned flight (Soyuz-1, chute failure on entry – fatality).

“Modifications: 6/1971 Soyuz was converted into a crew transfer vehicle. Vehicle depress on entry killing crew (Soyuz-11). Automatics complex and space suits added (crew reduced to two). Later mods added a computer-controlled motion control system, new propulsion system, improved instrumentation and crew back to three.”

The Soyuz continued to be modified over the years, with Soyuz-TM sporting the improved rendezvous radar system “KURS”, and an improved motion control system and radio system.

“The first flight 5/21/1986 (unmanned to MIR station). First manned flight 2/6/1987 (docking with MIR station). In 1990 a cupola was added, allowing manual approaches,” added an overview presentation.

“Current configuration is the Soyuz TMA. First flight as a taxi flight Nov 2002 (exp 6). Modifications over the TM to accommodate larger crewmembers. Cosmonaut panel reduced in size. Cooler/de-humidifer unit (ХСА) redesigned (smaller). Valves relocated inside descent module. Various hardware modifications (more powerful entry computer, new 3-axis accelerometer, improved soft-landing jets).”

The Soyuz TMA was designed to perform the following tasks: Deliver payloads and a crew of 2 to 3 to the ISS. Return payloads and a crew of 2 to 3 from the ISS. perform fly-around and docking operations.

The Soyuz TMA can also be used as: A crew rescue vehicle (constantly attached to the ISS to perform premature or emergency return). A crew rotation vehicle (crew delivered to the ISS on Soyuz TMA and returned on the Soyuz TMA or Space Shuttle).

A cargo return vehicle (up to 550 lb of cargo) Soyuz has a 4.2 day autonomous flight capability. 2.2 days for nominal launch to docking. 0.4 days for nominal undock and descent. 1.6 days of reserve. 4.2 day constraint is due to onboard ECLS consumables.

“A typical mission profile for Soyuz to ISS encompasses a time period of approximately two to three days. Included in a nominal mission are the following items: 1 – insertion of the vehicle into terrestrial orbit; 2 – initial phase of orbital flight with performance of onboard system checks; 3 – far rendezvous to create initial conditions for transition to independent approach; 4 – independent rendezvous to the station vicinity, transition to the approach area of the given docking port, and berthing using the MCS algorithms and Kurs equipment; 5 – vehicle docking with the station; 6 – flight as a part of the station.

A full 42 page overview of the orbit by orbit tasks that will be carried out by the crew and vehicle is available on L2.

The Soyuz-FG Launch Vehicle:

The launch vehicle lofting the Soyuz TMA-01M 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.

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.

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.

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