The Soyuz MS-04 crew successfully launched atop a Soyuz-FG carrier rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday, with two new crewmembers for Expedition 51. Liftoff occurred at 07:13:44 GMT, with a nominal docking to the Station following around six hours after launch at 09:18 EDT (13:18 GMT).
Soyuz MS-04 – the return of rapid rendezvous capability:
The Soyuz MS-04 mission represents the 133rd flight of a crewed Soyuz vehicle and the 59th launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket, which entered service on 20 May 2001.
Soyuz MS-04 is utilizing Soyuz spacecraft No. 735 instead of the originally planned No. 734.
The swap was initiated by the Russian Federation’s space agency, Roscosmos, in January when a leak was discovered in the thermal control system, SOTR, of spacecraft No. 734.
The swap away from spacecraft No. 734 resulted in a subsequent slip of the Soyuz MS-04 launch from 27 March to 20 April based on where spacecraft No. 735 was in its processing flow.
The swap also affected the Soyuz MS-05 mission, moving it from 29 May to 28 July 2017 based on the need for spacecraft No. 736 to meet its advanced mission assignment.
A subsequent mission planning document released in mid-January showed spacecraft No. 734 re-manifested for Soyuz MS-06, currently scheduled for No Earlier Than 13 September 2017.
For spacecraft No. 735 and Soyuz MS-04, the integrated No. 735 craft completed vacuum chamber testing at Baikonur on 17 March 2017.
The following day, the mission’s two crewmembers – Fyodor Yurchikhin (Roscosmos) and Jack Fischer (NASA) – successfully practiced donning their launch and entry spacesuits while wearing breathing masks, something they would have to do in the event of an ammonia leak on Station that required ISS evacuation.
On 29 March, the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft’s solar arrays were successfully deployed in their final functional test before launch.
Yurchikhin and Fischer subsequently completed flight qualification training on 31 March.
On 3 April, the Station’s Zvezda Service Module fired its thrusters for 35.6 seconds to raise the Station’s orbit to prepare for the fast-track, four-orbit rendezvous Soyuz MS-04 will perform after launch.
On 6 April, Roscosmos’ Technical Management team met at Baikonur to review the status of the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft – a meeting that ended with permission to proceed into fueling operations of the Soyuz with propellants and compressed gases.
The following day, Fischer and Yurchikhin officially named their Soyuz “Argo” after the Greek mythology explorers, Argonauts.
By 8 April, Soyuz MS-04 was completely fueled. Technicians then transferred the craft to the Spacecraft Assembly and Testing Facility where it was installed onto the assembly jig for final checkouts.
On 12 April – the 56th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first human spaceflight – the Soyuz MS-04 was placed inside its payload launch shroud following the Designer’s Inspection – which cleared Soyuz MS-04 for encapsulation, transfer, and mating to its Soyuz-FG carrier rocket.
Two days later, Soyuz MS-04 was transported by rail to the Launch Vehicle Integration and Test Facility (LV ITF).
On 15 April, final inspections of the Soyuz-FG rocket cleared its third stage for mating to the Soyuz MS-04 and for subsequent third stage mating to the second stage.
Since the Soyuz-FG rocket’s third stage shares an engine commonality with the Soyuz-U rocket’s third stage which failed during the 1 December 2016 launch of the Progress MS-04 mission, this Soyuz-FG rocket’s third stage had its engines swapped out.
It is understood that this engine replacement was made with an 11D55 (RD-0110) engine built in 2016, instead of the previously installed 11D55 engine that was produced in 2014 alongside the engine that failed on Progress MS-04’s launch.
On 17 April, the fully integrated Soyuz rocket rolled by rail from the LV ITF to Pad No. 1/5 – the same pad Yuri Gagarin launched from on 12 April 1961 – at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
After arriving at the pad, the Soyuz was erected to its vertical launch position and surrounded by its access gantry.
Final launch preparations then commenced at Pad No. 1/5.
(For live coverage of the countdown, liftoff, rendezvous, and docking of Soyuz MS-04, click here)
Liftoff occurred at 13:13 local time at Baikonur, which is 03:13 EDT (07:13 GMT) on 20 April 2017.
The planned 8 minute 40 second ascent saw the Soyuz-FG rocket leave the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft and its two person crew in a fast-track orbit for rendezvous and docking to the ISS in just 6 hours (four orbits).
This is the first time since the introduction of the new MS-series of Soyuz and Progress vehicles that a fast-track rendezvous is being attempted.
Execution of this six hour rendezvous means that final ground test verifications and validations at Roscosmos’ new ground tracking station near the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s far east where successful during February’s Progress MS-05 launch.
Communication between the Progress MS-05 spacecraft and this new ground tracking station finalized S-Band uplink capability and was the final element needed to certify the new facility as operational and allow same-day launch and docking operations of the new MS-series of Progress and Soyuz vehicles with the International Space Station.
Under the current (and ideal) plan, Soyuz MS-04 will rendezvous with the ISS at 09:23 EDT (13:23 GMT) on 20 April.
This will leave about 45 hours between Soyuz MS-04’s arrival and the S.S. John Glenn Cygnus’ grappling by Thomas Pesquet and Peggy Whitson on Saturday, 22 April.
If for some reason Soyuz MS-04 launches but cannot perform the fast-track rendezvous (which has happened before), the vehicle and its two person crew will default to the standard two-day, 36-orbit rendezvous, arriving instead on Saturday, 22 April.
Under this circumstance, Cygnus will hold in a predetermined loiter location and perform station-keeping operations with the ISS to allow Soyuz MS-04 to dock first – as crewed missions take priority over uncrewed cargo flights in the ISS approach sequence.
If this default to a two-day rendezvous occurs, Cygnus’ berthing to the Station would slip to either Sunday or Monday.
The crew – two instead of three:
Unusual for ISS crew rotation flights, Soyuz MS-04 launched with only two crewmembers onboard instead of the usual complement of three.
Last year, Roscosmos took the decision to reduce the number of Russian cosmonauts permanently crewing the Space Station from three down to two until the country’s upcoming new module to the ISS launches in (what is now likely to be) 2018.
That module, the MLM (Multipurpose Laboratory Module) – or Nauka – has been a long-delayed element of the International Space Station, having originally been targeted to launch in 2007.
Roscosmos’ decision to reduce its crew on Station left the option of either reducing the total number of crewmembers on ISS from six to five or allowing NASA to fly more USOS (United States Operating Segment) astronauts to Station to increase the USOS crew complement from three to four.
NASA opted for the latter, but to initiate that increase, Soyuz MS-04 was required to launch with one fewer crewmembers than it’s capable of carrying to account for NASA astronaut and current Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson extending her stay by three months.
Whitson will now need that empty Soyuz MS-04 seat for her return in September.
Moreover, Roscosmos was unable to fill this vacant seat with a short-duration spaceflight participant because there is no vacant Soyuz homecoming seat for several months at this point.
For launch, the empty seat on Soyuz MS-04 will be filled by a cargo container.
Soyuz MS-04 crew – Fyodor Nikolayevich Yurchikhin:
A veteran of both Space Shuttle and Soyuz missions, cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin is embarking on his fifth spaceflight and fourth long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station with the Soyuz MS-04 launch.
Yurchikhin was born on 3 January 1959 in Batumi, Georgina Soviet Socialist Republic (now Georgia).
After completing high school, he attended the Moscow Aviation Institute, finishing his studies and earning qualification as a mechanical engineer for airspace vehicles in 1983.
Yurchikhin then went to work for the Russian space corporation Energia, where he worked until August 1997.
During his time at Energia, he served as an engineer, senior engineer, eventually becoming a lead engineer for the Shuttle-Mir and NASA-Mir Programs.
In August 1997, he was selected as a cosmonaut candidate and completed basic training between January 1998 and November 1999.
At that point, he qualified as a test cosmonaut and began training as such in January 2000 as part of the test cosmonaut group for the ISS program.
Yurchikhin was assigned his first mission in September 2001 and reported to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for training as a Mission Specialist on the STS-112/9A assembly flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station.
The near 11-day mission of Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center, FL, on 7 October 2002 and arrived at the ISS on 9 October.
The mission’s primary purpose was to deliver and install the S1 truss element to the Station.
STS-112 landed safely on 18 October 2002, and Yurchikhin logged a total of 10 days 19 hours 58 minutes in space.
Yurchikhin was subsequently assigned as a backup crewmember for Expeditions to the ISS, and he trained in that capacity from January 2004 to April 2006 before being assigned to the Expedition 15 primary crew – for which he trained from April 2006 to April 2007.
Yurchikhin launched on his first long-duration mission on 7 April 2007 as part of the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft crew.
Arriving on Station, Yurchikhin took command of the orbital outpost, serving as Commander for the duration of Expedition 15.
During the course of his 196 days 17 hours in space, Yurchikhin oversaw expansion of the Station’s Integrated Truss via the STS-117 mission of Atlantis and the STS-118 flight of Endeavour.
He also participated in three EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activities, or spacewalks) during the course of Expedition 15, racking up 18 hours 43 minutes of EVA experience.
Yurchikhin departed the ISS on 21 October 2007 – after handing over Command to Peggy Whitson, who he will soon rejoin in space – aboard the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft.
During atmospheric entry, Soyuz TMA-10 experienced an off-nominal event after the Descent Module separated from the Soyuz integrated vehicle.
The event – which would be repeated with the next Soyuz reentry as well – resulted in a ballistic trajectory reentry for Soyuz (steeper, hotter, and more severe) and a landing 340 km (210 mi) short of the planned landing location.
Yurchikhin and his fellow Soyuz TMA-10 crew were unharmed, and he was quickly assigned to the Expedition 24/25 crew.
He began dedicated training in October 2009 and launched on the Soyuz TMA-19 mission, which he commanded, on 15 June 2010.
During the course of his second long-duration stay, Yurchikhin performed two spacewalks, one in July and one in November 2010, to help support Station maintenance and the staging of new experiments on the exterior of the orbiting lab.
In October 2010, he took part in the all-Russian census, answering questions for census collectors stationed at Mission Control Moscow.
Yurchikhin returned to Earth on 26 November 2010 after a 163 day stay in orbit. This time, the descent and landing of his Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft was nominal.
One year after his return, Yurchikhin was assigned as a backup Flight Engineer for Expeditions 34/35, for which he began training in December 2011.
In November 2012, he was assigned as a primary Flight Engineer for Expedition 36 and Commander of Expedition 37 and trained for that until he and two other crewmembers launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from Baikonur on 28 May 2013.
Yurchikhin was once again the Commander of the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft.
For a brief time during Expedition 37, Yurchikhin was Commander of a crew of nine (9) aboard the International Space Station – a crew that represented four of the five astronaut corps of the participating agencies of the ISS Program, including Roscosmos, NASA, ESA, and JAXA… with only the Canadian Space Agency not represented.
During this third long-duration stay, Yurchikhin also participated in three more spacewalks, bringing his total EVA experience to an impressive eight (8) spacewalks totaling 51 hours 53 minutes.
Expedition 37 ended with the undocking of the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft on 10 November 2013.
Yurchikhin returned to Earth aboard that spacecraft in a nominal descent and landing, which brought his cumulative time in space to 537 days.
Yurchikhin will once again Command the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft on its fast track journey to the International Space Station, at which point he will become a Flight Engineer for Expedition 51.
Currently, he is expected to take command of Expedition 52 from current Station Commander Peggy Whitson in July.
Jack David “2fish” Fischer:
Jack Fischer was born 23 January 1974 in Louisville, Colorado.
After completing high school, Fischer earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado in 1996 – the same year he graduated from Cadet Squadron CS-26 Mighty Barons.
Fischer then earn a Master’s of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1998.
Upon graduation from Cambridge, he attended Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, in 1998.
He then attended F-15E Strike Eagle training at Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, before he was assigned as an operational pilot in the 391st Fighter Squadron.
Fischer went on to serve two combat tours in Southwest Asia following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch over Afghanistan and Iraq.
After these campaigns, he was selected to attend the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, where he graduated with Class 03-B in June 2004.
After Test Pilot School, he worked in F-15 and weapons testing with the 40th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, serving as project pilot for numerous programs and weapons, including the Small Diameter Bomb.
In 2006, Fischer returned to Edwards Air Force Base as part of the F-22 Combined Test Force and 411th Flight Test Squadron where he tested the world’s only air dominance fighter, the F-22 Raptor.
In 2008, he was selected for in-residence Air Command and Staff College as a Strategic Policy Intern in Washington, D.C.
While serving two six-month rotations at the Pentagon, Fischer served in the Chairman’s Action Group for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in the Space and Intelligence Capabilities Office with the Senior Advisor for the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
Colonel Fischer has 3,000 flight hours in more than 45 types of aircraft to his name.
In July 2009, he was selected as a member of the 20th NASA astronaut class and completed astronaut candidate training in July 2011.
Since then, he has served in the CAPCOM, Soyuz, International Space Station Operations, ISS Integration, and Exploration branches of the Astronaut Office.
This is his first spaceflight.
Throughout his ongoing career, Fischer has been awarded the following: U.S. Air Force Academy Distinguished Graduate and Outstanding Cadet in Astronautics; Draper Fellow, Draper Labs/Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Liethen-Tittle, Aaron C-Dot George and Onizuka Prop Wash Awards and Distinguished Graduate, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School; Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Ray E. Tenhoff Outstanding Paper Award; and Herman R. Fish Salmon Technical Publications Award.
He has also been decorated by the U.S. military, including two Meritorious Service Medals, four Air Medals, eight Aerial Achievement Medals, a Combat Action Medal, a Commendation Medal, and a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
From NASA, he has been awarded three JSC Superior Achievement Awards, the Stephen D. Thorne Aviation Safety Award, and numerous commendations and group awards for innovation and achievement.
(Images: NASA, Roscosmos)