Soyuz TMA-22 succcessfully launches first crewed mission since STS-135

In what was a critical launch for the Russian space program, the Soyuz FG launch vehicle has successfully lofted the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft into orbit ahead of a two day trip to the International Space Station (ISS). Launch took place at 04:15am on Monday morning from the very snowy Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Soyuz Launch:

Expedition 30’s NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin are riding on what is the first manned mission since Atlantis’ final NASA mission as STS-135, on a flight which was delayed by one of numerous problems suffered by the Russian space program in 2011.

Atlantis’ mission was instrumental in stockpiling nearly a year’s worth of supplies for the ISS, which proved to be essential after the the failure of the Progress M-12M/44P mission on August 28, 2011.

While the logistical situation wasn’t an immediate concern, the commonality between the Progress and Soyuz TMA launch hardware – specifically the Upper Stage – effectively grounded both vehicles.

This led to contingency discussions surrounding the potential need to de-crew the ISS.

A Russian commission quickly determined the cause of the failure to be a blocked fuel line leading to the gas generator in the Soyuz-U third stage’s RD-0110 engine. The blocked fuel line caused a loss of pressure in the gas generator, which in turn caused a shutdown of the RD-0110 engine’s turbopump, leading to a total loss of thrust.

While the blocked fuel line was attributed to a random, one-off event caused by human error in vehicle processing, all Soyuz third stages were ordered to be sent back to their assembly plant for thorough testing. With the tests confirming that the previous defect was indeed a one-off, Russia cleared the Soyuz booster for resumption of flights.

In order to prevent a re-occurrence of the defect, numerous new safety measures were implemented, including video cameras to record all stages of Soyuz booster assembly.

With the successful launch of the Progress M-13M/45P to the ISS at the end of October, confidence was restored in the fleet, allowing for managers to proceed towards the launch of the manned mission via Soyuz TMA-22 – which is the last of the anolog Soyuz vehicles, as much as the new digital version of the spacecraft has already flown.

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The RD-0110 driven Upper Stage stage was of major interest during the launch events, as much as the entire Soyuz launch vehicle remains one of the most reliable on the planet.

In fact, there are several variants of the veteran launcher, which is a descendent of the R-7 Semyorka, the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. The R-7 was designed by Sergei Korolev, and first flew in 1957. A modified version was used to launch the first satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October of that year.

The R-7 formed the basis for the Luna, Vostok, Voskhod, Molniya and Soyuz families of rockets, and to date all Soviet and Russian manned spaceflights have been launched using rockets derived from the R-7.

The Soyuz, which first flew in 1966, was a modification of the Voskhod rocket featuring an upgraded and lighter telemetry system, and more fuel efficient engines. It was initially used to launch only Soyuz spacecraft; however with the introduction of the Soyuz-U in 1973 it began to launch other satellites as well.

The Soyuz-U, which remains in service, is the most-flown orbital launch system ever developed, having made around 750 flights to date, plus around 90 more in the Soyuz-U2 configuration optimised to use synthetic propellant.

The Soyuz-FG itself – an improved descendent of the Soyuz U – has performed 23 flights without issue. The vehicle has an analog control system, but it will eventually be replaced by the Soyuz-2.

The Soyuz-2 was developed from the older Soyuz models, and features digital flight control systems and modernised engines. Two variants are currently in service; the Soyuz-2-1a, and the Soyuz-2-1b which features an RD-0124 third stage engine which provides additional thrust. The RD-0124 was declared operational on 3 May 2011.

A third configuration, the Soyuz-2-1v, is currently under development and is expected to make its maiden flight next year. It features an NK-33 engine in place of the RD-108A used on the core stages of the other configurations, and does not include the strapon boosters used by other configurations.

The Soyuz-2 forms the basis for the Soyuz-ST rocket, which made its maiden flight from Kourou in French Guiana this year. The Soyuz-ST is optimised to fly from Kourou, and also incorporates a flight termination system and a modified telemetry system.

Rendezvous with the ISS will take place on Wednesday, with docking expected around 12:33 am Eastern.

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