Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Soyuz 19S capsule returns to Earth with station crew landing in Kazakhstan

Three astronauts, outgoing space station commander Frank De Winne, cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk, who helped form the first six-person resident crew aboard the International Space Station finished their mission and returned to Earth on Tuesday, December 1st, capping a half-year in orbit by landing inside 19S Soyuz descent capsule.

The Soyuz 19S (TMA-15) undocked from the International Space Station, Russian Segment, Functional Cargo Block (FGB) nadir docking port at GMT 335/03:56:00. Prior to the undocking, the crew performed leaks checks of the vestibule area between the FGB nadir docking port and the Soyuz vehicle, suit leak checks and a leak check of the hatch between the descent module and the habitation module.

The undock command, which initiates the opening of the Soyuz vehicle docking hooks, was issued at GMT 335/03:53:00. Three minutes after the separation a fifteen second separation burn was performed by the Soyuz vehicle. After undocking, the Soyuz vehicle Motion Control System was loaded with the descent set points.

The de-orbit burn was initiated at GMT 335/06:26:01. Module separation occurred at approximately GMT 335/06:49:55 followed by atmospheric entry at approximately GMT 335/06:52:50. After parachute deployment initial contact was established with the crew at approximately GMT 335/07:00:00 and they reported a nominal entry profile, with a comment from the crew reporting about a six second overshoot.

The Russian Search and Rescue Forces reported initial communication with the crew indicating to be in good condition. The Russian SAR Ground Forces reported initial visual observations of the vehicle at GMT 335/07:16:00. Following the initial observation the Soyuz vehicle landed at approximately GMT 335/07:17. The vehicle was reported to have landed in an upright position about 50 miles northeast of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, about three hours and 20 minutes after undocking from the International Space Station.

It was the first December landing of a Soyuz since 1990 but the Russians said the weather was acceptable for a safe descent. Monitoring the re-entry and landing from the ISS were Expedition 22 commander Jeffrey Williams and flight engineer Maxim Suraev, who arrived at the outpost in early October.

"Four more months, guys, then it's your turn," De Winne said before departing. "Have a good flight. It's wonderful in space, enjoy it".

The undocking of 19S means the successful conclusion of Increment 21 and, in particular for the European Space Agency, of the OasIIS mission.

With the departure of Romanenko, Thirsk and Belgium's De Winne, the European Space Agency's first station commander, the ISS was left in the hands of Williams and Suraev, the first time since July 2006 the station has been staffed by just two crew members. But the solitude will not last long. Three more crew members - cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, NASA flight engineer Timothy Creamer and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi - are scheduled for launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft on the 20th of December. Docking is expected two days later.