After nearly a month long delay to fix a technical issue with the spacecraft, the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Soyuz MS-02 human-rated spacecraft launched three new crew members for Expedition 49/50 crews to the International Space Station on October 19, ahead of completing a two-day orbital rendezvous with the Station on Friday.
Soyuz MS-02 – From technical difficulties to launch:
Soyuz MS-02, launching atop the Soyuz-FG variant of the veteran Russian rocket, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan from Site 31/6 and marked the 131st flight of a Soyuz.
On 8 September, the primary and backup crews departed Star City, Russia, for the Baikonur Cosmodrome for final pre-flight training and preparation.
Specialists from RSC Energia then completed a designer’s inspection of the newly modified MS-02 vehicle on 15 September before the craft was encapsulated within its launch fairing.
Two days later, on 17 September, a delay to the launch was announced by Roscosmos – which cited only “technical reasons” as the cause.
Subsequently, it was understood that teams performing final vehicle checkouts prior to integration operations with the Soyuz-FG booster itself identified a short circuit within the fairing – a short that did not occur during previous testing.
As the extent of the delay became known, both the prime and backup crews returned to Star City, Russia, on 19 September to await completion of repairs and a new launch date.
However, seemingly contradictory information was then transmitted to the Russian news site Interfax, which reported that there was no short identified in the fairing but rather a failure somewhere inside the Soyuz itself.
That source claim that sources inside Baikonur were working on potentially moving the Expedition 49/50 crew launch to the MS-03 Soyuz that was being prepared for its mission in November.
Moreover, and again contradictory, a different Russian news source that same day reported that teams at Baikonur were unable to reproduce the short.
On 20 September, the formal State Commission for Russian launches decided to keep the launch date for Soyuz MS-02 fluid as teams at Baikonur continued to work the issue.
By the following day, engineers had confirmed and traced the problem to an improperly bent cable located behind the cosmonauts seats in the descent module of the Soyuz itself, not the fairing.
Teams quickly developed a replacement plan that allowed for the safe removal and replacement of defective parts while mitigating long-term slips to the launch schedule.
By the beginning of October, teams had installed the replacement cable and were once again testing all of the Soyuz’s systems.
On 6 October, a confirmed launch date target of 19 October was set, and the crew arrived back at Baikonur the following day.
On 11 October, the designer’s inspection of Soyuz MS-02 was performed again, and the capsule was once again placed inside its payload fairing for launch.
Soyuz MS-02 was then transported by rail on 13 October to the hanger where its Soyuz-FG booster had been assembled.
On 14 October, Soyuz MS-02 was successfully mated to its booster, and technicians at Baikonur concluded that the vehicle was ready for transport to the launch pad.
The Soyuz booster was rolled out to Site 31/6 at Baikonur and erected on its launchpad on 16 October.
The Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 14:05 local time (08:05 GMT – 04:05 EDT) on 19 October to begin a two-day orbital rendezvous with the International Space Station.
The two-day rendezvous was chosen so that the crew can continue to test the new systems of the MS series Soyuz before that line of craft is allowed to perform same-day docking operations with the Station.
Via the on-time launch, rendezvous operations began in the early morning hours Eastern Daylight Time in the United States on Friday, 21 October prior to the Soyuz’s docking to the Station’s Poisk module at around 05:52 EDT (09:52 GMT).
After docking, hatches were opened at approximately 08:20 EDT.
Currently, the Soyuz MS-02 crew will spend a little more than four months aboard the orbital lab working on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science before returning to Earth in late February.
As with all Soyuz missions, MS-02 transported three new crewmembers up to the ISS – replacing the previous subset of three crewmembers who departed the Station as planned back in September.
Sergey Nikolayevich Ryzhikov (Roscosmos):
Commanding the Soyuz MS-02 was first time space flyer Sergey Nikolayevich Ryzhikov.
Ryzhikov was born on 19 August 1974 in Bugulma, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic – a town in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia.
Ryzhikov is a retired member of the Russian Air Force, carrying the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
After graduating from the Kacha Air Force Pilot School as pilot-engineer in 1996, he served as a pilot of the training air regiment in the Saratov Region from 1996-1997.
In 1997, he then briefly served as a senior pilot of the fighter air regiment in the Tver Region.
He then served as pilot, senior pilot, chief of an air flight, chief executive officer of the fighter air regiment in Chita Region from 1997-2007.
During his time in the Russian Air Force, Ryzhikov flew Л-39 and Mig-29 aircraft.
He was selected as a Russian test cosmonaut on 11 October 2006 as part of cosmonaut group 14 and finished basic space training in June 2009.
Ryzhikov is makingwill his first flight to space aboard Soyuz MS-02.
Once at the ISS, Ryzhikov will serve as Flight Engineer 5, before transferring in November to Expedition 50 – during which he will serve as Flight Engineer 2.
Andrei Borisenko (Roscosmos):
Joining Ryzhikov from the Russian Federal Space Agency for Soyuz MS-02 is Andrei Borisenko.
Borisenko was born on 17 April 1964 in Leningrad, Russia.
After graduating from the Leningrad Physics and Mathematics School #30 in 1981, he attended the Leningrad Military Mechanical Institute – from which he graduated with a qualification in flight and control dynamics in 1987.
Borisenko then worked as part of a military unit from 1987-89, upon which he started work at RSC Energia where he took on responsibilities for the Mir space station’s motion control system.
During this time, Borisenko was also a member of the Mission Control Center – Moscow onboard systems operation analysis board.
Beginning in 1999, he worked as a shift flight director for Mir and then the International Space Station.
Borisenko was subsequently selected as a cosmonaut candidate on 29 May 2003 and began basic spaceflight training in June of that year.
He completed training exactly two years later, after which he participated in advanced spaceflight training through 2008.
He then trained as part of the backup crew to Expedition 24/25 as a Station commander and Soyuz flight engineer.
Borisenko launched on his first spaceflight on 4 April 2011 on the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft bound for the ISS as a member of the Expedition 27/28 crew.
He subsequently became Commander of the ISS on 22 May 2011 – during the middle of Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final mission.
Borisenko served as ISS commander until 15 September 2011 – thus welcoming and seeing off the final U.S. Space Shuttle mission, Atlantis on STS-135, to and from the Station.
Borisenko left the ISS on 16 September 2011 (UTC) and returned safely to Earth at 03:59:39 UTC that same day.
During the reentry, repeated attempts to contact the Soyuz went unanswered until a plane circling the landing site established contact.
Soyuz MS-02 and Expeditions 49/50 is Borisenko’s second spaceflight.
Robert Shane Kimbrough (NASA):
Rounding out the crew is NASA astronaut R. Shane Kimbrough.
Kimbrough was born in Killeen, Texas, in the United States on 4 June 1967 and is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, where he earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering in 1989 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
He immediately entered the U.S. Army Aviation School and was designated an Army Aviator in 1990.
Kimbrough then served as an Apache helicopter pilot during the Gulf War’s Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
In 1994, Kimbrough was assigned to the 229th Aviation Regiment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he commanded an Apache helicopter company as well as the Regimental headquarters company.
After completing a Masters of Science degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1998, he was assigned as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the United States Military Academy.
In 2000, Kimbrough transferred to NASA, where he served as a Flight Simulation Engineer on the Shuttle Training Aircraft to help NASA commanders and pilots train for Shuttle landing operations/procedures.
Kimbrough then applied for and was selected as part of the 2004 astronaut class – the first class of astronauts selected after the 2003 Columbia accident.
In 2007, Kimbrough was assigned to his first spaceflight – the STS-126 mission of the Shuttle Endeavour to the ISS.
During Endeavour’s 16-day mission to the Station, Kimbrough helped expand the crew living quarters to accommodate a six-member crew and performed two spacewalks – totalling 12 hours 52 minutes.
Soyuz MS-02 represents Kimbrough’s second spaceflight. Expeditions 49/50 will represent his first long-duration spaceflight.
(Images: NASA, Roscosmos)