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Kurs-NA rendezvous system


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EKTS communications system


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"Black Box"



Soyuz MS-03 arrives at ISS

In the final manned launch of 2016, the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft successfully delivered three members of the 50th and 51st expeditions to the International Space Station, ISS. The liftoff took place as scheduled on November 17 and docking completed on Nov. After nearly half a year aboard the station, the same crew was to ride Soyuz MS-03 back to Earth on May 16, 2017. However Peggy Whitson ended up returning to Earth on Sept. 3, 2017, aboard Soyuz MS-04.

Previous Soyuz mission: Soyuz MS-02

The crew of Soyuz MS-03 during final qualification exams at the Gagarin Training Center in Star City on Oct. 25, 2016, (left to right): Thomas Pesquet, Oleg Novitskiy, Peggy Whitson.

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Soyuz MS-03 mission at a glance:

Spacecraft Soyuz MS-03 (11F732 No. 733)
Launch vehicle Soyuz-FG (No. R15000-080)
Launch site Baikonur, Site 1, Pad 5
Crew ISS Expedition 50/51: Oleg Novitskiy (Roskosmos), Thomas Pesquet (ESA), Peggy Whitson (NASA) - up only; returns on Soyuz MS-04.
Launch date and time 2016 Nov. 17, 23:20:13 Moscow Time (3:20 p.m. EST)
Docking at ISS (Nadir port on MIM1 Rassvet) 2016 Nov. 20, actual: 00:58:35 Moscow Time; planned: 01:01:46 Moscow Time (+- 3 minutes);
Landing 2017 May 16
Planned flight duration 180 days

Preparations for flight

The launch of Soyuz MS-03 was initially scheduled for Nov. 30, 2016. Following the Soyuz MS-02 launch delay in September 2016, the mission was rescheduled for Nov. 16, 2016, at 00:05 Moscow Time. On October 28, the State Commission announced that the launch was re-scheduled for Nov. 17, 2016, at 23:20:13 Moscow Time, to enable a two-day rendezvous scenario, rather than a six-hour flight to the station, which was possible in case of the launch on November 16. According to public statement, the two-day scenario was chosen to complete planned tests of the new systems on the Soyuz MS series, however the six-hour rendezvous scheme was hampered by the delay in the completion of the Klen-R ground station near Vostochny, which would be compatible with a brand-new EKTS system onboard Soyuz-MS.

On November 4, RKK Energia announced that Soyuz MS-03 had returned to its processing building at Site 254, after the completion of fueling. Three days later, the spacecraft was integrated with a transfer ring, which will serve as an interface with the launch vehicle. On November 9, engineers conducted final inspection of Soyuz MS-03 and then rolled it inside the protective fairing of its Soyuz-FG rocket. Two days later, the payload section with Soyuz MS-03 was transferred from the spacecraft assembly building at Site 254 to the vehicle assembly building at Site 112 for the final integration with the rocket.

On November 12 and 13, the payload section was integrated with the launch vehicle and the mission management gave green light to the rollout of the Soyuz-FG rocket to the launch pad at Site 1, which took place on the morning of November 14.


Launch of Soyuz MS-03

A Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off on Nov. 17, 2016, at 23:20:13.099 Moscow Time from Pad No. 5 at Site 1 in Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The launch vehicle carried the 7,220-kilogram Soyuz MS-03 (No. 733) transport spacecraft with a crew of three to the International Space Station, ISS.

Propelled by the simultaneous thrust of the four engines of the first stage and the single engine of the second stage, the rocket headed east to align its ascent trajectory with an orbital plane inclined 51.67 degrees toward the Equator. Slightly less than two minutes into the flight, the ship's emergency escape system jettisoned, immediately followed by the separation of the four boosters of the first stage. The second (core) stage of the booster continued firing for less than five minutes into the flight. Almost exactly 40 seconds after the separation of the first stage, the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft in the dense atmosphere split into two halves and fell away. Moments before the second stage completed its firing 4.7 minutes into the flight, the four-chamber engine of the third stage ignited, firing through a lattice structure connecting two boosters. Moments after the separation of the core booster, the tail section of the third stage split into three segments and fell away.


According to the mission control in Korolev, the separation of the Soyuz MS-03 from the third stage of the launch vehicle took place as scheduled at 23:29:01.26 Moscow Time into an orbit with the following parameters:

Planned orbit
Actual orbit
Orbital period
88.64 minutes (+/-0.367)
88.66 minutes
51.67 degrees (+/-0.058)
51.66 degrees
Perigee (lowest point)
200 kilometers (+7/-22)
200.15 kilometers
Apogee (highest point)
242 kilometers (+/-42)
244.99 kilometers

Without any additional maneuvers, the spacecraft is guaranteed to remain in its initial orbit for around 20 revolutions around the Earth during the next 30 hours, before reentering the Earth's atmosphere due to air friction.

Rendezvous and docking of Soyuz MS-03 at ISS

Upon reaching its planned orbit, Soyuz MS-03 was expected to be 246.2 degrees away and below the ISS, which at the time was circling the planet in the 404.01 by 420.22-kilometer orbit with an inclination 51.63 degrees toward the Equator.

The mission followed a two-day rendezvous profile with the station. According to the Russian mission control in Korolev, the Soyuz was scheduled to perform two orbital maneuvers during the 3rd orbit and another one during the 17th orbit of the flight, which would bring the spacecraft into the vicinity of the station, according to the following planned timeline:

Orbit No.
Time, MSK
Firing duration
delta V
Orbital period
Resulting perigee
Resulting apogee
November 18
76.8 seconds
30.91 m/s
89.70 minutes
51.67 degrees
211.16 kilometers
319.09 kilometers
75.5 seconds
30.68 m/s
90.77 minutes
51.66 degrees
311.31 kilometers
338.19 kilometers
November 19
28.8 seconds
2.00 m/s
90.84 minutes
51.63 degrees
317.38 kilometers
338.59 kilometers

Following its orbit corrections, Soyuz MS-03 was scheduled to begin an autonomous rendezvous with the ISS around 22:40:54 Moscow Time on Nov. 19, 2016, aiming to lock sensors of its Kurs-NA rendezvous system onto the station during the 33rd orbit of the mission.

The final maneuvers, including a flyaround of the ISS, a short station-keeping period and berthing were scheduled to commence at 00:39:53 Moscow Time on November 20.

The docking of the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft and the ISS took place at 4:58:35 p.m. EST (November 19) over the northeastern coast of Brazil, around three minutes ahead of schedule. (The milestone was originally scheduled on Nov. 20, 2016, at 01:01:46 Moscow Time (5:01 p.m. EST on November 19).

The spacecraft berthed at the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the MIM1 Rassvet module, a part of the Russian segment of the ISS. According to NASA, hooks of the docking mechanism, securing the Soyuz at its docking position were successfully closed at 5:04 p.m. EST.


According to NASA, hatches between the spacecraft and the station were opened at 7:40 p.m. EST on November 19, around five minutes behind schedule. (It was 3:40 a.m. Moscow Time on November 20).

Aboard the ISS, Novitsky, Pesquet and Whitson will join the crew of the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft Sergei Ryzhikov, Andrei Borisenko and Shane Kimbrough.

The crew of Soyuz MS-03 is expected to remain onboard the ISS until May 2017.


ISS at the time of Soyuz MS-03's docking on Nov. 19, 2016.

Soyuz MS-03 returns home

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novistkiy and a European astronaut Thomas Pesquet returned to Earth, completing the 51th long-duration expedition onboard the International Space Station, ISS.

In preparation for landing, the Soyuz MS-03 undocked from the Rassvet module, part of the Russian Segment of the station, as planned on June 2, 2017, at 13:47 Moscow Time.

The spacecraft than initiated the deorbiting maneuver at 8:17 a.m. Houston Time.

The landing of the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft took place as planned on June 2, 2017, at 17:10 Moscow Time, 16:10 CEST, 9:10 a.m. Houston Time. The descent module touched down at a routine landing area, around 145 kilometers southeast from the town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. The capsule ended up on its side after the touchdown and was rolled into the position by rescue personnel for the extraction of the crew, which was found in good shape.

The Soyuz MS-03 mission lasted 196 days 17 hours 49 minutes, completing 3,136 revolutions around the Earth. After the Soyuz MS-03 departure, the ISS continued its flight inhabited by three members of the Expedition 52 crew.

Roskosmos cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members. Randy Bresnik of NASA, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli of ESA are scheduled to launch July 28, 2017, from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Planned landing timeline for Soyuz MS-03 on June 2, 2017:

Moscow Time
Altitude, km
Latitude, deg. min
Longitude. deg, min.
Velocity, km/s
Braking engine firing starts
Braking engine firing ends
Spacecraft sections separation
Atmospheric entry
Aerodynamic control starts
Maximum G-loads
Parachute release command
Main parachute opening in case of emergency ballistic descent


Soyuz MS-03 crew:

Primary crew Backup crew
Oleg Novistkiy (Roskosmos) Fyodor Yurchkhin (Roskosmos)
Thomas Pesquet (ESA) Jack Fischer (NASA)
Peggy Whitson (NASA) Commander Expedition 50 Paolo Nespoli (ESA)

Next Soyuz mission: Soyuz MS-04


Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:



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This page is maintained by Anatoly Zak; Last update: March 16, 2019

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Mission patch of the Soyuz MS-03 crew.



Mission patches for Expedition 50 and 51.


Soyuz MS-03 arrives at the spacecraft processing building at Site 254 on Nov. 4, 2016, after the completion of fueling. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia


Soyuz MS-03 is being integrated with its launch vehicle transfer ring on Nov. 7, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia


Soyuz MS-03 is being prepared for integration with its payload fairing on Nov. 9, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia


A payload section with the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft is transferred from the spacecraft processing facility at Site 254 to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Site 112 on Nov. 11, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia


A rare supermoon rises behind the Soyuz-FG rocket at Site 1 in Baikonur with the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft on Nov. 14, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA


Crew of Soyuz MS-03 waves to well wishers before shortly before boarding the ship. Due to a very cold weather in Baikonur, crew members wore winter overcoats on their way to the launch pad, often confused with new spacesuits. The crew would entered Soyuz wearing regular Sokol suits. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA


Soyuz MS-03 lifts off on Nov. 17, 2016. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA