Another three crewmembers were sent on their way to the International Space Station (ISS), following their launch on Soyuz TMA-10M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Wednesday. NASA’s Michael Hopkins, along with Russia’s Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy took just under six hours to arrive at the Station, as the fast rendezvous technique was once again employed in their flight profile.
Hopkins of NASA and Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos departed from the famous Cosmodrome at 4:58 pm. EDT.
Normally, Soyuz vehicles take two days to arrive at the ISS. However, following the Soyuz TMA-08M six hours rendezvous, the well practised procedure – that was initially demonstrated on recent Progress resupply missions – Soyuz TMA-09M was the second crewed vehicle to take the short cut option.
Soyuz TMA-09M also broke the record for the shortest amount of time a vehicle had taken to launch and dock since this technique was added to the flight profile.
The desire to dock to the ISS after just six hours stems from the fact that spending two days in the cramped interior of the Soyuz along with two other crewmates is known to be a stressful and uncomfortable time for astronauts and cosmonauts, many of whom are suffering from symptoms of space sickness at the same time.
Thus, being able to go from the ground to the ISS in a single day will be a big advantage to Soyuz crews.
Such a fast rendezvous was never attempted before as it requires extremely precise orbital adjustments from the ISS, and extremely precise orbital insertion by the Soyuz-FG booster, which was only deemed possible following a study conducted last year, which showed that such accuracy was achievable with the existing Soyuz-FG booster and modernized Soyuz TMA-M series spacecraft.
Following liftoff and successful orbital insertion shortly thereafter, Soyuz TMA-10M immediately performed its first two engine burns on its first orbit of the Earth, which were pre-programmed into the Soyuz’s on-board computer prior to launch.
On the second orbit, actual orbital parameters were uplinked from a Russian Ground Site (RGS), which allowed for a further eight rendezvous burns to be performed more precisely over the next five hours of flight.
During this time, the Soyuz crew were able to unstrap from their Kazbek couches and enter the Orbital Module (BO) to stretch their legs and use the bathroom facilities. However, due to the extremely tight schedule and high workload, they did not have time to take off their Sokol launch and entry suits, although they were able to take off their suit gloves and open their helmets.
Following docking – confirmed at 2:45am GMT on Thursday – leak checks were performed, ahead of the opening of the hatches between the Soyuz and ISS. Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, as well as Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg of NASA and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency then greeted the newly arrived crew.
Hopkins, Kotov and Ryazanskiy will remain aboard the station until mid-March. Meanwhile, Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano, who have been aboard the orbiting laboratory since late May, will return to Earth on November 11, leaving Kotov as commander of Expedition 38.
The new crewmembers will soon have a busy day to look forward to, as Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft prepares for another attempt to rendezvous and berth with the ISS.
This second attempt won’t take place before Sunday, a delay in part due to the need to prioritize the arrival of Soyuz TMA-10. Mission Management Team (MMT) meetings will discuss the status of the schedule on Thursday and Friday morning, before making a final decision on the Sunday opportunity.
(Images: via NASA and and L2).
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