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A European astronaut André Kuipers from the Netherlands, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and US astronaut Don Petit pose in front of the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft in Baikonur on Dec. 16, 2011. Credit: RKK Energia
The Soyuz TMA-03M mission in December 2011 had a goal of delivering three members of the International Space Station crew, which represented the 30th and 31st long-duration expeditions onboard the orbiting outpost.
A multinational crew departed to the International Space Station, ISS, Wednesday for a half-year shift onboard the orbiting outpost.
The Soyuz-FG rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome's Site 1 on Dec. 21, 2011, at 17:16:14 Moscow Summer Time (13:16 GMT, 8:16 a.m. EST). The Soyuz TMA-03M is piloted by Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, along with NASA astronaut Don Petit and European astronaut André Kuipers.
Following a seemingly flawless ride to orbit, the Soyuz TMA-03M successfully reached its initial orbit, mission control said.
As of Sept. 13, 2011, the launch was expected on Dec. 20, as of Sept. 16, 2011, the mission was scheduled for Dec. 21 and as of Oct. 13, the launch was moved to Dec. 26. The spacecraft was delivered to Site 254 in Baikonur on Oct. 4, 2011. As of October 13, 2011, the delivery of the Block I upper stage for the mission was scheduled for Nov. 17. The stage was recalled for additional checks in the wake of the Progress M-12M launch failure.
Following a standard two-day rendezvous profile, the Soyuz TMA-03M docked to the station's MIM-1 Rassvet module on Dec. 23, 2011, at 19:19:14 Moscow Time (15:19 GMT, 10:19 a.m. EST) or some thre minjtes ahead of previously announced time of 19:22:41 Moscow Time.
Onboard the station, the fresh crew joined the 30th long-duration expedition, increasing a total population of the outpost to six people. The Soyuz TMA-03 is scheduled to return to Earth in May 2012 with the same crew after completing a 147-day mission.
The next Progress launch – Progress M-14M (Mission 46P) – was origianlly planned for Jan. 25, 2012.
On Feb. 12, 2012, Kononenko along with his colleague Anton Shkaplerov are scheduled to conduct a six-hour spacewalk to install five shields on the Zvezda service module to protect it from micrometeoroid orbital debris and to move the Strela 1 crane from the Pirs docking compartment to the Poisk Mini Research Module 2. If time permits, they also will install struts on a ladder used by spacewalkers on Pirs. As another get-ahead, they may install an experiment called Vynoslivost – which means “Endurance” – on the Poisk Mini Research Module 2. As part of Vynoslivost, two trays of metal samples would be left exposed on the surface of the Poisk. One will be brought in after one year, and the other after three years, at which point the samples will be returned to Earth for study.
The crew will see the arrival of the third Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-3) at the International Space Station. ATV-3, also known as Edoardo Amaldi, will be launched by an Ariane 5 from Europe’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, in March 2012. According to current planning, Edoardo Amaldi will carry almost two-and-a-half tons of dry cargo, 285 kg (628 pounds) of water and about three tons of propellants.
Expedition 30 is also expected to greet the arrival of Dragon, a commercial resupply ship being built by the SpaceX company under a contract with NASA. Dragon will perform a test flight and rendezvous with the station, soon followed by Cygnus (scheduled for flight during Expedition 31), another commercial resupply ship being built by Orbital Sciences. Both of these vehicles fly to the station, and then the crew uses the station’s robotic arm to grapple the spacecraft and plug them into the bottom of the Harmony node. The successful test flights of both of these vehicles will set the stage for commercial cargo resupply of the station from these two companies, in addition to the current complement of Russian, European and Japanese vehicles.
On Jan. 13, 2012, the station conducted an orbital maneuver to avoid a remnant of the Iridium-33 satellite, which was created as a result of the collision between that satellite and a defunct Russian Strela-2M/Kosmos-2251. Under a guidance from mission control, at 20:10 Moscow Time, the station's Zvezda service module fired its engines for 54 seconds adding 0.85 meters to the outpost's velocity and increasing an overage altitude of its orbit by 1.5 kilometers. The station's post-maneuver orbit reached 391.4 kilometers.
Another station maneuver to avoid a debris from Chinese Fengyun-1C satellite was scheduled for Jan. 29, 2011. Again, the Zvezda service module would fire its engine for 64 seconds starting at 03:50 Moscow Time. According to NASA, close passes to the satellite took place in 2011, on Jan. 24, 2012, and two more were expected around January 29. Fengyun-1C was destroyed in the Chinese anti-satellite weapon test in 2007. Following this unplanned maneuver, a routine raising of the outpost's orbit, which was originally planned for Feb. 2, 2012, would be canceled.
The Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft with Oleg Kononenko, André Kuipers and Don Pettit onboard returned to Earth on July 1, 2012. The closing of the hatches between the space station and the transport vehicle took place between 05:35 and 05:55 Moscow Time. The spacecraft then undocked from the station at 08:48 Moscow Time. Following the nominal breaking maneuver, the separation of the spacecraft modules and reentry into the Earth atmosphere, the descent module with the crew touched down softly some 148 kilometers from the Kazakh city of Dzhezkazgan at 12:14:50 Moscow Time. The crew of Soyuz TMA-03M spent a total of 192 days 18 hours 58 minutes in flight.
Soyuz TMA-03M crew:
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The Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft rolls out to the launch pad in Baikonur in December 2011. Credit: Roskosmos
The Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft shortly after its arrival on the launch pad on Dec. 19, 2011. Credit: RKK Energia
The crew of Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft boards the vehicle on Dec. 21, 2011. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz TMA-03M lifts off on Dec. 21, 2011. Credit: NASA TV
A crew of Soyuz TMA-03M inside the spacraft shortly after reaching orbit on Dec. 21, 2011. Credit: NASA TV
A descent module of the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft moments before the touchdown Sunday, July 1, 2012. Credit: NASA