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Soyuz MS-13 mission
The three new crew members of Expeditions 60 and 61 to the International Space Station, ISS, blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 20, 2019 aboard the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft. In less than nine minutes after liftoff, the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle successfully released the crew vehicle into orbit.
Soyuz MS-13 mission at a glance:
Preparations for flight
During various incarnations of the ISS flight manifest, the launch of Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft mission was scheduled on July 10, July 24 and July 6, 2019. As of the beginning of 2019, the spacecraft was scheduled to remain in orbit for 215 days and return to Earth on Feb. 6, 2020, however by the beginning of February 2019, the landing was advanced to December 18 of the same year. Then, at the beginning of April 2019, Roskosmos decided to postpone the launch of Soyuz MS-13 from July 6 to July 20. The latest schedule changes were reportedly related to delays with the introduction of NASA's crew vehicles at the end of 2019.
The active preparations for the mission began on May 14, when the spacecraft was transported into the vacuum chamber at Site 254 in Baikonur for tests using a mixture of helium and air to ensure the absence of leaks in the ship's pressurized compartments. On July 1, the solar panels of the spacecraft were exposed to an array of electric lights testing their ability to supply power.
On July 4, the primary and backup crews preparing for the Soyuz MS-13 mission traveled to Baikonur Cosmodrome for final training. The primary crew included the Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov, European astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan. The backup crew was comprised of Sergei Ryzhikov (Roskosmos), Tom Marshburn (ESA) and Soichi Noguchi (Japan). A day after arriving at Baikonur, both teams worked inside the flight-worthy Soyuz MS-13 undergoing final preparations at the spacecraft processing building at Site 254. The cosmonauts and astronauts also tried on their Sokol spacesuits and checked them for air leaks. After completion of the familiarization training, Soyuz MS-13 was sent to fueling, which was completed on July 8 and, on the same day, the spacecraft was returned to Site 254 for final checks.
On July 10, Soyuz MS-13 was integrated with its launch vehicle adapter, and on July 12, it underwent its final visual inspection and on the same day, the ship was rolled inside its payload fairing.
On July 16, the payload section with the spacecraft was transported to the vehicle assembly building at Site 112 and the next day, it was integrated with the Emergency Escape System, SAS, and the third stage of the Soyuz launch vehicle. The resulting upper composite was then transferred to the transporter/erector, where it was connected to the lower booster stages of the Soyuz rocket. Before the end of the day, the technical management and the State Commission gave the green light to the rollout of the vehicle to the launch pad at Site 1 next morning.
Soyuz MS-13 launch profile
A Soyuz-FG rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-13 (No. 746) transport spacecraft lifted off from Site 1 in Baikonur on July 20, 2019, at 19:28:20.238 Moscow Time (12:28 p.m. EDT, 16:28 UTC). The spacecraft carried Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov, European astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan to the International Space Station, ISS. Aboard the station, the trio will be a part of Expeditions 60 and 61.
The launch vehicle followed a standard ascent profile inserting the spacecraft into an initial parking orbit with an inclination of 51.6 degrees toward the Equator exactly 8 minutes and 48 seconds after liftoff. The spacecraft separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle at 19:37 Moscow Time.
According to the Russian mission control in Korolev and Roskosmos, Soyuz MS-13 entered an initial orbit with the following parameters:
Rendezvous and docking
Following a six-and-a-half-hour, four-orbit rendezvous profile, Soyuz MS-13 was scheduled to dock at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module, SM, a part of the Russian Segment of the ISS at 6:51 p.m. EDT (July 21, 01:51 Moscow Time). According to the Russian mission control, the actual docking took place at 01:47:52 Moscow Time on July 21 (6:48 p.m. EDT on July 20, according to NASA).
According to Russian mission control, the post-docking activities had the following timeline:
The hatches between the spacecraft and the station were scheduled to open around two hours after docking around 03:50 Moscow Time on July 21 (8:50 p.m. EDT on July 20). In reality, they were opened nearly 15 minutes late, after some push on the Soyuz' hatch by Oleg Ovchinin from the station's side.
Aboard the ISS, the Soyuz MS-13 crew will join three members of the Soyuz MS-12 crew.
Soyuz MS-13 begins a fly-around of the ISS, shortly after undocking from the aft port on the Zvezda Service Module.
Late afternoon after the aborted docking of the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft on August 24, 2019, ISS program managers approved a plan to undock the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft from the Zvezda Service Module, SM, at 06:34 Moscow Time and re-dock it at the MIM2-Poisk module at 06:59 Moscow Time on August 26 (11:59 p.m. EDT on August 25). Roskosmos announced the decision on the morning of August 25.
Because the re-docking operation could be conducted under manual control, Soyuz MS-13 did not need the Kurs-P rendezvous system aboard the MIM2 Poisk module which was suspected to be the culprit in the docking failure between the station and the Soyuz MS-14. At the same time, the move would free the aft port on the Zvezda with a well-functioning Kurs-P system for a second automated docking attempt by the Soyuz MS-14. It was to be the first re-docking of the Soyuz since August 2015, when Soyuz TMA-16M had to move from MIM2 Poisk to Zvezda.
During the redocking operation, Soyuz MS-13 crew was instructed to back away to a distance of around 38 meters from the aft port of the service module and after a short station-keeping period to fly around and align the transport ship with the MIM2 Poisk module. After another station-keeping period, the spacecraft would be ready to dock at the Poisk.
In preparation for re-docking, the ISS crew began activation of systems aboard Soyuz MS-13 on August 25. Several hours before the move, three crew members took their usual seats inside the Descent Module. The Soyuz commander Aleksandr Skvortsov was at the controls of spacecraft in the center seat, with Luca Parmitano to his left and Andrew Morgan in the right seat.
Nearly as planned, the transport ship undocked from ISS at 06:35:26 Moscow Time and backed away from the ISS. The crew reported a distance of between 31 and 32 meters from the station, as the Soyuz began a slow roll maneuver followed by a fly-around of the station. After aligning the transport ship with the zenith (space-facing) docking port on the MIM2 Poisk module, Skvortsov initiated the final approach which was briefly interrupted by a short station-keeping period at a distance of five or six meters from the station. As the Soyuz reached its new destination, an operator at mission control in Korolev was heard reporting the time of contact between the two spacecraft as 06:59:37 Moscow Time on August 26, 2019, (11:59 p.m. EDT on August 25).
According to NASA, at the time of docking, the vehicles were flying east of Beijing, China. Around the same time, the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft was orbiting the Earth some 165 miles behind the ISS and was conducting its own maneuvers, in preparation for a second docking attempt with the station the next day, NASA said.
Soyuz MS-13 re-docks at the MIM2 Poisk module on August 26, 2019.
Soyuz MS-13 crews:
NASA astronaut Christina Koch posted this image of herself (left) and her crew mates Aleksandr Skvortsov (center) and Luca Parmitano on January 31, 2020, during pressure checks aboard Soyuz MS-13 ahead of its planned landing. The crew members will be in the same seats, during undocking, reentry and touchdown on February 6, 2020.
After nearly six and half months in space, the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft was scheduled to depart the International Space Station, ISS, on February 6, 2020. During its trip back to Earth, the crew of Soyuz MS-13 included two of its original members Aleksandr Skvortsov and Luca Parmitano, who rode the vehicle into orbit in July 2019, 201 days earlier. They were accompanied by a NASA astronaut Christina Hammock-Koch, who arrived at the station aboard Soyuz MS-12 in March 2019. She was completing a mission lasting 328 days. It was a new flight-duration record for a female astronaut during a single flight.
In the meantime, NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, who launched aboard Soyuz MS-13, remained on the station until April 17, 2020, for his ride back to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-15. The Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir continued working on the ISS with Morgan. The trio comprised Expedition 62, which formally started with the undocking of Soyuz MS-13.
The outpost's population increased back to six people with the arrival of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin, launched on April 6, 2020, aboard Soyuz MS-16.
The traditional change-of-command ceremony took place aboard the station on February 5. During the event, Luca Parmitano, representing Expedition 61, transferred command of the outpost to Oleg Skripochka, leading Expedition 62.
The crew of Soyuz MS-13 closed hatches between their spacecraft and the station on February 5, at around 9:34 p.m. EST (it was 05:34 on February 6 in Moscow), ahead of undocking from the MIM2 Poisk module, a part of the Russian Segment.
Preparations for landing
In preparation for the return of Soyuz MS-13, the search and rescue operations in the landing area were supported by the personnel of Russia's Central Military District, TsVO. Transport helicopters were deployed in Kazakhstan from the Uprun airfield in the Chelyabinsk Region in Russia. Also, An-12 transport planes carried four PM-1 and PM-2 Siniya Ptitsa (blue bird) amphibious vehicles to the landing zone near Zhezkazgan, according to the Ministry of Defense. A total of 16 specialized vehicles were deployed at the primary and backup landing sites. Due to deep snow cover and extreme winter conditions in the region, the Krechet-Z 310-91 all-terrain vehicle was brought to support landing operations as well, RIA Novosti reported.
The search and rescue assets supporting the landing of Soyuz MS-13 included a total of 10 Mil-8MTV5-1 helicopters, two An-12 and one An-26 fixed-wing aircraft, 20 ground vehicles, including six amphibious vehicles and around 200 members of personnel. Several days before landing, more than 20 members of the Russian specialists from Roskosmos, Ministry of Defense, RKK Energia and Rosaviatsiya flew a pair of Mi-8MTV5-1 helicopters to inspect the landing area.
The mission control also warned the crew of Soyuz MS-13 about strong winds expected at altitudes from 10 to 2 kilometers with gusts from 20 to 35 meters per second. However, at the surface, the wind was not expected to exceed 3 or 5 meters per second. The temperature in the area was expected to fall to minus 10 degrees.
Deorbit and landing
Soyuz MS-13 initiated undocking from the ISS on February 6, 2020, at 08:49 Moscow Time (12:49 a.m. EST). The physical separation between the two spacecraft took place at 12:50 a.m. EST, according to NASA.
The spacecraft then conducted a 2.5-hour autonomous flight, which took it safely away from the station, where it fired its main engine for 4 minutes and 39 seconds, starting at 11:18:21 Moscow Time (3:18 a.m. EST) to brake below the orbital speed by 128 meters per second and initiate the reentry. The maneuver was completed as planned at 11:23:00 Moscow Time (3:23 a.m. EST).
Around 22 minutes after the completion of the deorbiting burn, at 11:46:44 Moscow Time, as the vehicle was approaching the dense atmosphere, the Descent Module, SA, carrying the crew, split from the Habitation Module, BO, and the Instrument Module, PAO. The two empty compartments burn up in the atmosphere, while the Descent Module hit the dense atmosphere at 11:49:43 Moscow Time and, after going through a plasma regime, it initiated the release of its parachute system around 11:58:26 Moscow Time (3:58 a.m. EST).
The touchdown of the crew capsule took place almost as scheduled on February 6, 2020, around 12:12:21 Moscow Time (4:12 a.m. EST, 15:12 Kazakhstan Time). The scheduled landing time was 12:12:45 Moscow Time. The projected landing site was located 146 kilometers southeast of town of Zhezkazgan at the point with coordinates: 47°22' North latitude, 69°36' East longitude.
Fortunately for the search and rescue teams, the weather cleared shortly before landing, facilitating recovery operations at the touchdown site.
According to NASA, after preliminary medical evaluations at the landing site, the crew will be transported to the recovery staging city in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, aboard Russian helicopters. There, Skvortsov will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center aircraft to return to his home in Star City, Russia. In the meantime, Koch and Parmitano will board a NASA plane bound for Cologne, Germany, where Parmitano will be greeted by ESA officials before Koch proceeds home to Houston, Texas.
Soyuz MS-13 is being transported into vacuum chamber on May 14, 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Crew of Soyuz MS-13 during familiarization training in Baikonur on July 16, 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-13 is being prepared for integration with the payload fairing. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-13 lifts off from Baikonur on July 20, 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: RKK Energia
Soyuz MS-13 approaches ISS on July 20, 2019. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA