Soyuz TMA-19M has successfully returned Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra, Flight Engineer Tim Peake and Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko back to Earth on Saturday. The Russian spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) at 05:52 UTC, ahead of a landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan at around 09:15 UTC.
Soyuz TMA-19M Return:
The mission had additional focus from the UK, as Major Peake became the first British national to ingress the orbital outpost.
His outreach responsibilities were secondary to his mission objectives. However, Peake engaged his growing audience admirably, opening up a new generation of aspiring astronauts to both the challenges and benefits of space science.
His primary mission saw his work day packed with scientific experiments and even included a space walk. EVA-35 saw Peake and Kopra replace a failed electrical component in order to restore the Station to its full power generation capacity.
With additional media attention for what was the first spacewalk by a British citizen – with Commander Scott Kelly noting his pleasure in seeing a British flag on Peake’s EMU as he translated out of the Quest Airlock – the EVA also highlighted the dangers of working in space.
With the primary task complete, Kopra’s EMU began to leak water into his helmet. While the NASA astronaut was never in any immediate danger, the issue had been seen before, via the emergency suffered by Luca Parmitano during his terminated EVA-23.
As such, the EVA was quickly terminated, with Kopra ordered back into the safety of the Quest Airlock. For a short period, Peake became the EVA lead.
Peake continued his expedition work, in tandem with engaging his social media audience with stunning photos of the planet below him. With his new-found star status, his appearance on UK TV events were numerous, even presenting an award from space during the Brit Awards.
The recipient, global superstar Adele, appeared to be more in awe of Major Peake, than the other way around, when the video was played.
The ESA astronaut also showed off his fitness levels – a major requirement for an astronaut – as he ran the entire London Marathon while strapped to a treadmill on the Station. He completed the course in three hours and 35 minutes.
Via some rescheduling by Roscosmos, Peake got to slightly extend his stay in the Station prior to the handover ceremony on Friday. He – along with his two Soyuz crewmembers – will have logged 186 days in space by the time they return to Earth.
In preparation for that trip home, the three crewmembers donned their Sokol launch and entry suits before bidding farewell to ISS Commander Jeff Williams and his crewmates Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos.
The remaining ISS crew will operate the station for three weeks until the arrival of three new crew members.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are scheduled to launch July 6 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
Once final farewells were complete, the hatches between the ISS and the Soyuz TMA-19M were closed, prior to the crew completing the translation from the Orbital Module (BO) and Descent Module (SA) to strap themselves into their Kazbek couches inside the SA.
As per the timeline, Soyuz TMA-17M undocked from the ISS at 05:52 UTC.
At the moment of undocking, Expedition 47 officially came to an end and Expedition 48 began.
Following undocking, Soyuz enjoyed a few hours of free flight as it departed from the Station’s neighborhood via two separation burns while the onboard crew prepared for the final aspect of their mission.
The deorbit burn occurred at 08:21 UTC, reducing the Soyuz’s velocity just enough for it to begin the plunge back to Earth.
The Soyuz then entered a critical part of its mission as the spacecraft has no other option but to re-enter.
The first milestone was module separation as the three major elements of the Soyuz spacecraft – the OM, DM and Instrumentation/Propulsion Module (IPM) – are pushed apart via the use of pyrotechnics.
All three modules nominally separate simultaneously – shortly after the deorbit burn is completed – at around 140 km altitude.
Two “off nominal” re-entries occurred in 2007 and 2008 and were the cause of separation failures on the modules, thus initiating a very stressful return for their three-person crews. Known as “ballistic entry” – the crew have to endure much higher G-forces and land at an alternative site.
An investigation (L2 Russian Section) noted issues with the long-term exposure to electromagnetic emissions on-orbit, and the potential to cause issues with the pyro bolts, came after an extensive investigation that included the removal and return of one pyro bolt from Soyuz TMA-12.
Mitigation against this issue has resulted in no further issues with the module separation milestone in any of the following missions.
Once through the plasma of entry interface, the capsule prepared for the deployment of its drogue chute. This prepared the spacecraft for the deployment of its main parachute. This is one of the hardest parts of the return for the crew, which has been described as being inside a washing machine by some returning astronauts.
The Soyuz TMA-19M craft then completed the return to terra firma, landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan at around 09:15 UTC.
The exact timing of touchdown, under a “soft” thruster engine firing, is always dependent on a number of factors – such as the impact of winds on the Soyuz chutes – and can vary by several minutes.
With TMA-19M safely back on Earth, ground and air crews converged on the Soyuz and will extract the crew from the SA.
The crew underwent immediate and preliminary health checks once outside their Soyuz spacecraft. All three were transferred to a medical tent to prepare them for transit away from the landing site.
Eventually, they will part ways for their respective countries and space agencies. Tim Peake has already been transported to DLR in Cologne for further tests ahead of eventually being flown into Heathrow Airport for his homecoming.
(Images: NASA, Roscosmos, ESA and L2.
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