Three more crewmembers have completed a fast rendezvous trip to the International Space Station on Thursday. Commander Alexander Samokutyaev – along with NASA Flight Engineer Barry Wilmore and Elena Serova, the first Russian woman to travel to the Station – successfully arrived in their Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft, albeit with just one solar array deployed, following launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Wilmore, Serova and Samokutyaev will serve as flight engineers for ISS Expedition 41 until November, at which time Wilmore will assume command of Expedition 42.
The trio will take up residency at the orbital outpost until they are scheduled to return to Earth in March, 2015.
US Navy captain “Butch” Wilmore (right) joined NASA in 2000 and is a shuttle veteran, after flying with Atlantis during her STS-129 mission in November, 2009.
The 10 day mission delivered two Express Logistics Carriers and about 30,000 pounds of replacement parts to the ISS.
Samokutyayev served as a Flight Engineer for the ISS long duration Expedition 27/28 missions. He also served as the Soyuz TMA-21 commander.
Serova was assigned to the Energia Rocket/Space Corporation Cosmonaut Corps as a cosmonaut candidate in 2006.
She was certified as a test cosmonaut of the Energia Rocker and Space Corporation three years later.
Serova becomes the fourth Russian woman to fly in space and will be the first Russian woman to live and work on the station.
The trio launched via the Soyuz FG booster rocket from the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The vehicle had once again received a special paint job, this promoting the 16th FINA swimming World Championships, to be held in Kazan in 2015.
This follows the previous sporting promotion of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, via the Soyuz TMA-11M mission.
A special cylinder carrying water from the Kazanka river – which flows through the city – will also fly to the ISS as a souvenir.
Thursday’s launch was another fast-track six hour launch-to-docking mission, first carried out for a crewed mission by Soyuz TMA-08M.
Via what is now a well-practised procedure, the improvement to the transit time was initially demonstrated on a number of Progress resupply missions.
The desire to dock to the ISS after just six hours of flight 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 suffer from symptoms of space sickness at the same time.
Thus, being able to go from the ground to the ISS in a single day is a big advantage to Soyuz crews.
Such a fast rendezvous was never attempted until recent years 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 major review a few years ago.
That study proved such accuracy was achievable with the existing Soyuz-FG booster and modernized Soyuz TMA-M series spacecraft.
Following the launch of the Soyuz FG rocket – along with a successful orbital insertion shortly thereafter – the Soyuz TMA-14M was immediately be tasked with performing the first two engine burns on its first orbit of the Earth, which are pre-programmed into the Soyuz’s on-board computer prior to launch.
In what is believed to be a very rare event, the port Solar Array did not deploy. The spacecraft still docked nominally despite this condition.
Further burns, such as Dv3 and Dv4, were able to correct booster performance discrepancies, had they been required.
With all priority tasks proceeding to plan with this latest mission, the second orbit allowed for additional orbital parameters to be uplinked from a Russian Ground Site (RGS), ahead of a further eight rendezvous burns that were performed over the following 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.
The Soyuz TMA-14M then entered the vicinity of the ISS to aim for a docking to the Poisk module of the Russian segment of the station. This was completed at 10:11 pm Eastern.
With hooks and latches securing the Soyuz firmly to the ISS, leak checks followed. At around 11:55 pm Eastern the hatches between the Soyuz and the station opened.
They were greeted by Expedition 41 Commander Max Suraev of Roscosmos, as well as Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Somewhat to the surprise of the crew and controllers, the port array then decided it would deploy on its own, likely due to the mechanical shock of docking.
The arrival of the Soyuz followed closely on the heels of the latest Dragon mission to the Station. SpaceX’s CRS-4/SpX-4 spacecraft was berthed to the ISS on Tuesday, bringing with her an array of payloads.
This compliment included two Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) Long Life Batteries (LLBs).
US EVAs on the ISS are currently postponed until the new batteries could be sent uphill to the Station. Two more batteries are riding up on Thursday’s Soyuz mission.
The requirement to ship replacements to the ISS came after ground testing revealed an issue that resulted in a loss of confidence across the set of batteries currently being used in the operational EMUs.
(Images via NASA, Roscosmos and L2).
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