New Space Station trio ready for Wednesday Soyuz launch
Three new members of the Expedition 44 crew have arrived at the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan, where they are completing their final preparations for the upcoming Soyuz TMA-17M flight to the International Space Station (ISS ). The trio, consisting of Commander Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos ) and Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren (NASA ) and Kimiya Yui (JAXA ), are currently scheduled to launch to the orbiting laboratory at 5:02 p.m. EDT (21:02 GMT) on Wednesday, July 22 (3:02 a.m. local time on Thursday, July 23), from launch pad 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The crew arrived at Baikonur on July 10, where they were welcomed by the officials of Roscosmos, Yuzhny Space Center, Korolev Energia Rocket and Space Company, as well as members of the Baikonur city administration. Afterward, they headed to the test and training complex where final preparations for the flight are taking place.
In preparation for their stay on orbit, the future Expedition 44 crew has already trained on a computer simulator and has reviewed onboard documents. They also conducted a test fitting of the Sokol-KB space suits and individual liners.
On July 15, the crew walked in the Cosmonaut Avenue, where, according to the tradition, Yui and Lindgren planted trees before their first spaceflight. Only Kononenko has spaceflight experience as he has already flown to the ISS as an Expedition 17 flight engineer aboard Soyuz TMA-12 in 2008, as a flight engineer on Expedition 30, and as commander of Expedition 31 aboard Soyuz TMA-03M which launched in 2011.
Surprisingly, the busy training schedule also provided the trio of space flyers with a rare luxury – a bit of free time.
“We are in Baikonur and preparing for our Soyuz launch!” Yui tweeted on Saturday, July 18. “We have a half-day off today.”
The crew paid a final pre-launch visit to their Soyuz rocket on Friday to get an overview of the situation on board with all cargo loaded into the Orbital and Entry Module. They also met with recovery forces that will be stationed along the ground track of the Soyuz to stand by for the unlikely event of a launch abort.
Earlier in April, the future Space Station inhabitants underwent training for the Soyuz spacecraft and the Russian segment of the ISS at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC ) located near Moscow, Russia.
They used a simulator to practice a series of operations ranging from the rendezvous, approach, and docking with the ISS, to the return to Earth. At the end of the training, the crew took a qualification exam to manually maneuver the Soyuz spacecraft. The exam covered the operational techniques for docking with the Space Station and subsequent return to Earth. For the Russian segment, another qualification exam was given on the operational methods in the Russian segment, and they completed all the certification exams.
Meanwhile, at the Baikonur launch site, preparations continue for the launch of Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft. The experts of Russia’s rocket and space industry enterprises have checked the correspondence of the spacecraft’s state with the onboard documentation. After the examination, its details and nodes were photographed for control. The orbital module of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle, which will lift the manned capsule, was transported on Friday, July 17, from the spacecraft processing facility for the general integration with the rocket.
The Soyuz-FG is 162 ft. (49.5 meters) tall weighing 305 metric tons at liftoff, capable of carrying more than seven metric tons into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It is a three-stage rocket utilizing a core stage that burns throughout the first and second stage portions of the flight. Stage one is comprised on the Core Stage and four strap-on boosters.
The launch vehicle is outfitted with four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters providing extra lift during the initial phase of the flight. Before liftoff, all four boosters are ignited to reach full thrust and are jettisoned once their fuel tanks are empty. The Soyuz-FG model launch vehicle has made 49 flights so far, all of which were completed successfully.
The rocket will boost the Soyuz spacecraft into an orbit just over 124 miles (200 kilometers) in altitude from where the spacecraft will begin its climb to the Space Station. The manned capsule will separate from the rocket about 9 minutes after the launch. Two engine burns will be made by the Soyuz during the first part of its orbit around the Earth.
“Hard to fully comprehend the power this thing will produce to get us into orbit,” Lindgren said about the rocket.
The Soyuz TMA-17M will rendezvous with the Space Station and dock nearly six hours after launch, completing four orbits of Earth. Docking to the Rassvet module will take place at 10:46 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 22 (02:46 GMT Thursday, July 23). The crew will open the hatches between the Soyuz and the station around 12:25 a.m. EDT (04:25 GMT) Thursday, July 23. Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos, as well as Flight Engineers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos, will greet the newcomers.
The new crew will remain aboard the ISS until late December. Kelly and Kornienko, who have been aboard since March 27, will return to Earth in March 2016 at the end of their one-year mission. Padalka, who also has been aboard since March 27, will return to Earth in September, leaving Kelly in command of Expedition 45.
Together, the six crew members will continue the several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science, and Earth science currently underway and scheduled to take place aboard humanity’s only current orbital outpost.
The backup crew for the Soyuz TMA-17M flight consists of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Timothy Peake.
NASA TV coverage of the launch is scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. EDT (20:00 GMT).
Soyuz-TMA, developed and built by RKK Energia, is the newest version of the Soyuz spacecraft. The spacecraft features several changes to accommodate requirements requested by NASA in order to service the ISS, including more latitude in the height and weight of the crew and improved parachute systems.
Wednesday’s launch, initially scheduled for May 26, was postponed due to the loss of the Russian Progress M-27M cargo craft. As a result of the delay, Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft spent several weeks in a storage mode before resuming launch preparations. For the crew members, the delay of their launch came when they were in the midst of their final training and exam sessions at the GCTC.
July 22 launch will be the second manned mission to the ISS this year and the 126th flight of a Soyuz spacecraft in history. Portions of the space station have been on orbit since 1998 and the multi-national facility, which has some 16 different countries working together is currently scheduled to remain on orbit until at least 2024.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.