A Soyuz 2-1A has launched an array of creatures into space aboard the Russian biological-research capsule, BION-M. Lift-off was on schedule at 10:00 UTC on Friday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with the BION-M expected to return to Earth on May 18.
Soyuz 2-1A Launch:
The BION-M spacecraft is a mini-research capsule that is designed to support its passengers for up to six months on orbit.
The capsule is carrying 45 mice, eight Mongolian gerbils, 15 geckos, snails, fish and micro-organisms. The animals were loaded on to the BION-M during launch integration with the Soyuz 2-1A vehicle.
The BION-M is not the first capsule to carry live experiments on-board. However, the Russians class this as the most advanced. The capsule sports solar cell panels as a power source which will allow greater power consumption by support and science payloads and, consequently, increased flight duration.
A modernized service module equipped with a multiple-use liquid engine which will make it possible to loft the spacecraft to higher-altitude orbits.
Keeping the animals alive will be a new life support system, which will operate using high-pressure oxygen tanks. Health status summary data for both equipment and animals will be monitored at least once a day, downlinked to the ground receiving stations by the radiotelemetric system.
The science goals for the mission include the investigation into animal physiology in microgravity, biological investigations of microorganisms and plants, biotechnological investigations, and the radiobiological effects and biologically significant parameters of cosmic ionizing radiation.
BION-M is being launched into a 575km initial circular orbit at 64.9 deg inclination. Its passengers are expected to return to Earth, somewhere within the Russian territory, on May 18.
A number of smaller spacecraft have also been sent into space on-board the Soyuz 2-1A during Friday’s launch, namely BeeSat-2, BeeSat-3, SOMP, OSSI-1, flight satellite AIST.
Soyuz-2 is a modernised variant of the Soyuz rocket, itself a derivative of the R-7 Semyorka, the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile.
The R-7 made its first flight in 1957, and a modified version was used to launch Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, later that year. In addition to Soyuz, the R-7 has served as the basis of the Vostok, Molniya and Voskhod rockets as well as several other variants which made small numbers of flights.
Vostok rockets launched early Soviet manned spaceflights, reconnaissance satellites, and a modified version launched the first Soviet lunar probes. Molniya was used to launch missions beyond Earth orbit, as well as military, communications and scientific satellites into high Earth orbits.
The Voskhod rocket, which first flew in November 1964, was the predecessor to the Soyuz. It incorporated the Blok I third stage developed for the Molniya rocket, powered by an RD-0108 engine. Voskhod was used to launch reconnaissance satellites, and missions of the manned Voskhod programme.
The Soyuz, meaning “Union”, first flew on 28 October 1966. Derived from the Voskhod, it incorporated upgraded engines, including an RD-0110 on the third stage, as well as a lower-mass and improved telemetry system.
The original Soyuz was used exclusively for launches of Soyuz spacecraft, both manned and unmanned. Not including one which exploded on its launch pad after its launch had been delayed, thirty one were launched, the last of which flew in 1975 carrying the Soyuz 23 spacecraft.
Between 1970 and 1971, three Soyuz-L rockets were launched, incorporating reinforcements to the core stages and a larger payload fairing to accommodate prototypes of the LK spacecraft, the spacecraft the Soviet Union intended to use to land men on the Moon. Another Soyuz variant, the Soyuz-M, was developed to launch the Soyuz 7K-VI; the military version of the Soyuz spacecraft, which was heavier than the civilian version.
After the cancellation of the military Soyuz program, eight Soyuz-M rockets were used to launch Zenit-4MT reconnaissance satellites, with launches occurring between 1971 and 1976.
The Soyuz-U was developed as a standardised launch system, to replace the Voskhod and Soyuz and provide commonality with the Molniya-M. It first flew in May 1973, and in 1976 the original Soyuz, Soyuz-M and Voskhod were all retired, with subsequent launches of their payloads being conducted by Soyuz-U rockets. The Soyuz-U2 configuration, which was optimized to use synthetic propellant allowing it to carry more payload, was introduced in 1982, and used for around 90 launches before being retired in 1995.
With around 750 flights, the Soyuz-U is the most-flown orbital launch system ever developed. It remains in service, and in the last few years it has mostly been used to launch Progress missions to the International Space Station, as well as occasional military payloads. Recent launches have used the Soyuz-U PVB version, which features additional fireproofing.
In 2001, the Soyuz-FG, which featured a new fuel injection system, was introduced, providing an increased payload capacity. After three test flights carrying Progress spacecraft, the Soyuz-FG began launching manned Soyuz-TMA spacecraft to the ISS, a role which it continues to perform.
The Soyuz-2 features modernized engines and digital flight controls. There are three different configurations; the Soyuz-2-1a, 2-1b and 2-1v, with the 2-1a and b using different third stage engines.
The Soyuz-2-1v is a two-stage vehicle, without the first stage used in the other configurations, and with an NK-33 engine replacing the RD-108 used on the second stage of the other configurations.
The Soyuz-ST is a derivative of the Soyuz-2 optimized for launching from the Centre Spatial Guyanais, and equipped with a self-destruct system to meet range safety requirements there. The Soyuz-ST made its first launch in October, and can fly in two configurations; the Soyuz-STA and STB, based on the Soyuz-2-1a and 2-1b respectively.
The Soyuz-2 made its maiden flight in 2004, in the Soyuz-2-1a configuration. It carried an obsolete Zenit-8 reconnaissance satellite, refitted with test instrumentation, on a suborbital trajectory.
It is not entirely clear whether the mission was intended to be suborbital, or whether the rocket actually failed to achieve orbit. The first launch into orbit occurred in October 2006, when a Soyuz-2-1a/Fregat deployed the MetOp-A weather satellite.
The Soyuz-2-1b made its maiden flight later the same year, carrying the COROT exoplanet detection satellite.
The Fregat Upper Stage is not flying on this mission.
(Images via L2 and Roscosmos)