NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev have arrived at the International Space Station on Wednesday. The trio launched in their Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft, atop of a Soyuz-FG rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 19:57 GMT, ahead of a fast lane trip to the Station that saw the vehicle dock at 1:44 am GMT.
Soyuz TMA-13M launch:
Thursday’s launch was another fast-track six hour launch-to-docking mission, first carried out for a crewed mission by Soyuz TMA-08M.
The well practised procedure was initially demonstrated on recent Progress resupply missions.
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 the launch of the reliable Soyuz FG rocket – along with a successful orbital insertion shortly thereafter – the Soyuz TMA-13M was immediately tasked with performing the 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.
This proved to be an issue during the previous Soyuz mission, when the TMA-12M suffered a problem during the “Dv3” burn resulted in mission controllers opting to move to a new flight profile that allowed for Soyuz to arrive two days later.
It was later revealed the 24 second burn did not occur due to an attitude problem with the Soyuz. It is understood the Soyuz TMA-12M’s flight computer didn’t command the spacecraft to proper attitude for DV3 burn, resulting in an automated “no burn” response. This was caused, in part, by an over-performance of the Soyuz FG’s ascent.
With the launch resulting in an apogee that was 20km higher than expected, this changed the requirements for the Soyuz TMA-12M’s burns.
Since dV3 and dV4 burns are meant to correct for booster performance disparities, the onboard computer decided to use its DPO (attitude thrusters) instead of main engine to perform the burn. However – likely due to a software issue, along with the Soyuz being in the wrong attitude – this resulted in no burn taking place.
Controllers opted to move to the back up plan of a two day rendezvous, with all burns relating to this flight profile conducted without issue.
Soyuz eventually arrived without issue, allowing for the trio to be greeted by Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the first Japanese astronaut to lead an expedition, and Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio of NASA and Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos.
All proceeded to plan with this latest mission, with the second orbit resulting in the orbital parameters being uplinked from a Russian Ground Site (RGS), ahead of a further eight rendezvous burns that were performed 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.
Following docking, ISS Commander Steve Swanson of NASA, Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos – who have been aboard the orbiting complex since March 27 – welcomed the new trio of Expedition 40 flight engineers aboard after the hatches opened.
Wiseman, Suraev and Gerst are scheduled to spend 166 days aboard the station.
When Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev head back to Earth on September 10, it will mark the end of Expedition 40 and the beginning of Expedition 41 under the command of Suraev. Three additional Expedition 41 crewmates will arrive later that month.
Wiseman is a US Navy commander, was participating in his first mission to space. Gerst, who was selected as an ESA astronaut in May 2009, was also on his debut flight.
Suraev was making his second long-duration visit to the station, having logged more than 169 days in space as an Expedition 21/22 flight engineer from September 2009 through March 2010.
He completed a 5-hour, 44-minute spacewalk on January 14, 2010, to prepare the Poisk Mini-Research Module-2 for vehicle dockings and inaugurated that same port when he relocated his Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft there a week later.
During their expedition, the trio will welcome four different resupply vehicles that scheduled to visit the station. These include Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus – set for her CRS-2/ORB-2 mission, a Russian Progress resupply ship, ESA’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle and the SpaceX CRS-4/SpX-4 Dragon.
A number of EVAs will also be conducted, two on the Russian side and three for NASA spacewalks.
(Images via NASA, Roscosmos and L2).
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