Soyuz TMA Spacecraft
A Soyuz space capsule took the first crew to the International Space Station in November 2000. Since that time, at least one Soyuz has always been at the station, generally to serve as a lifeboat should the crew have to return to Earth unexpectedly. After the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the Soyuz TMA became the sole means of transportation for crew members going to or returning from the orbiting laboratory. At least one Russian Soyuz spacecraft is always docked to the space station. In addition, there is usually one or more resupply spacecraft attached to the station. The station is well supplied with docking and berthing ports for all these types of vehicles.
The Soyuz TMA spacecraft is a replacement for the Soyuz TM, which was used from May 1986 to November 2002 to take astronauts and cosmonauts to Mir and then to the International Space Station beginning in November 2000. The TMA increases safety, especially in descent and landing. It has smaller and more efficient computers and improved displays. In addition, the Soyuz TMA accommodates individuals as large as 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 209 pounds, compared to 6 feet and 187 pounds in the earlier TM. Minimum crewmember size for the TMA is 4 feet, 11 inches and 110 pounds, compared to 5 feet, 4 inches and 123 pounds for the TM.
Two new engines reduce landing speed and forces felt by crewmembers by 15 to 30 percent and a new entry control system and three-axis accelerometer increase landing accuracy. Instrumentation improvements include a color "glass cockpit," which is easier to use and gives the crew more information, with hand controllers that can be secured under an instrument panel. All the new components in the Soyuz TMA can spend up to one year in space.
New components and the entire TMA were rigorously tested on the ground, in hangar-drop tests, in airdrop tests and in space before the spacecraft was declared flight-ready. For example, the accelerometer and associated software, as well as modified boosters (incorporated to cope with the TMA's additional mass), were tested on flights of Progress unpiloted supply spacecraft, while the new cooling system was tested on two Soyuz TM flights.
Descent module structural modifications, seats and seat shock absorbers were tested in hangar drop tests. Landing system modifications, including associated software upgrades, were tested in a series of airdrop tests. Additionally, extensive tests of systems and components were conducted on the ground.
The Orbital Module is used by the crew while on orbit during free-flight. It has a volume of 230 cubic feet, with a docking mechanism, hatch and rendezvous antennas located at the front end. The docking mechanism is used to dock with the space station and the hatch allows entry into the station. The rendezvous antennas are used by the automated docking system -- a radar-based system -- to maneuver towards the station for docking. There is also a window in the module. The opposite end of the Orbital Module connects to the Descent Module via a pressurized hatch. Before returning to Earth, the Orbital Module separates from the Descent Module -- after the deorbit maneuver -- and burns up upon re-entry into the atmosphere.
The Descent Module is where the cosmonauts and astronauts sit for launch, re-entry and landing. All the necessary controls and displays of the Soyuz are located here. The module also contains life support supplies and batteries used during descent, as well as the primary and backup parachutes and landing rockets. It also contains custom-fitted seat liners for each crew member's couch/seat, which are individually molded to fit each person's body -- this ensures a tight, comfortable fit when the module lands on the Earth. When crewmembers are brought to the station aboard the space shuttle, their seat liners are brought with them and transferred to the existing Soyuz spacecraft as part of crew handover activities.
The module has a periscope, which allows the crew to view the docking target on the station or the Earth below. The eight hydrogen peroxide thrusters located on the module are used to control the spacecraft's orientation, or attitude, during the descent until parachute deployment. It also has a guidance, navigation and control system to maneuver the vehicle during the descent phase of the mission. This module weighs 6,393 pounds, with a habitable volume of 141 cubic feet. Approximately 110 pounds of payload can be returned to Earth in this module and up to 331 pounds if only two crewmembers are present. The Descent Module is the only portion of the Soyuz that survives the return to Earth.
The intermediate compartment is where the module connects to the Descent Module. It also contains oxygen storage tanks and the attitude control thrusters, as well as electronics, communications and control equipment. The primary guidance, navigation, control and computer systems of the Soyuz are in the instrumentation compartment, which is a sealed container filled with circulating nitrogen gas to cool the avionics equipment.
The propulsion compartment contains the primary thermal control system and the Soyuz radiator, which has a cooling area of 86 square feet. The propulsion system, batteries, solar arrays, radiator and structural connection to the Soyuz launch rocket are located in this compartment. The propulsion compartment contains the system that is used to perform any maneuvers while in orbit, including rendezvous and docking with the Space Station and the deorbit burns necessary to return to Earth. The propellants are nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetric-dimethylhydrazine. The main propulsion system and the smaller reaction control system, used for attitude changes while in space, share the same propellant tanks.
The two Soyuz solar arrays are attached to either side of the rear section of the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module and are linked to rechargeable batteries. Like the Orbital Module, the intermediate section of the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module separates from the Descent Module after the final deorbit maneuver and burns up in atmosphere upon re-entry.
The rendezvous and docking are both automated, although once the spacecraft is within 492 feet of the Station, the Russian Mission Control Center just outside Moscow monitors the approach and docking. The Soyuz crew has the capability to manually intervene or execute these operations.
The Soyuz TMA-11, returning from its mission on April 19, 2008, faced the same problems as its predecessor, the Soyuz 5, in 1969 — its service module failed to separate during the reentry stage, causing the spacecraft to face the wrong direction. However, as with the 1969 incident, the module separated itself later and the capsule managed to successfully land. Still, the rough landing left South Korean astronaut Yi So-Yeon with minor neck injuries and bruises.
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