Space Station crew reparks Soyuz spacecraft
On Friday, Aug. 28, the International Space Station (ISS) crew had to reposition the Soyuz spacecraft docked with the orbital laboratory to make room for an incoming space capsule with three additional astronauts set to arrive next week. Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos undocked their Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Poisk module at 3:12 a.m. EDT (07:12 GMT). They then docked it to the Zvezda service module at 3:30 a.m. EDT (07:30 GMT).
The Russian Mission Control Centre near Moscow, stated: “The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft was re-docked from the docking port of the Poisk small research module to the docking port of the Zvezda service module by the crew comprising Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Korniyenko and Scott Kelly in the manual mode.”
The maneuver opens a third docking port for the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-18M vehicle, scheduled to launch to the station next Wednesday, Sept. 2, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft will carry Expedition 45 crew member Sergei Volkov of Roscosmos and visiting crew members Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency. This will be the first time since November 2013 that nine crew members will be aboard the station simultaneously.
The relocation is a procedure that took several hours to complete. Initially, it required the three Expedition 44 crew members to close the hatch of their Soyuz and the remaining ISS crew to close the Poisk hatch. The crew in the Soyuz then carried out the standard leak checks that gave them a chance to put on their Launch and Entry Suits. The Soyuz then underwent a set of checkouts while waiting for undocking.
For the first three minutes after the undocking, Padalka monitored the back-out of the Soyuz to make sure it remained within the departure corridor. After three minutes, he activated the manual Motion Control System of the Soyuz. He backed out the spacecraft to a distance of 131 ft. (40 m), measured by a laser range finder. He then initiated an eight-minute transfer from Poisk to a position in line with Zvezda’s aft port.
Kornienko completed commanding of the docking mechanism while the fly-around was underway, extending the docking probe and setting up the camera system for final approach.
Contact and capture occurred after a free flight of 18 minutes. Upon sensing contact, Padalka fired the thrusters in a burn for about ten seconds to ensure capture latches within the docking mechanism had engaged.
Because Kornienko and Kelly are spending one year in orbit, they cannot use the same Soyuz craft for their arrival and return. The reason for this is the TMA-M craft comes with a 215-day in-orbit lifetime limit, well short of the expected 341-day mission duration.
The three new crew members slated to launch on Sept. 2 will use the two-day rendezvous scheme, expected to make an early morning arrival next Friday, Sept. 4.
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.