Russian astronauts to reshuffle spacecraft on the ISS to dock Soyuz

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Soyuz, a Russian spacecraft, has failed to dock in its planned module aboard the International Space Station last Saturday. However, Russia’s space agency is already making improvements and is set to try again on Monday.

On August 24, the Soyuz capsule was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the ISS. However, after its two-day flight, Soyuz encountered complications with its automated landing system, which prompted a single abort on the mission.

In particular, the launch from Earth was called a success, but the Soyuz MS-14 capsule ultimately called to stop the mission — as the spacecraft was scheduled to dock with the station’s Poisk module at about 1:30 a.m. ET. 

According to NASA live broadcast, the docking of Soyuz MS-14 was canceled when the spaceship was at a distance of only 60 meters from the ISS. 

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, indicated the problem was a result of its automated rendezvous system, called Kurs, which is used for navigation by visiting Russian vehicles on the ISS and not the spacecraft itself.

The spacecraft encountered a bad signal amplifier, which intercepted the communication of the spacecraft and its docking point. 

The space agency, in a brief statement after the aborted docking, said that the agency’s leader, Dmitry Rogozin, chaired a meeting to discuss the problem and determine the necessary fix.

Furthermore, in a unique instance, this was the first uncrewed Soyuz space flight since the capsule started bringing astronauts to space in its Soyuz TM-1 mission to the Mir space station in 1986.

“The unpiloted Soyuz is currently orbiting a safe distance from the ISS with all of its systems functioning normally,” NASA officials said in a statement Saturday. “The six crewmembers onboard the station were never in any danger during the initial rendezvous attempt.”

In light of the failed attempt, Roscosmos said that its cosmonauts aboard the ISS will replace the suspected signal amplifier over the weekend and will try to dock Soyuz again.

“In the early hours of Monday, we will carry out correction works on the Soyuz […] in the interest of performing the docking on Tuesday, August 27. It will take place around 8-9 a.m. Moscow time,” First Deputy General Designer of Russia’s Energia Space Rocket Corporation Vladimir Solovyev said.

Roscosmos now aims to dock the Soyuz spacecraft at the aft end of the outpost’s Russian-built Zvezda service module. However, this sets that space agency with a minor change in ISS operations because there’s already another spacecraft parked at the Zvezda port, which prompts a spaceship shuffle. 

The other spacecraft is Soyuz MS-13, which arrived at the space station July 20 with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. 

Roscosmos plans to move MS-13 to make way for MS-14 on Sunday night (August 25), with Skvortsov, Morgan, and Parmitano to manually move it to the space-facing Poisk module on the station’s Russian segment at 11:59 p.m. EDT.

If successful, the entire ordeal will happen on a short 25-minute flight to another station docking port which is 328 feet (100 meters) away from its original position.

Nonetheless, if Kurs continues to fail to dock MS-13 — where MS-14 was initially set to park automatically — there will be Skvortsov to take hold of the controls, unlike MS-14.

Mainly, Soyuz MS-14 is uncrewed because it partnered with a new launcher rocket called Soyuz 2.1a, which is set to replace its old booster rockets. Other reasons circumvent on safety concerns.

The spacecraft, however, has a humanoid robot called Fedor, which is attached with multiple sensors that will gauge what astronauts would feel with using the new booster.

The robot Fedor (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research or FEDOR) has been developed by Android Technology Company and the Advanced Research Fund on a technical assignment from Russia’s Emergencies Ministry.

The android robot has received its name of Skybot F-850, where the letter F stands for its affiliation with the Fedor family of robots

As for the remainder of the mission, Solovyev noted that if the attempt is successful, experts plan to return the aircraft to Earth on September 7, 2019. 

“We would like to maintain the return date – the early hours of September 7,” he said.

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