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Soyuz-2 completes its mission

Despite the failed docking on Oct. 26, 1968, Soyuz 7K-OK vehicles No. 11 and No. 10 had continued their test missions. Vehicle No. 11, eventually identified as Soyuz-2, landed on October 28, while Georgy Beregovoi continued his flight aboard Soyuz-3, as mission control worked hard to keep busy after a depressing start.

Previous chapter: Launch of Soyuz-3 and rendezvous attempt with Soyuz-2


Georgy Beregovoi works aboard Soyuz-3.

Official announcement

After Georgy Beregovoi had entered orbit on October 26, the official Soviet press announced the launch of the Soyuz-3 and the Soyuz-2 spacecraft. There was no hint in the official reports about any problem in flight, instead, the announcement implied that Soyuz-3 had performed a planned rendezvous with Soyuz-2 without docking. (50)

In the meantime, behind the scene, key officials, who had attended the launch in Tyuratam, arrived at the NIP-16 ground station near Evpatoria, Crimea, and crowded into its the main control room. Trying not to distract the stress-filled ongoing work of flight controllers with two spacecraft, the managers of the facility organized detailed briefings for the new arrivals on the status of the dual mission. (466)

Probably based on that briefing, Mishin made notes in the early hours of October 27 (around 1 a.m.) in Evpatoria. His records indicated that the two spacecraft came to a distance of around 40 meters under manual control, but the misalignment on the roll axis prevented the docking. Mishin's deputy Evgeny Bashkin suggested that it could have happened either due to the error on the part of the pilot, who had failed to correct the severe banking of the spacecraft, or the wrong installation of navigation lights on the target vehicle, which could confuse the pilot about the orientation of the ship. (774)

Despite the overuse of propellant in one sub-set of tanks, the analysis showed that the "active" vehicle (Soyuz-3) could stay aloft for its nominal 59-orbit flight on the condition of one orbit correction (to get into the landing window), while the "passive" ship could fly a 50-orbit mission without any corrections required. (774)

Kamanin talked to Beregovoi during the 14th orbit of his flight, probably soon after the cosmonaut began his second day in orbit. He was still very much at loss over the failed docking and Kamanin along with Mishin tried to cheer him up and switch his attention to other tasks. On instructions from mission control, Beregovoi successfully conducted manual orientation of the spacecraft, and, he then put it in the routine spin-stabilization mode, which the cosmonaut conducted "sharply and with big propellant savings," according to Kamanin.

Kamanin also noted a lot of improvements in UHF communications with the spacecraft and much better quality of TV pictures from orbit than in all previous missions. He could see not just Beregevoi's face but even discern characters the cosmonaut was writing in his journal. (820)

At 10:25 on October 27, another technical meeting was apparently held on the status of the dual flight after 32 orbits (for Soyuz-2). The flight of the unpiloted Vehicle No. 11 (Soyuz-2) checked out as normal, but the data indicated a 15-percent drop in relative humidity aboard Beregovoi's Soyuz-3. Still, Beregovoi reported good conditions in the cabin. (774) (On the same day, Kamanin noted in his diary that humidity inside Soyuz-3 had come back to normal.)(820)

One of key tasks for mission control on October 27, was an attempt to maneuver the unpiloted Soyuz-2 in space using astro-orientation, or AO mode. However, during the exercise, the 45K tracker had failed to find and lock in on the correct star, and as a result, the spacecraft kept spinning until it exhausted its attitude control propellant from the DO-1 tank sub-section. According to Kamanin, the decision was made to uninstall 45K star trackers from future Soyuz missions. (820)

As of Orbit 35 (on October 27), the telemetry showed following propellant supplies on the two ships:

Subset of tanks
Vehicle No. 11 (Soyuz-2)
Vehicle No. 10 (Soyuz-3)
10 kilograms
19 kilograms
19 kilograms
85 kilograms
7.5 kilograms
158 meters per second
170 meters per second

The situation was complicated by the fact that all the data on the performance of the AO exercise recorded aboard Soyuz-2 was then downlinked to a secondary ground station in Sary Shagan, Kazakhstan, under the premise of keeping the primary NIP-16 station in Crimea available for dumping the latest data from Soyuz-3, apparently including the latest on the failed docking. To deal with both problems, two investigative teams had been formed: one focused on Soyuz-2 and another to look into the failed docking and keeping Beregovoi busy for the rest of the mission. (466)

Mishin listed a group of specialists to investigate the situation during docking. It was chaired by Evgeny Bashkin and also included:

  • Armen Mnatsakanyan;
  • Nikolai Kuznetsov;
  • Vladimir Shatalov;
  • Anatoly Zhivov;
  • Boris Volynov;
  • Aleksei Yeliseev;
  • Petr Bratslavets.

The immediate idea was to make blinking and steady lights on the spacecraft of different colors to facilitate the orientation of the pilot aboard the interceptor vehicle. (774)

During Orbit 38 (also on October 27 at 18:42 Moscow Time) the two ships were expected to pass each other at a minimum distance, but Beregovoi could make any major maneuvers due to lack of propellant. In the meantime, mission control prepared for further communications sessions with Soyuz-3 on October 27, during Orbit 38, and in the early hours of October 28, during orbits 45 and 46:

Window opens
Window closes
Orbit 38
18:44 Moscow Time
18:53 Moscow Time
Orbit 45
04:47 Moscow Time
04:58 Moscow Time
Orbit 46
06:18 Moscow Time
06:30 Moscow Time

The review of the flight status between Orbits 28 and 38 indicated that the AO attitude control mode did not work on Vehicle No. 11 (Soyuz-2), due to failure of sensors to track the necessary star. Still, the spacecraft conducted orbit correction with the help of ion orientation, known as the IO mode. In the meantime, Beregovoi aboard Soyuz-3 apparently conducted some kind of (military) experiments for identifying targets in space. (774)

The landing of Soyuz-2 was scheduled during its 49th orbit on October 28, in unpopulated flatlands near the city of Karaganda in Kazakhstan. The firing of the braking engine was scheduled at 10:25:00 Moscow Time followed by the separation of the Descent Module at 10:51:36 Moscow Time. (774)

The Stage Commission dispatched Air Force generals Sheulov and Goreglyad, as well as cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolaev to Karaganda to meet Beregovoi and accompany him back to the Tyuratam launch site after his landing in the same region. (820)

October 28: Soyuz-2 lands

At 6:00 on October 28, mission control initiated another communications session with Beregovoi (during Orbit 46). He said that he had tracked three forest fires in Siberia.

Then, at 8:30, mission control conducted a pre-landing meeting on the status of Soyuz-2, which confirmed the upload of the descent sequence commands to the spacecraft. It included the activation of the infra-red, IKV, and ion-based attitude control system, which put Soyuz-2 into the right orientation for the firing of the SKDU propulsion system to push it from orbit. The forecast at the landing zone predicted good weather with cloud cover at an altitude of 500 meters and winds below 10 meters per second.

At the time, all systems on both ships were reported performing well and the cosmonaut was also in good shape. (774)

The post-landing telemetry showed that Soyuz-2 completed its braking maneuver at 10:27:09 Moscow Time and that the Descent Module had separated at 10:51:04 Moscow Time. The capsule landed near the village Maiburnak, some 70 kilometers southwest of city of Karaganda. The landing was successful, but around 45 kilometers short of the projected point. (820) Mishin ordered an analysis of the apparent systematic deviation of the touchdown during an aerodynamic descent. (774)

Kamanin oversaw the landing and General Kutasin led the search and rescue operations. This time, search teams (previously much criticized by Kamanin) managed to deploy in the landing area fast enough for photographers and camera personnel to image the capsule of Soyuz-2 still in the air under a parachute. The first helicopter landed by the Descent Module eight minutes after its touchdown. According to Kamanin, it was best result for Kutasin and his team. Afanasiev, Keldysh and Mishin were also impressed and Kamanin announced congratulations to the search and rescue service on behalf of the State Commission.

Next chapter: Soyuz-3 continues its mission

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The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: October 31, 2018

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 30, 2018

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Possible images of the Soyuz-2 landing. Credit: Roskosmos