Soyuz MS-17 | Soyuz 2.1a

 

Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)
October 14, 2020 – 05:45:04 UTC | 11:45:04 Kazakhstan time
Mission Name and what it is
Soyuz (“Saw-YOOZ”) MS-17, crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS)
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
RKK Energia / Roscosmos
Customer
(Who’s paying for this?)
Roscosmos and NASA
Rocket
Soyuz 2.1 a
Launch Location
Site 31/6, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Payload mass
7080 kg (15,610 pounds) (for the whole spacecraft)
Where did the spacecraft go?
To the ISS  (~410 km orbit at 51.6 degree inclination)
Were they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No – Soyuz rockets don’t have this capability
Where did the first stage land?
It crashed into the steppes of Kazakhstan
Were they be attempting to recover the fairings?
No
Were these fairings new?
Yes
This was be the:
– 107th flight of a Soyuz-2 rocket
– 11th mission for Roscosmos in 2020
– Final NASA paid seat on Soyuz Spacecraft (under current plans)
Where to watch

Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut covered this event with a live stream!

 

What’s all this mean?

Cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as part of the Soyuz (“Saw-YOOZ”) MS-17 mission. They traveled to Low Earth Orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS). This flight is Soyuz MS-17. This crew joins Expedition 63 on the ISS, taking the crew complement to 6. The current ISS crew will leave soon after, forming the start of Expedition 64. They will be joined two weeks later by SpaceX’ Crew 1 flight, raising the crew complement to 7.

On this flight, Roscosmos used their Fast Rendezvous technique for the first time for a crewed flight. This technique allows the Soyuz to reach the ISS in just two orbits, or about 3 hours. Previous flights that achieved this were applied only to Progress re-supply missions. Previous fast rendezvous flights managed to reach the ISS in 4 orbits i.e. 6 hours.

 

Soyuz MS-01 docked to the ISS
Soyuz MS-01 docked to the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Who are the Soyuz MS-17 crew?

Sergey Ryzhikov is the commander of flight MS-17, and will take over from Chris Cassidy as commander of the ISS. This is his second space flight. His previous spaceflight was to the ISS as part of Expedition 49/50.

Sergey Kud-Sverchkov is Flight Engineer 1 on this flight. This is his first flight into space.

Kathleen (Kate) Rubins is Flight Engineer 2 on this flight. This is her second space flight. Her previous flight was to the ISS as part of Expedition 48/49. So, she has shared time on board the ISS with Sergey Ryzhikov on their previous flights!

Under current NASA plans, this should be the last flight of a NASA astronaut that has been paid for with cash. Future NASA astronauts will only fly under equal ride sharing with Russian cosmonauts riding on NASA’s commercial crew flights in  exchange.

Sergey Ryzhikov
Sergey Ryzhikov (Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls)
Sergey Kud-Sverchkov
Sergey Kud-Sverchkov (Credit: NASA)
Kate Rubins
Kate Rubins (Credit: NASA / Josh Valcarcel)

What about the rocket?

Introduced in 1966, the Soyuz rocket (also known as R7) has been the workhorse of the Soviet/Russian space program. The first launch of the Soyuz 2-1a version on November 8, 2004 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome represented a major step in the Soyuz launch vehicle’s development program.

Evolution of the R7 / Soyuz rocket family
Evolution of the R7 / Soyuz rocket family (Credit: NASA / Peter Gorin / Emmanuel Dissais)

The crewed Soyuz version currently offered by Russia is a three-stage launch vehicle, which consists of:

  • four side boosters (booster stage)
  • a central core (first stage, which lights at the same time as the boosters)
  • an upper central stage
  • the Soyuz MS spacecraft itself

Side boosters

The side boosters’ RD-107A engines are powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, which are the same propellants used on each of the rocket stages. The kerosene tanks are located in the cylindrical part and the liquid oxygen tanks in the conical section. Each engine has four combustion chambers and four nozzles.

During side booster separation, the boosters perform a well-known pattern, in which they peel off and cartwheel outwards! This is known as the “Korolev cross”, named after Sergei Korolev, the Chief Design Engineer of the USSR space program in the 1960s.

Korolev cross during side booster stage separation on a Soyuz launch
“Korolev cross” seen during side booster stage separation on a Soyuz launch. (Credit: ESA)

Center core

The center core is fitted with an RD-108A engine, and also has four combustion chambers and four nozzles. It also has four vernier thrusters, used for three-axis flight control once the side boosters have separated. The upper stage engine’s thrust enables the stage to separate directly from the central core. This is called “hot staging”.

Upper stage

The upper stage uses either an RD-0110 engine in the Soyuz ST-A (2-1a) version, or an RD-0124 engine in the ST-B (2-1b) version. This flight is using a 2.1a vehicle, so in this case the stage has an RD-0110 engine.

RD-0110 Soyuz third stage engine
RD-0110 rocket engine (Credit: Andrew Butko under Creative Commons license)

What about the spacecraft?

The Soyuz MS spacecraft is the latest version of Russia’s long-standing three-person spacecraft. Soyuz capsules first flew in the 1960s. The spacecraft external appearance is largely unchanged over this time. However, the internal systems and capabilities have been upgraded many times.

The Soyuz MS variant is one of the versions from the fourth generation of this spacecraft. Its first flight was in 2006. Soyuz consists of three sections:

  • the orbital module
  • the descent module
  • the service module

The orbital module

This is the forward section of the spacecraft, the part that docks to the ISS. It is the part of the spacecraft where the crew spends most of their time on orbit. It has more living room than the descent module. On the Progress uncrewed resupply missions, this is replaced by a cargo module.

The descent module

This is the middle section of the spacecraft. It is the only part that returns intact to Earth ground level. This is where the crew will sit during the launch and the reentry. They will be wearing spacesuits in case of capsule depressurization. There is very little room for the crew of three in this module. On the Progress uncrewed resupply missions, this is replaced by a refueling module that can transfer fuel into the Russian segment. This can then be used by thrusters on the ISS to boost its orbit.

Inside the descent module
Inside the descent module (Credit: NASA)

The service module

This is the aft (rear) section of the spacecraft. It provides the main engine used for maneuvring on orbit and the thrusters for fine control during docking and departure. Also, it also contains the life support system for environmental control of the rest of the spacecraft. In addition, it also supports the solar panels and various radio communication systems.

1 comment
  1. Are there any details about Roscosmos’ Fast Rendezvous technique? Is it just very precise launch timing?

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