Trio launches to, docks with space station in Soyuz TMA-19M
A Russian Soyuz-FG rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft with three new crew members inside thundered off the pad toward orbit at 5:03 p.m. local time in Kazakhstan (11:03 GMT). The trio launched on a four orbit “fast-track” path to the International Space Station (ISS), culminating in a manual docking at 11:33 a.m. (17:33 GMT).
The crew consisted of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Timothy Peake. Their flight marked the 128th flight of a Soyuz spacecraft since the first craft was sent aloft in 1967.
Docking was scheduled to take place at 11:24 a.m. CST (17:24 GMT); however, with around 65 feet (20 meters) to go, the automatic docking system, known as KURS, failed. The spacecraft automatically backed away to around 330 feet (100 meters) from the space station.
A few minutes later, Malenchenko took manual control and began to re-align the spacecraft with the Rassvet module docking port on the ISS.
“[The capsule is behaving] pretty good,” Malenchenko said while maneuvering the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft.
The vessel finally docked with the space station at 11:33 a.m. CST (17:33 GMT) as it orbited some 252 miles (405 kilometers) over India.
“We finally arrived,” Malenchenko said.
Hatches were opened at 1:58 p.m. CST (19:58 GMT) after waiting a little longer than usual for pressure between the two spacecraft to equalize.
Afterward, the crew made their way to the station’s Zvezda service module for a post-docking video conference with family, friends, and the media.
“A spectacular day in the office,” remarked Peake, speaking to his family. “Hope you enjoyed the show!”
The crew then enjoyed a meal and participated in a safety briefing before they were allowed to settle into the orbiting outpost.
This seven-month stay aboard the space station is Malenchenko’s sixth spaceflight, Kopra’s second, and Peake’s first. Peake is the first British citizen to be assigned to a long-duration space station mission. They will join Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, who have been in space since March 2015, and Sergey Volkov, who flew to the station in September of this year.
Today’s launch comes four days after another Soyuz returned three ISS crew members back to Earth in a sub-zero temperature landing in Kazakhstan.
With the launch of Soyuz TMA-19M and its subsequent docking, the crew count on the ISS now returns to six.
The crew awoke just over eight hours prior to launch at the “Cosmonaut Hotel”, where all space-bound passengers launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome reside in the days before liftoff. They enjoyed their last hot showers for a few months before eating breakfast and ceremonially signing their hotel room doors. The trio then left Site 254 to put on their Sokol Launch and Entry spacesuits. After that, all that was left was to head to launch pad 1/5 – the same pad that Yuri Gagarin soared into space some 54 years ago – and board the fully-fueled rocket.
Around two-and-a-half hours prior to liftoff, the trio arrived and began to board the spacecraft. Peake and Kopra entered the first and settled into their Kazbek seat liners. Peake was on the right seat, while Kopra was on the left seat. Malenchenko, being the Soyuz’s commander, sat in the center seat.
Crews get into a Soyuz by entering a hatch in the launch shroud and going through a side hatch on the Orbital Module, one of three modules that make up the vehicle. They then climb down to the Entry Module where their seats are located.
Hatches were then closed and technicians performed leak and communication tests. The crew started to configure the spacecraft for launch.
At about 40 minutes before launch, the two large service structures on either side of the rocket started lowering. At 15 minutes to go, ground technicians left the pad and the Soyuz was transferred to internal power.
Four minutes before launch, the booster’s engines are purged with nitrogen to remove any combustible substances, ensuring a controlled ignition. Propellant tanks pressurized at T-minus two minutes and 35 seconds. At one minute, the rocket was transferred to internal power.
Liftoff occurred on time, beginning the rocket’s nearly nine-minute trek to orbit and six-hour chase of the ISS. The whole “stack” rose straight up for about 10 seconds before turning northeast. At about 70 seconds, moving at Mach 1, the Soyuz reached the area of maximum dynamic pressure – max-Q.
The four strap-on boosters finished their job at one minute and 58 seconds into the flight and were detached with only the core stage pushing the three space flyers skyward. At four minutes 45 seconds, the core staged finished firing and shut down. Two seconds later, the third stage fired and burned until eight minutes and 45 seconds after launch. Three seconds later, the spacecraft separated from the third stage and moved away.
The crew didn’t get a break for the next six hours as they raced to catch up to the football field-sized outpost. Two rendezvous burns were made on the first orbit to raise the Soyuz spacecraft to a higher orbit. After an exact trajectory was calculated by ground teams, two more thruster firings were commanded to correct for any inaccuracies.
Four orbits later, the crew was in view of their destination. The three will stay aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 46 and 47 until June of 2016 when they are scheduled to return back to Earth.
Video courtesy of NASA TV
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.