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Russia launches Expedition 39 to ISS
The Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft lifted off carrying three members of the International Space Station, ISS, crew, who represent the 39th long-duration expedition onboard the outpost. Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov, Steve Swanson and Oleg Artemyev are expected to work on the station for several months.
In the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson (left) and Alexander Skvortsov (center) and Oleg Artemyev of Roskosmos pose for pictures in front of their Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft March 21, 2014. Credit: NASA
Launch and docking
The liftoff of a Soyuz-FG rocket with the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft took place as scheduled on March 26, 2014, at 01:17:23 Moscow Time (5:17 p.m. EDT on March 25) from Site 1 at Baikonur Cosmodrome. According to the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, the spacecraft successfully reached orbit after 528 seconds in flight.
The Soyuz TMA-12M used a four-orbit, six-hour flight profile to reach the station. The docking at the Poisk module was scheduled at 11:04 p.m. EDT on March 25. However the spacecraft was unable to complete its third thruster burn to fine-tune its approach, requiring to postpone the docking until March 27.
According to NASA, flight controllers in Moscow were reviewing data to determine the reason the third thruster burn did not occur. In conversations between flight controllers in Moscow and Houston, initial information indicated the problem may have been the spacecraft was not in the proper attitude, or orientation, for the burn, NASA said.
According to NASA, flight controllers in the Mission Control Center outside Moscow reverted to a backup 34-orbit rendezvous, which would result in an arrival and docking at 7:58 p.m. Thursday, March 27 (March 28 Moscow Time). Rendezvous experts were reviewing the plan, and may update it later as necessary, NASA said.
At the station, the fresh crew will join Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata and Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin.
On March 26, a poster on the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine reported that the problem during the initial rendezvous attempt resulted from a slightly higher initial orbit, where the launch vehicle had left the spacecraft after completing the orbital insertion. Even though such deviations are relatively frequent and the latest 20-kilometer increase in apogee was within allowable limits, it apparently confused computers onboard Soyuz TMA-12M. The first two orbit corrections of the spacecraft were performed as programmed on the ground, however the third and fourth firings were supposed to be calculated by the onboard TsVM-101 computer and correct possible errors in the orbital insertion. As a result of higher-than-expected-orbit, these maneuvers had to be extremely short. As a result, the computer decided to perform these firings with small orientation thrusters, DPO, instead of main orbit-correction engines, SKD. According to one scenario, this switch caused some sort of problem in the flight control system.
Soyuz TMA-12M successfully docked to the MIM2 Poisk module in automated mode on March 28, 2014, at 03:53:33 Moscow Time. The crew then transferred onboard the outpost at 06:34 Moscow Time, Roskosmos announced.
Three out of six members of the 40th long-duration expedition onboard the International Space Station, ISS, returned to Earth after 167 days in space.
Undocking of the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft with NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev onboard from the station's Poisk module took place as scheduled on Sept. 11, 2014, at 03:01 Moscow Time (7 p.m. EDT on September 10). The spacecraft then initiated a 4-minute, 40-second engine firing to leave the orbit. In the meantime on the ground, rescue team helicopters headed to primary and backup landing sites to support the arrival of the crew.
The touchdown of the descent module also took place as scheduled three and half hours later at 06:25 Moscow Time on Sept. 11, 2014, (10:23 p.m. EDT on September 10) 148 kilometers southeast of Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft landed in vertical position and its crew was safely extracted by search and rescue personnel.
Landing sequence for Soyuz TMA-12M on Sept. 11, 2014:
Next mission: Soyuz TMA-13M
Article by Anatoly Zak; last update: April 11, 2021
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Soyuz-FG rocket with Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft shortly after its rollout to the launch pad in March 2014. Credit: NASA
Soyuz TMA-12M lifts off on March 26, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos