The next trio of crew members destined for the International Space Station is now looking forward to a Thursday arrival at the orbiting laboratory after their Soyuz spacecraft was unable to complete its third thruster burn to fine-tune its approach.
Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Steve Swanson of NASA are in good spirits aboard the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft, and their colleagues already aboard the station were informed of the new plan. Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio of NASA and Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos were expecting their new crewmates to dock at 11:05 p.m. EDT Tuesday night, but now will need to wait a little longer.
Flight controllers in the Mission Control Center outside Moscow are now reverting to a backup 34-orbit rendezvous, which would result in an arrival and docking at 7:58 p.m. Thursday, March 27. Rendezvous experts are reviewing the plan, and may update it later as necessary. Docking will be at the station’s Poisk docking module.
This longer rendezvous and docking pattern was the standard rendezvous profile until last year; this would have been the fifth rendezvous using the accelerated timeline. The last two-day rendezvous was Expedition 34, which launched on Dec. 19, 2012, and docked to the station on Dec. 21, 2012. That Soyuz crew included NASA’s Tom Marshburn, the Canadian Space Agency’s Chris Hadfield and Roscosmos’ Roman Romanenko. The first same-day rendezvous and docking was Expedition 35, which launched on March 28, 2013, and docked to the station March 29. That crew included NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos’ Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin.
Flight controllers in Moscow are reviewing data to determine the reason the third thruster burn did not occur. In conversations between flight controllers in Moscow and Houston, initial information indicates the problem may have been the spacecraft was not in the proper attitude, or orientation, for the burn.
Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev are scheduled to return home in September as Expedition 40 crew members. They will officially become Expedition 40 when Expedition 39 crew members Wakata, Mastracchio and Tyurin end their mission and undock in their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft in May for their return to Earth.