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Soyuz resumes crew flights after launch failure
A month and a half after a nerve-racking launch accident and the risky emergency landing of the Soyuz MS-10 mission, another Soyuz spacecraft lifted off with a fresh crew in the latest attempt to staff the International Space Station, ISS, with the three members of Expedition 57 and 58. A Soyuz-FG rocket launched the mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Dec. 3, 2018, at 14:31 Moscow Time (6:31 a.m. EST).
The Soyuz MS-11 crew works inside the flight-worthy vehicle during its final preparation in Baikonur on Nov. 20, 2018.
Soyuz MS-11 mission at a glance:
Soyuz MS-11 preparation history
Soyuz MS-11 is being unloaded from its rail transporter on Aug. 29, 2018.
As of beginning of 2017, the launch of the Soyuz MS-11 mission was planned for Nov. 8, 2018. In the later iteration of the ISS flight manifest, the flight was re-scheduled for November 15 and by September 2018, it was pushed to December 20, 2018. However in the wake of the Soyuz MS-10 launch accident on October 11, the next Soyuz mission was advanced to Dec. 3, 2018.
The Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft arrived at Baikonur and was unloaded from its delivery train on Aug. 29, 2018, however it was put in storage the next day, while awaiting the start of its launch campaign. The active processing of the spacecraft began at the launch site in November 2018. On November 12, Roskosmos announced that leak checks of Soyuz MS-11 in a vacuum chamber had been completed. The vehicle was then moved to its test rig at the spacecraft processing building at Site 254 where it would be connected to its checkout systems, Roskosmos said.
On November 19, the primary and backup crews of the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft arrived at Baikonur Cosmodrome for final training. The primary crew included Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and American astronaut Anne McClain. The backup crew was comprised of Aleksandr Skvortsov (Roskosmos), Luca Parmitano (ESA) and Andrew Morgan (NASA). On November 20, both teams worked inside the flight-worthy Soyuz MS-11 undergoing final preparations at the spacecraft processing building. Cosmonauts and astronauts also tried on their Sokol spacesuits and checked them for air leaks. After completion of the familiarization training, Soyuz MS-11 was sent to fueling, which was completed on November 23 and, on the same day, the spacecraft was returned to Site 254 for final checks.
On November 25, Soyuz MS-11 was integrated with its launch vehicle adapter and on November 27, after the final inspection, the spacecraft was rolled inside its payload fairing.
According to the processing schedule, on November 29, the primary and backup crew conducted their second and final familiarization training inside Soyuz MS-11, before its transfer to the vehicle assembly building on the evening of the same day. The integration of the spacecraft with the launch vehicle took place on November 30 and, on the same day, the mission management approved the rollout of the rocket to the launch pad on the morning of December 1.
The Soyuz-FG rocket with the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft approaches Site 1 in Baikonur on Dec. 1, 2018.
Soyuz MS-11's ride to orbit
A Soyuz-FG rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-11 (No. 741) spacecraft with the crew of three lifted off on Dec. 3, 2018, at 14:31:52.519 Moscow Time (6:31 a.m. EST) from Pad 5 at Site 1 in Baikonur.
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 51.6 degrees toward the Equator. Slightly less than two minutes into the flight, the ship's emergency escape system was jettisoned, immediately followed by the separation of the four boosters of the first stage. Almost exactly 40 seconds later, the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft in the dense atmosphere split into two halves and fell away.
The second (core) stage of the booster continued firing until 4.8 minutes into the flight. Moments before the second stage completes its work, the four-chamber engine of the third stage ignited, firing through a lattice structure connecting the two stages. Moments after the separation of the core booster, the tail section of the third stage split into three segments and fell away.
The third stage continued firing until the command to cut off its engines 8.7 minutes into the flight. The separation command between the spacecraft and the third stage was scheduled for 14:40:41 Moscow Time (6:40 a.m. EST).
Following the launch, the mission control in Korolev reported the spacecraft entering the following initial orbit:
Rendezvous and docking for the Soyuz MS-11 mission
As planned, the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft followed a fast-track rendezvous with the station in four revolutions around the Earth, aiming for docking around 20:36 Moscow Time (12:36 EST) or just six hours and five minutes after liftoff.
In the course of the orbital rendezvous, the Soyuz conducted a total of six orbit-correction maneuvers, climbing from its initial altitude of just above 200 kilometers to nearly matching the station's trajectory located roughly twice as high.
Soyuz MS-11 orbital maneuvers*:
The autonomous rendezvous process was scheduled to begin at 18:26:20 Moscow Time (10:26 a.m. EST). As the two spacecraft were to reach an operational distance for the Kurs rendezvous system, its equipment aboard the Zvezda Service Module was to be activated at 18:57:20 Moscow Time, followed by the Soyuz's part of Kurs hardware a minute later.
Around half an hour before the planned docking, Soyuz MS-11 was scheduled to reach a target point for initiating close-proximity rendezvous, maneuvering with it attitude control thrusters.
Between 20:11 and 20:21 Moscow Time, the Soyuz MS-11 was scheduled to perform flyaround of the station to take a position above the outpost. After around a four-minute station-keeping period, the Soyuz was expected to perform berthing between 20:25 and 20:36 Moscow Time.
The actual docking was reported as taking place at 20:33:20 Moscow Time on Dec. 3, 2018.
The spacecraft berthed at the zenith (upward-facing) docking port on the MIM2 Poisk module, a part of the Russian Segment of the International Space Station, ISS.
After leak checks and pressure equalization in the docking port, the opening of hatches between Soyuz MS-11 was completed at 22:37 Moscow Time (2:37 p.m. EST) on Dec. 3, 2018.
Aboard the station, Kononenko, Saint-Jacques and McClain will join three other members of Expedition 57, Alexander Gerst, Sergei Prokopiev and Serena Auñón-Chancellor. They are currently scheduled to return to Earth aboard the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft on Dec. 20, 2018. With their undocking from the station, Expedition 58 will officially begin aboard the ISS under command of Oleg Kononenko.
Cosmonauts conduct a spacewalk
On May 29, 2019, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko (from the Soyuz MS-11 crew) and Aleksei Ovchinin (from the Soyuz MS-12 crew) conducted a six-hour one-minute spacewalk (Extra-Vehicular Activity, EVA) on the exterior of the Russian Segment of the International Space Station, ISS. The opening of the EVA hatch took place at 18:42 Moscow Time (11:42 a.m. EDT), marking the start of what was scheduled to be a six-hour-long excursion. During the spacewalk, US astronaut Christina Koch was in charge of airlock operations on the interior side of the station.
Soyuz MS-11 lands successfully despite propulsion problem
The three members of Expedition 59 aboard the International Space Station, ISS, returned to Earth on June 25, 2019, after 204 days in space. Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko (sitting in the central chair of the Soyuz' Descent Module) will pilot the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft back to Earth, along with two of his crew mates, US astronaut Anne McClain (in the right seat) and Canadian David Saint-Jacques (in the left seat).
In preparation for the departure, Kononenko transferred the formal command of the ISS to Aleksei Ovchinin, a member of the Soyuz MS-12 crew on June 23, 2019. Ovchinin and his colleagues Christina Koch and Nick Hague will formally begin Expedition 60 aboard the ISS at the moment of departure of Soyuz MS-11.
The hatch between the Soyuz MS-11 and the station was closed at 4:15 p.m. EDT (23:15 p.m. Moscow Time) on June 24.
According to mission control in Korolev, preparations for undocking were planned along the following timeline:
The undocking of the transport ship from the zenith (space-facing) port on the MIM2/Poisk module, a part of the Russian Segment of the station took place as scheduled at 7:25 p.m. EDT on June 24 (02:25 Moscow Time on June 25) or one minute after the separation command, as the two spacecraft were flying over Eastern Mongolia.
After reaching a safe distance from the ISS, Soyuz MS-11 fired its main SKD engine against the direction of the flight, initiating a braking maneuver at 9:55 p.m. EDT on June 24 (04:55 Moscow Time on June 25). It pushed the spacecraft off its final orbit toward the reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.
Shortly after the completion of the braking maneuver, the "Avariya" emergency signal was heard inside the Descent Module and the communications between the crew and mission control discussed a failure of the first manifold in the integrated propulsion system, KDU, of the Soyuz spacecraft and the switch to the second manifold. Kononenko first reported K1B (Manifold DPO-B) emergency at 05:02:54 Moscow Time and subsequently confirmed a switch to the second manifold. NASA later confirmed the problem, but did not provide any details.
The spacecraft then split into three sections: the Descent Module carrying the crew, the Habitation Module and the Instrument Module at 05:22 Moscow Time on June 25 (10:22 p.m. EDT on June 24). As the capsule completed initial braking in the dense atmosphere using its ablative heat shield, the command for the release of the parachute system was issued at 05:33 Moscow Time on June 25 (10:33 p.m. EDT on June 24).
The touchdown of the Descent Module was expected 148 kilometers southeast of town of Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 10:48:55 p.m. EDT on June 24 (05:48 Moscow Time on June 25) around three hours after sunrise in the touchdown area. The actual touchdown time was reported as 05:48:54 Moscow Time.
With the departure of Soyuz MS-11, the ISS remained inhabited by three people until the launch of the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft with a fresh three-member crew, then scheduled for July 20, 2019.
Investigation into the landing failure (INSIDER CONTENT)
Shortly after the touchdown, the official Russian press quoted the Roskosmos press service as saying that "all onboard systems of the spacecraft, including KDU, worked in nominal mode, strictly according to the flight program. There were no issues." Roskosmos also denied reports about the emergency situation aboard Soyuz, even though the emergency signal was clearly heard in the public broadcast of the landing.
Soyuz MS-11 crews:
The Soyuz MS-11 mission logo.
Primary crew of Soyuz MS-11 arrives at Baikonur on Nov. 19, 2018, for final training. Left to right: NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and a Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz MS-11 returns to spacecraft processing building on Nov. 23, 2018, after completion of fueling operations. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Specialists connect the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft to its launch vehicle adapter on Nov. 25, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
The Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft rolls inside its payload fairing on Nov. 27, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko enters Soyuz MS-11 during the final pre-launch familiarization training on Nov. 29, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
The payload section with Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft is being transported the spacecraft processing building at Site 254 for a transfer to the vehicle assembly building at Site 112 on Nov. 30, 2018. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
The Soyuz-FG rocket with the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft is lowered on the transporter on Nov. 30, 2018, in preparation for rollout to the launch pad next day. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
The crew of Soyuz MS-11 bids farewell to well-wishers before boarding the spacecraft at Site 1 in Baikonur. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA