roscosmos (russian federal space agency)

50th space station expedition returns to Earth in textbook landing.

After more than 173 days in space and 2,768 orbits of the Earth, the crew of Expedition 50 returned to Earth Monday, April 10. NASA Astronaut Shane Kimbrough along with Cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko undocked the International Space Station at 3:57am EDT to begin their journey home. 

The Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft performed a deorbit burn at 6:28am, jettisoned the Orbital and Service modules 30 minutes later, and landed at approximately 7:20am. Landing occurred in the Soyuz’s prime landing zone in the steppes of  Kazakhstan.

Unlike other spacecraft that return to Earth, Soyuz is equipped with six small thrusters that fire less than a second before touchdown to ensure a softer landing. These thrusters are covered by the capsule’s heat shield during flight, which is jettisoned shortly after the main parachute is deployed.

The thrusters can be seen in the gif above, which is a compilation of images taken by NASA chief photographer Bill Ingalls (@ingallsimages ) from an airborne recovery helicopter.

Soyuz’s return to Earth not only ended the 50th expedition to the orbiting laboratory since 2000 but also the temporary reduction of the station’s crew to three. Expedition 51 crewmembers Peggy Whitson, Thomas Pesquet, and Oleg  Novitskiy will remain the station’s sole residents until the Soyuz MS-04 crew of Expedition 51/52 arrive on April 20.

However, due to reduced funding from Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, Soyuz MS-04 will only be carrying two crewmembers, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin. This lack of funding will reduce the station’s operational compliment to five for an undetermined period of time.

P/C: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

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Sojuz-FG

In the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft is lowered from its test stand to be encapsulated into the upper stage of a Soyuz booster rocket April 12 as technicians look on. The operation took place on the 56th anniversary of the launch of Yuri Gagarin from Baikonur to become the first human to fly in space. Expedition 51 crewmembers Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Jack Fischer of NASA will launch April 20 on the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from Baikonur for a four and a half month mission on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (Roscosmos)

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Expedition 46 Launch

The Soyuz TMA-19M rocket is launched with Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake will spend the next six-months living and working aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Expedition 42 Returns to Earth

The Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is seen as it lands with International Space Station Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. The landing took place on the evening of Wednesday, March 11 in the U.S, and early in the morning on Thursday, March 12, in Kazakhstan. The three crew members returned to Earth after a 167-day mission on the orbital outpost that included hundreds of scientific experiments and several spacewalks to prepare the orbiting laboratory for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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Progress cargo ship malfunctioning, spinning in orbit.

After its nine minute climb into orbit a 3:09 AM EDT, the Progress M-27M cargo spacecraft was supposed to begin a series of orbital maneuvers that would have culminated in a space station rendezvous six hours later.

However, shortly after deploying its solar arrays in its initial parking orbit, Russian ground controllers began to receive telemetry that indicated all was not well on the spacecraft.

The KURS docking radar antenna had not deployed, and multiple rate sensor failures. The rate sensors are part of both the primary and secondary KURS rendezvous systems and essentially monitors the spacecraft’s motion in space. The video above, downlinked during a brief communication period, shows the spacecraft spinning in orbit.

Since the Russians do not operate a dedicated satellite communication system for their missions - like NASA’s TDRS, controllers must wait for the spacecraft to pass over Russian ground stations before attempts at communication can be made.

The official cause of Progress’ spin is undetermined, but the fault could lie in both the spacecraft or the Soyuz rocket that lofted it. An investigation will be started to ensure that the cause will not affect other Progress or Soyuz vehicles.  Russian controllers are skeptical the spacecraft can be salvaged and brought to the International Space Station.

Progress M-27M was bringing just under three tons of supplies to the orbiting complex. While none of its cargo was vital to the station’s operation or crew member’s lives, the loss of the vehicle - and the delay this will cause in the Progress manifest - will begin to cut into the station’s reserves. Additionally, with Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle being retired earlier this year and Orbital Science’s Cygnus still grounded after last October’s Antares rocket explosion, only two vessels can now being supplies to the orbiting lab.

Japan’s HTV is slated for an August launch, but only averages one flight per year. The grunt of the cargo deliveries will fall on the shoulders of SpaceX and their Dragon capsule. Their sixth resupply mission is currently berthed to the complex, and CRS-7 is scheduled for mid-June.

The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, could launch a replacement Progress vehicle in as little as 45 days provided the investigation board does not find fault in any subsequent vehicles.

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201503240023hq & 201503240004hq (03/24/2015) — The Soyuz rocket and Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft are assembled at Building 112 on the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2015 in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan March 27.

Expedition 43 Soyuz Blessing

An Orthodox Priest blesses Sergey Semchenko of the Russian Search and Recovery Forces after having blessed the Soyuz rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome Launch pad on Thursday, March 26, 2015 in Kazakhstan. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan March 28, Kazakh time (March 27 Eastern time.) As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016. Photo Credit (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

After spending nearly six months on the International Space Station, an astronaut and two cosmonauts have landed safely back on Earth. While in orbit, they traveled almost 71 million miles, NASA says.

Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA and flight engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) touched down in Kazakhstan Thursday morning, local time.

In this beautiful image the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is seen as it descends toward Earth.

Space Station Astronauts Make Safe Landing In Kazakhstan

Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

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The Soyuz rocket and Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft are assembled at Building 112 on the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan March 28, Kazakh time (March 27 Eastern time.) As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016. Photo Credit: (NASA/Victor Zelentsov)

Expedition 39 Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA is helped out of the Soyuz capsule just minutes after he and Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) landed in their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 9:58 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 (7:58 a.m. Wednesday, Kazakh time). Wakata, Tyurin and Mastracchio returned to Earth after more than six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 38 and 39 crews.

Expedition 40 Soyuz TMA-12M Landing

Ground support personnel are seen at the landing site after the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft landed with Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev returned to Earth after more than five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 39 and 40 crews.

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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The Soyuz TMA-19M rocket is launched with Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake will spend the next six-months living and working aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

by NASA Johnson

The Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is seen as it lands with International Space Station Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. The landing took place on the evening of Wednesday, March 11 in the U.S, and early in the morning on Thursday, March 12, in Kazakhstan.

The three crew members returned to Earth after a 167-day mission on the orbital outpost that included hundreds of scientific experiments and several spacewalks to prepare the orbiting laboratory for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft.

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Expedition 46 Soyuz Assembly

The Soyuz rocket and Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft is seen after being assembled in Building 112 on the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015 in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Launch of the Soyuz is scheduled for Dec. 15 and will send Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) to the International Space Station for a six-month stay. Photo Credit: (NASA/Victor Zelentsov)

The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft is rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan March 28, Kazakh time (March 27 Eastern time.) As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016.