Soyuz Docking with ISS Delayed Until Thursday

Soyuz Docking with ISS Delayed Until Thursday

Russia’s Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft launched on schedule this evening at 5:17 pm EDT, but instead of docking with the International Space Station six hours later, it will be stretched out to two days because an engine burn did not take place as planned.

Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut are aboard the spacecraft.  They are fine.   Until quite recently, Soyuz spacecraft always used the two-day rendezvous profile to reach the ISS and Russian space stations before that.    The new, shorter 6-hour rendezvous was introduced just last year and was used successfully four times.  The Soyuz is a small spacecraft and the shorter trip was proving a much more comfortable start to these space missions, but the traditional two-day rendezvous remains a back-up procedure.

The crew now is scheduled to dock with the ISS at 7:58 pm EDT on Thursday, March 27.   The Soyuz TMA-12M crew consists of Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA’s Steve Swanson.  Skvortsov and Swanson are veteran space travelers; Artemyev is a rookie.

Russian flight controllers do not know what went wrong with the third of three engine burns needed to put Soyuz into the right orbit for the docking.   NASA is standing up ground stations at Wallops Island, VA, White Sands, NM, and Armstrong Flight Research Center (formerly Dryden), CA to aid in communicating with the spacecraft during the two-day rendezvous period to enable better communications with the crew and hopefully in diagnosing what went wrong.  NASA states on its space station website that initial indications are that the Soyuz spacecraft was not in the proper attitude for the burn.

The launch itself appeared perfect.  The Soyuz rocket lifted off from the launch pad right on schedule at  5:17 pm EDT, which was 3:17 am March 26 local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan — a beautiful night launch.

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