Soyuz Conducts Two Engine Burns, AOK for Docking Thursday Night

Soyuz Conducts Two Engine Burns, AOK for Docking Thursday Night

Experts are still analyzing why the third engine burn of the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft did not take place as scheduled last night, but two more engine burns were conducted today and systems appear to be operating normally.  The crew is fine and the rescheduled docking with the International Space Station (ISS) remains on track for 7:58 pm EDT tomorrow night (March 27).

Soyuz TMA-12M lifted off from its pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as planned at 5:17 pm EDT last night on its way to dock with the ISS just under six hours later.  The Soyuz must complete a series of engine burns to put the spacecraft onto the right trajectory to reach the ISS and the third burn did not occur.  

The six-hour (four orbit) approach to the ISS is new.  Typically, the Soyuz takes 34 orbits over a two-day period to reach the ISS.  Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, and NASA designed this shorter, expedited trajectory so the crew does not need to remain in the small spacecraft for longer than necessary and can begin work on the ISS as quickly as possible.  They began using it last year and it has been used successfully four times.  They are still diagnosing what went wrong last night.

The Soyuz still needs to execute engine burns to reach the ISS and the fact that two were successfully completed today indicated that the engine itself is in good working order.  NASA’s ISS Mission Integration Operations Manager Kenny Todd sounded confident in an interview on NASA TV that the rest of the trip to the ISS will go smoothly.  He repeated what NASA posted on its website last night that the burn did not take place because the attitude (orientation) of the Soyuz spacecraft could not be confirmed.  The question they need to answer is why that happened.

Todd also said that SpaceX’s cargo mission to the ISS, planned for Sunday, will not be affected by the delayed docking.

The three crew members aboard the Soyuz TMA-12M are Russia’s Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA’s Steve Swanson.

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