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Soyuz MS-21 arrives at ISS
The first Russian crew backdropped by the Kremlin's war against Ukraine launched Friday to the International Space Station, ISS. Coincidently, for the first time in many years, there were no foreign crew members aboard the fresh Soyuz transport, which is expected to dock at the Prichal Node Module, UM, another first for the Russian ISS Segment. Around three hours after launch, Soyuz docked at ISS in manual mode, due to a problem with the automated rendezvous system.
Members of the primary crew of the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft (left to right): Denis Matveev, Oleg Artemiev and Sergei Korsakov.
Soyuz MS-21 mission at a glance:
Planning Soyuz MS-21 mission
In the preliminary ISS schedule, the Soyuz MS-21 mission was planned to begin on March 30, but in the flight manifest prepared by Roskosmos by the end of Summer 2020, the launch was advanced to March 18, 2022. On Jan. 2, 2022, Roskosmos confirmed the launch of Soyuz MS-21 on March 18, 2022, however, the liftoff time shifted to 18:55 Moscow Time from the 18:03 Moscow Time previously scheduled for the mission. By that time, Soyuz MS-21 was set to dock at the nadir port of the Prichal Node Module, UM, after a two-orbit autonomous flight and remain at the station for 195 days.
As of the Fall of 2020, the mission was to mark the first flight of a US astronaut aboard Soyuz within a barter agreement between NASA and Roskosmos aimed at ensuring the presence of crew members from the two sides trained to operate the US and Russian segments of the station during long-duration expeditions. However, in the absence of an agreement between NASA and Roskosmos in 2021, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemiev, Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov trained for the mission. On May 19, 2021, Roskosmos officially confirmed that crew as part of Expedition 67. Sergei Prokopiev, Anna Kikina and Dmitry Petelin were assigned to be backups.
Soyuz MS-21 launch campaign
On January 24, Roskosmos announced that the payload fairing for the Soyuz MS-21 mission had been delivered to Baikonur by rail along with a Soyuz-2-1a rocket for the Progress MS-20 mission. The four boosters of the first stage were integrated with the core (second) stage by February 5.
On February 4, the spacecraft went through tests of the Kurs-NA rendezvous equipment at the anechoic facility at Site 254 in Baikonur. From February 11 to February 17, Soyuz MS-21 underwent air leak tests inside a vacuum chamber, after which it was returned to its processing site. The next steps in the preparation included loading coolant into the ship's thermal control system, testing lines in the propulsion system, radio systems tests and preparation for the installation of Kazbek seats and crew equipment, Roskosmos said.
The Emergency Escape System, SAS, system was delivered to Baikonur aboard an Il-76 transport plane by February 17.
On February 22, the State Commission cleared the Soyuz MS-21 mission for launch on March 18. At the same time, the landing for the Soyuz MS-19 was set for March 28. Also, on February 22, Soyuz MS-21 went through testing of its solar arrays.
Final preparations for the Soyuz MS-21 mission were ongoing in the shadow of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine started on February 24 and following the breakdown of economic and scientific cooperation between Russia and the rest of the world in many fields including space. Nevertheless, the ISS project appeared to be one of the few survivors. By March 2, the crews completed familiarization training inside their flight-ready spacecraft in Baikonur. The loading of propellant components and pressurized gases aboard Soyuz MS-21 was performed from March 3 to March 5. The vehicle was then transported back to its processing facility at Site 254. On March 9, Soyuz MS-21 was integrated with its launch vehicle adapter, while Roskosmos advertised photos of the Russian personnel in Baikonur lined up around giant V and Z letters formed by cars to cheer the invasion of Ukraine.
On March 11, RKK Energia announced that its specialists had conducted the traditional final inspection of the vehicle, after which it was rolled inside the launch vehicle fairing. They also prepared the payload section for the pre-launch readiness simulation and loaded more than 150 kilograms of cargo into the Descent Module.
The payload section was then transported to the vehicle assembly building at Site 31 and its integration with the Soyuz-2-1a rocket was completed on March 14. The rollout of the rocket to the pad was performed on the morning of March 15.
The upper composite with the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft is being integrated with the Soyuz-2-1a rocket on March 14, 2021.
Soyuz MS-21 lifts off from 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, at an altitude of around 45 kilometers and a velocity of 1.75 kilometers per second, the ship's main emergency escape rocket was jettisoned (L+113.472 sec.), immediately followed by the separation of the four boosters of the first stage ( at L+117.848 sec.) Around 35 seconds later, as the vehicle exited the dense atmosphere at an altitude of 79 kilometers and a velocity of 2.2 kilometers per second, the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft split into two halves and fell away (at L+ 153.334 sec.).
The second (core) stage of the rocket continued firing until 4.8 minutes into the flight (L+4 min. 48 sec.). Moments before the second stage completed its work, the four-chamber engine of the third stage ignited, firing through the lattice structure connecting the two stages. Moments after the separation of the core booster (L+287.699 sec.) at an altitude of 157 kilometers and a velocity of 3.8 kilometers per second, the tail section of the third stage split into three segments and separated as well.
Following the 8-minute 49-second climb to orbit, the third stage of the rocket released Soyuz MS-21 into an initial 199.7 by 243.5-kilometer orbit with an inclination 51.67 degrees toward the Equator and an orbital period of 88.65 minutes.
NASA confirmed that solar panels and antennas aboard the crew vehicle had been successfully deployed.
Soyuz MS-21 docks at ISS after automated rendezvous failure
Newly arrived crew members wore yellow and blue suits of the Ukrainian flag, perceived by many as a protest against the Russian invasion. Roskosmos later denied any connection of the uniforms to the war and quoted Oleg Artemiev's statement on the Telegram social media site as saying that the crew was "together with our president and the people." According to Roskosmos, colors meant to represent the Bauman technical university, MGTU, because all three crew members were its alumni.
Soyuz MS-21 was scheduled to follow a nearly three-hour, two-orbit rendezvous profile with the station, culminating with the docking at the newly arrived Prichal Node Module, UM, of the Russian ISS Segment within three minutes from 22:05:55 Moscow Time on March 18. The station passed over Baikonur just moments after Soyuz MS-21 lifted off.
After a successful long-range rendezvous, the Soyuz MS-21 started flyaround of the ISS at a distance of around 400 meters, at 21:45 Moscow Time (2:45 p.m. EDT) on March 18, 2022. The vehicle then got into a position for a short period of station keeping at a distance of around 200 meters from the ISS.
At 21:52 Moscow Time (2:52 p.m. EDT), the Soyuz performed a roll maneuver aligning itself with the docking port on the Prichal.
However, during the final approach to the ISS, at around 21:53 Moscow Time (2:53 p.m. EDT) and a distance of around 200 meters, the Russian mission control in Korolev instructed Soyuz pilot Oleg Artemiev to switch to manual control. Around 22:00, Artemiev stabilized the vehicle at a distance of around 120 meters and then resumed the approach. After an additional station-keeping period at a distance of around three meters from the station, the successful docking took place in manual mode at 22:12:06 Moscow Time (3:12 p.m. EDT).
At the time of the Soyuz MS-21 launch on March 18, 2022, Roskosmos said that a total of seven spacewalks were planned for the crew. One would involve Oleg Artemiev and Samantha Cristoforetti and the rest would be with Denis Matveev. Sergei Korsakov would operate ERA, according to Roskosmos.
At the time of its launch, the Soyuz MS-21 was scheduled to remain in orbit for 195 days and return to Earth with the same crew on Sept. 29, 2022.
Soyuz MS-21 crew members:
Insignia of the Soyuz MS-21 mission. Credit: Roskosmos
Insignia of Expedition 67. Credit: Roskosmos
Final assembly of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket with Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos