Soyuz taxi crew en route to space station
Posted: October 29, 2002

A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in dense fog. Credit: ESA TV/Spaceflight Now
A new Soyuz lifeboat for the international space station was successfully launched tonight from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan. Carrying two Russian cosmonauts and a Belgian astronaut representing the European Space Agency, the Soyuz TMA spacecraft blasted off on time at 10:11 p.m. EST, rocketing away through heavy fog and quickly disappearing from view.

Live television from inside the spacecraft, available in the United States through an ESA webcast, showed the cosmonauts calmly following their checklists as the Soyuz vehicle accelerated into space. There were no apparent technical problems and the ship slipped into orbit eight minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff. Moments later, the spacecraft's two solar panels and antennas deployed as planned.

If all goes well, commander Sergei Zalyotin, flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov and Belgian Frank DeWinne will dock with the international space station at midnight Thursday (12:00 a.m. EST Nov. 1).

This evening's launching carried a bit more drama than usual because of the catastrophic failure of a similar unmanned Soyuz booster two weeks ago, presumably due to contamination in its propellant system. Russian space officials cleared the manned Soyuz-FG booster for launch after implementing additional tests and inspections.

A television view inside the new Soyuz TMA capsule moments after liftoff. Credit: ESA TV/Spaceflight Now
The Soyuz serves as the space station's lifeboat, providing the lab's three-person crews with a way to bail out in the event of an emergency. The lifeboats are certified for about six months in space and the one currently docked to the station's Zarya module is nearing the end of its 200-day lifetime.

The spacecraft launched this evening is the first "TMA" model, featuring larger seats and other changes needed to accommodate taller crew members, expanding the pool of astronauts and cosmonauts who can make long-duration flights aboard the space station. The Soyuz TMA can now be used by 95 percent of NASA's astronaut corps, agency officials say. Here is a bit of background from spacecraft-builder Energia:

The Soyuz TMA manned transport spacecraft is a modification of Soyuz TM spacecraft distinguished for a high reliability and safety of flight for the crew which is proven by all the launches of the spacecraft implemented in the period of years 1986 -2002 for the purposes of servicing orbital stations.

The basic modifications of the Soyuz TM spacecraft are connected with implementation of requirements for enlargement of crew anthropometric parameter range up to the values acceptable for the American astronaut contingent, and with increase of crew protection level from shock loads by decreasing landing speeds and improving shock-absorption of its chairs.

To denote the modification of this spacecraft in design and general technical documentation, the name "Soyuz TMA" (anthropometric) was adopted.

For implementation of the above requirements on the baseline Soyuz TM spacecraft the following basic modifications in layout, design and onboard systems of the descent module (DM) were made without increase of its dimensions:

  • Three newly developed long Kazbek-UM amortization chairs with new four-mode dampers that provide chair adjustment, depending on the astronaut mass.

  • A re-arrangement of equipment was made in the areas above and below DM chairs which allows one to accommodate longer chairs and astronauts with increased anthropometry and to enlarge the passage area through the access hatch. In particular, a new control panel decreased in height, a new cooling-drying assembly, data storage system and other new or modified systems are installed.

  • On the DM primary structure in the area of right and left chair footrests the cavities were stamped about 30 mm deep that allowed big cosmonauts and their long chairs to be accommodated. Correspondingly, the primary structure and the routing of pipes and cables were changed.

  • A minimum of modification was made to elements of DM primary structure, instrument frame and brackets. The crew cabin was "cleared" as far as possible from projecting elements - one moved them to more convenient places, remade a valves unit of the spacesuit oxygen supply system.

  • Two (of 6 single-mode) soft landing engines (SLE) were replaced with two new three-mode engines (SLE-M).

  • For reduction of measurement errors the Kaktus-1V gamma-altimeter was replaced with a new Kaktus-2V instrument.

Zalyotin, flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov and Frank DeWinne, representing the European Space Agency, plan to remain aboard the space station until Nov. 9, returning to Earth aboard the old Soyuz.

For the station's current crew - Expedition 5 commander Valery Korzun, flight engineer Sergei Treschev and science officer Peggy Whitson - the taxi crew's departure will kick off a busy few days of work and sleep shifting to prepare for arrival of the shuttle Endeavour, carrying a replacement crew and a 14.5-ton solar array truss segment.

Endeavour currently is targeted for launch between midnight and 4 a.m. on Nov. 10. But the flight could slip a day to give Korzun's crew a bit more time to prepare. An official launch date is expected following a flight readiness review Thursday. Depending on the actual launch date, Endeavour will return to Earth Nov. 20 or 21, bringing Korzun and his crewmates home after nearly 170 days in space.

But first, the Soyuz taxi crew must deliver the station's new lifeboat.

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