Space Station Trio Returns Safely to Earth for Rare Night Landing After 141 Day Mission

Scott Kelly of NASA captured this image, from aboard the International Space Station, of the Soyuz TMA-17M leaving the ISS on Dec. 11, 2015. Credits: NASA/Scott Kelly
Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA captured this image, from aboard the International Space Station, of the Dec. 11, 2015 undocking and departure of the Soyuz TMA-17M carrying home Expedition 45 crew members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency after their 141-day mission on the orbital laboratory. Newly arrived Cygnus cargo ship and solar panels seen at upper right. Credits: NASA/Scott Kelly
Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA captured this image, from aboard the International Space Station, of the Dec. 11, 2015 undocking and departure of the Soyuz TMA-17M carrying home Expedition 45 crew members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency after their 141-day mission on the orbital laboratory. Newly arrived Cygnus cargo ship and solar panels seen at upper right. Credits: NASA/Scott Kelly

Plummeting to Earth during a fiery atmospheric reentry within the cramped confines of their Russian Soyuz capsule, an international trio of space flyers returned safely to the Home Planet today, Dec. 11, for a rare nighttime landing, after departing the International Space Station (ISS) which had been their home in space for the past 141 days.

Expedition 45 crew members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) safely concluded their nearly Continue reading “Space Station Trio Returns Safely to Earth for Rare Night Landing After 141 Day Mission”

Who Was The First Man To Go Into Space?

Picture if you will two titanic powers struggling to see who will be the first to conquer space. Between them, they have the best scientists in the world, many of whom they “borrowed” from Germany after the Second World War. They are sparing no expense, and that includes the cost in lives, in order to be the first to get a human being into space.

Sound scary? Well, if you were an American astronaut or a Soviet cosmonaut in the 1960’s, it sure would be! But for men like Yuri Gagarin, the first man to go into man in space (and also the first man to orbit the Earth) the rewards would last a lifetime.

Early Life:

Like most heroes of the space age, Gagarin’s story began in his infancy. Born to Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina in the village of Klushino, Russia (Smolensky Oblast) on March 9th, 1934, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin began his life on a collective farm and witnessed some terrible things in his early years.

In 1941, the village was occupied by the Nazis, and the Gagarin family was forced to relocate to a mud hut on their property as a German officer took possession of their house. His two older siblings were deported to Poland for slave labor in 1943, and did not return until after the war in 1945.

Gagarin pictured in a Yak-18 trainer plane. Credit: rian.ru
Gagarin pictured in a Yak-18 plane, while training to become a pilot with the Soviet Air Force. Credit: rian.ru

Another version of Gagarin’s biography suggests that the family relocated east of the Urals ahead of the Nazi advance, and returned to the region after the war. In either case, by 1946, the family moved to the nearby town of Gzhatsk, where Gagarin continued his secondary education.

At the age of 16, Gagarin entered into an apprenticeship as a foundryman at the Lyubertsy Steel Plant near Moscow, and also enrolled at a local “young workers” school for seventh grade evening classes. After graduating in 1951, he was selected for further training at the Saratov Industrial Technical School.

While there, Gagarin volunteered for weekend training as a Soviet air cadet at a local flying club, where he learned to fly biplanes and the Yak-18 trainer. He graduated from technical school in 1955, and was drafted into the Soviet Army.

Pilot:

In 1957, he was sent to the First Chkalov Air Force Pilot’s School in Orenburg, where he trained on Mig-15 jet fighters. While there, he met Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva, a medical technician graduate of the Orenburg Medical School. The two were married on 7 November 1957, the same day Gagarin graduated from Orenburg.

launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). Credit: space.com
Gagarin pictured inside the cockpit of the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1) before being launched into orbit. Credit: Getty Images

By 1960, Gagarin had earned the rank of Senior Lieutenant and had come to the attention of the Soviet space program. After a rigorous selection process, he became one of 20 pilots selected to become a cosmonaut, and was further selected to be part of an elite training group known as the Sochi Six – from which the first cosmonauts of the Vostok program would be chosen.

Vostok Program:

Out of the twenty selected, Gagarin and fellow cosmonaut Gherman Titov were selected to be the first cosmonauts to go into space. This was due to a combination of factors, including their performance during training sessions, their height (since space was limited in the small Vostok cockpit), and by an anonymous vote by the members of the program.

Gagarin’s historic flight took place on April 12th, 1961, roughly one month before NASA was able to put a manned spacecraft of their own into space. His spaceship, the Vostok 1, weighing approximately 4700 kg (over 10,000 pounds), was quite primitive by modern standards. For starters, the craft wasn’t even piloted by Gagarin himself, mainly because the Russians had not yet tested the effects of weightlessness on any humans (only dogs!).

The actual flying was done by crews on the ground. It also had no maneuvering capabilities and consisted of a re-entry craft and service module. The cosmonaut was not even allowed to land in the re-entry craft because it was deemed too dangerous, and had to instead leave the craft and parachute to the ground.

Here the re-entry capsule of the Vostok 3KA-3 (also known as Vostok 1) spacecraft (Vostok 1) is seen with charring and its parachute on the ground after landing south west of Engels, in the Saratov region of southern Russia. Credit: space.com
The re-entry capsule of the Vostok 3KA-3 (Vostok 1) is seen with charring and its parachute on the ground after landing south west of Engels, in southern Russia. Credit: space.com

Gagarin’s flight began with his takeoff at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and ended with him parachuting safely to the ground in Kazakhstan one hour and forty-eight minutes later. During the flight, he was said to have been humming “The Motherland Hears, the Motherland Knows”, a patriotic song composed by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

According to western sources at the time, Gagarin was also rumored to have said “I don’t see any God up here” during his flight. However, the transcripts contradict this story, which appears to have been a reference to a remark Khrushchev had made after the flight and was falsely attributed to Gagarin. What he is known to have said during the flight was: “The Earth is blue… How wonderful. It is amazing.”

Retirement and Death:

Gagarin gained worldwide fame and recognition after the flight, touring Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan before returning home to Star City to continue his work with the Russian space program. He was no longer allowed into active service given his celebrity status, the government fearing that they might lose their poster boy in an accident.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to fly in space, as seen in 1968 before his death in a jet crash. Credit: RSC Energia
Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to fly in space, as seen in 1968 before his death in a jet crash. Credit: RSC Energia

This would prove to be an ironic decision, considering that seven years later, he died in an accident during a training flight. This occurred on March 27th, 1968, when Gagarin’s plane crashed and he and his instructor were killed. For many years, the circumstances surrounding the accident remained shrouded in mystery, and were the subject of much speculation and rumor.

In 2013, the truth about his death was finally revealed when the report detailing the incident was declassified. In an article that appeared on Russia Today, former cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov shared the details of the report, which indicated that the crash was the result of an unauthorized Su-15 fighter flying too close to Gagarin’s MiG, thus disrupting its flight and sending it into a spin.

Legacy:

In Russia, and around the world, Gagarin has gone down in history as one of the greatest astronauts/cosmonauts of all time and one of the biggest contributors to human space flight. For his accomplishments, he has been immortalized by numerous countries, and in countless ways.

The statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to fly in space, looms over the town square in Karaganda, Kazakhstan March 9 as officials prepared to commemorate him on his 80th birthday. Credit: NASA
The statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to fly in space, looms over the town square in Karaganda, Kazakhstan March 9 as officials prepared to commemorate him on his 80th birthday. Credit: NASA

In addition to commemorative coins, a hockey cup named in his honor and several commemorative stamps, he was given the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” – a privilege reserved only for a select few. Numerous statues have also been erected in his honor, such as the one that towers over the town square in Karaganda, Kazakhstan (shown above).

Since 1962, April 12th has been celebrated in the USSR, and later in Russia and other post-Soviet states, as the Cosmonautics Day, in honor of his historic flight. In 2011, it was declared the International Day of Human Space Flight by the United Nations. Since 2001, Yuri’s Night, an international celebration, is held every April 12th to commemorate milestones in space exploration.

The Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City was renamed the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in 1969, which was visited by Neil Armstrong during his tour of the Soviet Union.

The launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome from which Sputnik 1 and Vostok 1 were launched is now known as Gagarin’s Start. The village of Klushino where he was born was also renamed Gagarin in 1968 after his death, and his family’s house was converted into a museum.

Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, during his visit to France in 1963. Credit: Ria Novosti
Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, during his visit to France in 1963. Credit: Ria Novosti

But perhaps the most notable thing about Gagarin, for which he is remembered most fondly, is his smile. As Sergei Korolev – one of the masterminds behind the early Soviet space program – once said, Gagarin possessed a smile “that lit up the darkness of the cold war”.

We have written many articles about Yuri Gagarin for Universe Today. Here’s Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1, on the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight. And here’s Who was the First Woman to go into Space?, Alan Shepard: Complicated, Conflicted and the Consummate Astronaut, Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Passes Away, and Who was the First Dog to go into Space?

If you’d like more info on the Yuri Gagarin, check out the History of Human Spaceflight, and here’s a link to Yuri Gagarin, The First Man in Space.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Space Capsules. Listen here, Episode 124: Space Capsules, Part 1: Vostok, Mercury and Gemini.

Sources:

2nd Launch Disaster in 3 Weeks Strikes Russia, Destroying Proton Rocket and Mexican Comsat

Russian Proton rocket blasts off at 11:47 a.m. local time (1:47 a.m. EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan but ended in disaster about eight minutes later with destruction of the rocket and Mexican comsat satellite payload heading to orbit. Credit: Roscosmos
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For the second time in less than three weeks, a major disaster struck the Russian space program when the launch of a Proton-M rocket ended in catastrophic failure about eight minutes after today’s (May 16) liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, resulting in the complete destruction of the Mexican communications satellite payload.

The Proton-M rocket initially lifted off successfully at 11:47 a.m. local time (1:47 a.m. EDT, 547 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, but soon experienced an “emergency situation at 497 seconds into the flight,” according to a brief official statement released by Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency today, after the mishap.

The launch catastrophe was caused by a failure in the rockets Breeze-M third stage, says Roscosmos. It took place during a live broadcast from the agency’s website. A video shows the rocket disappearing into cloudy skies shortly after liftoff.

The failure comes just one week after the spinning, out-of-control Russian Progress 59 cargo freighter bound for the ISS met its undesired early demise when it fell uncontrolled from orbit last Friday, May 8, following its botched April 28 launch on a Russian Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket, also from Baikonur – as reported by Universe Today – here, here, and here.

The Proton-M carrier rocket was lofting the Mexsat 1 communications satellite, also known as Centenario, under a contract with the Mexican government.

“The failure happened on the 497th second of the flight, at an altitude of 161 kilometers [100 miles]. The third stage, the booster vehicle and the spacecraft almost completely burned up in the atmosphere. As of now there are no reports of debris reaching the ground,” the agency said in a statement.

Prelaunch view of Russian Proton rocket poised at launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.   Credit: Roscosmos
Prelaunch view of Russian Proton rocket poised at launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos

The Breeze-M third stage was to loft Mexsat 1 to its destination in geostationary orbit over 22,000 miles above Earth at 113 degrees west longitude.

The 58.2 m (191 ft) tall Proton rocket is built and operated by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center and marketed by International Launch Services (ILS).

After reaching an altitude of about 161 km (100 mi) the rocket and Mexsat 1 payload fell back to Earth and burned up over the Chita region of Russia, which is located south west of the Siberian Baikal region, said the Russian News agency TASS.

“The rocket and its payload, a Mexican communication satellite, burned up in the atmosphere,” according to a report by Sputnik International, a Russian News agency.

At this time, local residents have not reported or claimed anything regarding possible debris and there is no information about casualties or destruction, TASS noted.

Mi8 helicopters from Russia’s Emergencies Ministry have been dispatched to the area to look for any debris.

The 5.4 ton Mexsat 1 communication satellite was built by Boeing Satellite Systems International for the Mexican government’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation, the Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT).

Russian Proton rocket in flight after blast off at 11:47 a.m. local time (1:47 a.m. EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It ended in disaster about eight minutes later with destruction of the rocket and Mexican satellite payload heading to orbit.  Credit: Roscosmos
Russian Proton rocket in flight after blast off at 11:47 a.m. local time (1:47 a.m. EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It ended in disaster about eight minutes later with destruction of the rocket and Mexican satellite payload heading to orbit. Credit: Roscosmos

The Breeze-M failure occurred about 1 minute prior to separation of the third stage from Mexsat 1.

“The emergency situation happened at 08:56 Moscow time, one minute to the scheduled separation of the Breeze-M booster and the Mexican MexSat-1 space apparatus,” TASS reported.

A malfunction with the third stage steering engine may be the cause of the doomed flight.

“A preliminary reason of the accident with Proton is a failure of the steering engines of the third stage,” sources told TASS.

“The analysis of the telemetry allows for supposing that there was a failure in one of the third stage’s steering engines. This is now considered as one of the main reasons.”

Exactly one year ago, another Proton rocket crashed at a similar point when the third stage engines failed during the Proton launch of Russia’s advanced Express-AM4R satellite.

“Khrunichev and International Launch Services (ILS) regret to announce an anomaly during today’s Proton mission,” ILS said in a statement issued after the launch failure.

ILS said an accident investigation board has been appointed to determine the cause of the failure and recommend corrective actions.

“A Russian State Commission has begun the process of determining the reasons for the anomaly. ILS will release details when data becomes available,” said ILS.

They hope to return the workhorse Proton to flight as soon as possible.

“ILS remains committed to providing reliable, timely launch services for all its customers. To this end, ILS will work diligently with its partner Khrunichev to return Proton to flight as soon as possible.”

This was the eleventh failure of the Proton-M rocket or Breeze-M upper stage in 116 launches since the inaugural liftoff in April 2001.

Mexsat 1 had a planned lifetime of 15 years. It was to provide mobile satellite services to support national security, civil and humanitarian efforts and will provide disaster relief, emergency services, telemedicine, rural education, and government agency operations.

Media reports indicate it was insured for about $390 million.

File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos
File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Dramatic Soyuz Docking Averts Potential Station Abandonment

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A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying the first crew of humans to fly to space in the post Space Shuttle Era has successfully docked at the International Space Station early this morning, Nov. 16 at 12:24 a.m. EST, averting the potential of having to at least temporarily abandon the massive Earth orbiting research complex.

After an 11 year stretch of continuous human occupation, the future residency of humans aboard the ISS swung in the balance in the wake of a Russian Soyuz rocket failure in August that temporarily grounded all Soyuz launches – manned and unmanned – until the root cause was determined and satisfactorily rectified with NASA’s consent.

The very survival of the ISS hinged on the successful launch of a trio of Russian and American space flyers just 2 days ago from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 capsule, which took place amidst an unprecedented blizzard and white out conditions with near zero visibility.

The three man crew of Russian rookie cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin along with veteran NASA astronaut Dan Burbank arrived at the Poisk module of the orbiting outpost just in the nick of time – before the last three ISS crewmembers still aboard would have been forced to depart just 5 days from today leaving no humans aboard.

Soyuz TMA-22 approaches the International Space Station prior to docking at Poisk module on Nov 16 at 12:24 a.m. Credit: NASA TV

Luckily the Soyuz launch and automated rendezvous and linkup with the ISS flying some 400 km (248 miles) above the South Pacific proceeded flawlessly, announced Russian space officials at Mission Control in Moscow shortly after the successful docking. The event was carried live on NASA TV.

A full complement of 6 crew members was thus restored to the ISS, but the handover period will be exceedingly short because the Soyuz TMA-22 launch was postponed from September 22 due to the Soyuz rocket failure in August carrying the unmanned Progress cargo resupply vessel.

The new trio joins the current Expedition 29 residents comprising ISS Commander Mike Fossum (NASA) and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa (Japan) and Sergei Volkov (Russia). But Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov will depart on Monday, Nov. 21, and thereby reduce the station crew population back down to three.

“The crew will have a very busy time during the short handover period,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operation Directorate, who was present in Moscow.

“I want to thank our Russian colleagues for a tremendous job. It’s great to have six people back aboard the ISS,” Gerstenmaier said.

The newly arrived crew is expected to stay at the ISS for about five months and carry out a wide range of science experiments.

After closing the hooks and latches, removing the docking probe and conducting extensive pressure and leak checks, Shkaplerov, Ivanishin and Burbank opened the hatches and floated into the ISS to join their awaiting friends friends with a big round of bear hugs and greetings at about 2:39 a.m. EST today, Nov 16.

“Its great to see all six of you together up there,” radioed Gerstenmaier after the hatch opening.

“It’s was a great ride uphill and it will be a great stay up here,” Burbank replied.

The cosmonauts children exuberantly said “Hi , how are you. Kisses to you Daddy !” to their dads in space moments later !

Combined crews aboard the ISS after Nov 16 docking and hatch opening. NASA TV

The next three man Soyuz crew of US astronaut Don Pettit, Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, is set to arrive on December 23 and again restore the crew to a full complement of six.

Blastoff of Soyuz TMA-22 amidst swirling snowstorm at 11:14:03 p.m. Nov. 13 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The three man crew comprised NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin. Credit: NASA/Roscosmos

Read Ken’s continuing features about Russian Space Programs including Soyuz, Progress, Phobos-Grunt and Soyuz in South America starting here:
Soyuz Launches to Station amid Swirling Snowy Spectacular
Soyuz Poised for High Stakes November 13 Blastoff – Space Stations Fate Hinges on Success
Success ! Launch Video of Crucial Russian Rocket to ISS puts Human Flights back on Track
Russians Race against Time to Save Ambitious Phobos-Grunt Mars Probe from Earthly Demise
Russia’s Bold Sample Return Mission to Mars and Phobos Blasts Off
Video Duet – Soyuz Debut Blast off from the Amazon Jungle and Rockin’ Russian Rollout !
Historic 1st Launch of Legendary Soyuz from South America
Russian Soyuz Poised for 1st Blastoff from Europe’s New South American Spaceport

Nov 16: Ken Kremer lectures about Mars and Vesta exploration at Gloucester County College, NJ

Soyuz Launches to Station amid Swirling Snowy Spectacular

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The future survival and fate of the International Space Station was on the line and is now firmly back on track following today’s (Nov. 13) successful, high stakes liftoff of a Russian Soyuz rocket carrying a three man crew of two Russians and one American bound for the orbiting research platform, amidst the backdrop of a spectacular snowstorm swirling about the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan – rare even by Russian standards.

The international crew comprises Expedition 29 Flight Engineer Dan Burbank from NASA – veteran of two prior shuttle missions to the station in 2000 and 2006 – and Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin from Russia. It’s the rookie flight for both Russian cosmonauts.

Soyuz TMA-22 lifts off under near blizzard conditions on Nov.13. Credit: NASA/Roscosmos

This is the first flight of a manned Soyuz-FG rocket – and of humans to space – since NASA’s Space Shuttle was forcibly retired in July and the subsequent failure of a virtually identical unmanned Soyuz-U booster in August which grounded all Russian flights to the ISS and threatened to potentially leave the station with no human presence aboard.

Snowy Soyuz TMA -22 blast off on Nov.13. Credit: Roscosmos

The trio of space flyers soared to the heavens at 11:14:03 p.m. EST Sunday Nov. 13 (11:14:03 a.m. Baikonur time Monday, Nov. 14) abroad their Soyuz TMA-22 capsule which was mounted atop the 50 meter tall Soyuz rocket.

Blastoff occurred precisely on time at about the time when the frigid, snow bedecked launch pad rotated into the plane of the orbit of the ISS. The launch was carried live on NASA TV and the ship quickly disappeared from view behind the nearly blinging blizzard.

The Soyuz TMA-22 achieved orbital insertion some nine minutes later into an initial 143 by 118 mile orbit, inclined 51 degrees to the equator.

The vehicles antennae’s and solar arrays were quickly deployed per plan and all spacecraft systems were functioning perfectly according to Russian Ground Control in Moscow.

Soyuz TMA-22 launches in spectacular snowstorm on Nov. 13 with Expedition 29 Flight Engineer Dan Burbank from NASA and Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin from Russia. Credit: NASA/Joe Acaba

Following a two day orbital chase and three course correction burns the future ISS residents are due to dock at the Russian Poisk module at the complex at about 12:33 a.m. EST on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

In the hours prior to launch the crew received a religious blessing from the Russian Orthodox Church, took the bus for the 25 mile trip to the Cosmodrome, donned their white Sokol launch and entry suits and headed to the pad.

The crew boarded the capsule in the midst of an extremely heavy snow storm which struck the Baikonur region of Kazakhstan in the evening prior to launch. See photo from backup NASA astronaut Joe Acaba.

Soyuz TMA-22 crew boards capsule amidst snowstorm at Baikonur. Credit: NASA/Joe Acaba

Although snow is quite common at this time of year, the blizzard conditions at launch time were actually quite rare according to NASA spokesman Rob Navias at Baikonur.

American rockets would never blast off in such severe weather conditions – but it’s nothing for the Russians!

The temperature was about 24 F, roughly 6 inches (15 cm) of snow had accumulated on the ground at launch time and moderate wind gusts partially obscured the view.

For the first time ever, a Soyuz crew was dressed in parkas – See Joe Acaba twitpic below !

Gantry towers were retracted from the three stage Soyuz booster at about T minus 25 minutes. The umbilical’s retracted in the final seconds.

The three stage Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off from Launch Pad 1 (LC-1), the same pad from which Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin flew as the first human to space 50 Years ago this year. The pad is named “Gagarin Start” in honor of Gagarin’s courageous achievement on April 12, 1961.

The rocket was fueled with kerosene (RP-1) and cryogenic liquid oxygen.

The ISS was flying some 248 miles above the Pacific Ocean and just west of Chile at launch time.

On the way to the Pad. Snow is falling. First time crew has had to wear these overcoats/parkas. All is go so far. Twitpic and comment from NASA astronaut Joe Acaba at Baikonur

The importance of the TMA-22 mission cannot be overstated because it restored confidence in Russian rockets which now serve as the world’s only pathway for providing human access to the $100 Billion earth orbiting outpost.

The cramped Soyuz capsule measures just 2.2 m wide by 2.1 m high and weighs 2200 kg.

Today’s critical launch had been delayed be nearly two months from September 22, following the failure of a nearly identical Soyuz-U booster in August which was carrying the Progress 44 cargo resupply spacecraft and crashed ignominiously in Siberia after the third stage shut down unexpectedly.

The Progress 44 was loaded with nearly 3 tons of supplies and was bound for the ISS.

The third stage is nearly identical for both the manned and unmanned versions of the normally highly reliable Soyuz booster rocket.

The launch came only after a thorough review of the causes of the accident by a special State Commision- which was traced to a clogged fuel line – introduction of new quality control measures and careful inspection of all the engines.

“We have no doubt in our minds both the rocket and the vehicle are ready, all the activities have been done at the appropriate level of quality and reliability,” said Vladimir Popovkin, Head of Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, prior to liftoff.

Expedition 29 Flight Engineer Satoshi Furukawa, Commander Mike Fossum and Flight Engineer Sergei Volkov watch their new crew mates launch on time from inside the Destiny laboratory. Credit: NASA TV

The new crew will join the other half of Expedition 29 already in residence aboard the ISS; Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum (NASA) and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa (Japan) and Sergei Volkov (Russia). This will temporarily restore the ISS to a full complement of 6 crewmembers – but only for a few days.

Fossum will hand over command of the station to the new crew within four days. His crew departs the ISS for Earth reentry on Nov. 21.

The successful launch means that the ISS will not have to be left unmanned for the first time since continuous manned occupation began over 11 years ago and which would have placed the station at risk in case of failures requiring human intervention.

Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin will spend 5 months aboard the station. They will be joined in December by the next trio to round out Expedition 30

Prelaunch photo of Soyuz-TMA-22/Expedition 29 crew - NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin Credit: Roscosmos

Read Ken’s continuing features about Russian Space Programs including Soyuz, Progress, Phobos-Grunt and Soyuz in South America starting here:
Soyuz Poised for High Stakes November 13 Blastoff – Space Stations Fate Hinges on Success
Success ! Launch Video of Crucial Russian Rocket to ISS puts Human Flights back on Track
Russians Race against Time to Save Ambitious Phobos-Grunt Mars Probe from Earthly Demise
Russia’s Bold Sample Return Mission to Mars and Phobos Blasts Off
Video Duet – Soyuz Debut Blast off from the Amazon Jungle and Rockin’ Russian Rollout !
Historic 1st Launch of Legendary Soyuz from South America
Russian Soyuz Poised for 1st Blastoff from Europe’s New South American Spaceport

Soyuz Poised for High Stakes November 13 Blastoff – Space Stations Fate Hinges on Success

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The stakes could not be higher for the Russian Soyuz rocket now poised at the launch pad at Baikonur in Kazakhstan and which will loft the next trio of space flyers to the International Space Station on Sunday, Nov. 13. This is the first flight of a manned Soyuz rocket since the Space Shuttle was retired in July and the subsequent failure of an unmanned Soyuz booster in August of this year.

The booster was rolled out to the pad on Friday (Nov. 11) and the very fate of the Space Station and the partners $100 Billion investment hinges on a successful blastoff of the venerable Soyuz – which dates back to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the inauguration of human spaceflight 50 years ago. This launch must succeed in order to keep a human presence aboard the ISS and comes in the wake of an upper stage failure days ago that left Russia’s ambitious Phobos-Grunt Mars mission stranded in Earth orbit and potentially doomed. See the Soyuz rollout video and pictures below

The Soyuz rocket and spacecraft were rolled out on a rail car at Baikonur


Video Caption – Rollout of Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft and booster to Baikonur launch pad in Kazahkstan.

Following the August 24 launch failure and crash of a Soyuz rocket carrying the Progress 44 cargo resupply vehicle to the ISS, Russia’s manned space program was grounded because the third stage of the Soyuz rocket which malfunctioned is virtually identical for both the manned and unmanned versions.

Since NASA was forced to shut down the Space Shuttle program, the Russian Soyuz rocket and capsule are the sole method of transport to the ISS. Thus, American astronauts have no choice but to hitch a ride with the Russians.

No American replacement spacecraft will be ready for humans until 2014 at the very earliest. And significant NASA budget cuts are likely to delay the introduction of the proposed “space taxis” by several more years.

Soyuz TMA-22 rolls on railcar to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: Roscosmos

Liftoff off the three man crew aboard the Soyuz-TMA 22 capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is slated for 11:14 p.m. EST Sunday Nov. 13 (11:14 a.m. Baikonur time Monday, Nov. 14) aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft.

Originally, the launch of the Soyuz TMA-22 crew had been scheduled for September 22 but was immediately put on indefinite hold following the August 24 crash.

Russia promptly announced the formation of a special state commission to investigate the failure, which rapidly traced the malfunction to a clogged fuel line and instituted fixes and stricter quality control measures.

Fortunately, the program got back on track 10 days ago when the Soyuz rocket for the unmanned Progress 45 cargo ship successfully blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Oct. 30, 2011 and docked two days later at the ISS.

Soyuz TMA-22 rolls on railcar to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: Roscosmos

Soyuz TMA-22 poised at Baikonur launch pad. Credit: Roscosmos

The international trio of new ISS residents consists of Expedition 29 Flight Engineer Dan Burbank from NASA and Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin from Russia.

After a 2 day chase, they are due to link up with the ISS when their spacecraft docks to the Poisk mini-research module at 12:33 a.m. Wednesday.

When Burbank, Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin dock they will join the other trio of Expedition 29 crewmembers already aboard the ISS; Expedition 29 crewmates Commander Mike Fossum (NASA) and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa (Japan) and Sergei Volkov (Russia) – and temporarily restore the ISS to a full complement of 6 crewmembers.

Soyuz TMA-22 crew meet journalists before blastoff. Credit: Roscosmos

But the full ISS staffing will be short-lived, because Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov will hand over all ISS duties to the new crew and undock their Soyuz TMA-02M capsule from the Rassvet research module on Nov. 21 and depart for Earth reentry and landing in Kazakhstan hours later.

The Soyuz TMA-22 poised at Baikonur launch pad will carry Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov, Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank of NASA and Russian Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin to the complex. The trio will spend almost five months on the station. Credit: Roscosmos

The new crew of three must reach the ISS before the current trio departs or the ISS would be left unmanned for the first time in over 11 years.

Read Ken’s continuing features about Russian Space Programs including Soyuz, Progress, Phobos-Grunt and Soyuz in South America starting here:
Success ! Launch Video of Crucial Russian Rocket to ISS puts Human Flights back on Track
Russians Race against Time to Save Ambitious Phobos-Grunt Mars Probe from Earthly Demise
Russia’s Bold Sample Return Mission to Mars and Phobos Blasts Off
Video Duet – Soyuz Debut Blast off from the Amazon Jungle and Rockin’ Russian Rollout !
Historic 1st Launch of Legendary Soyuz from South America
Russian Soyuz Poised for 1st Blastoff from Europe’s New South American Spaceport

Russians Race against Time to Save Ambitious Phobos-Grunt Mars Probe from Earthly Demise

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Teams of Russian engineers are in a race against time to save the ambitious and unprecedented Phobos-Grunt sample return mission from crashing back to Earth following the post launch failure of the upper stage rocket firings essential to propel the probe onward to destination Mars and scooping up dirt and dust from the tiny moon Phobos.

Roscomos, the Russian Federal Space Agency says they have perhaps two weeks to salvage the spacecraft – now stuck in Earth orbit – before its batteries run out and its orbit would naturally decay leading to an ignominious and uncontrollable reentry and earthly demise. Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos Chief had initially indicated a survival time limited to only 2 days in a briefing to Russian media.

“I give them a good chance — better than even — of recovering the mission and making the Mars insertion burn in a day or two, said James Oberg, a renowned expert on Russian and US spaceflight in commentary to Universe Today.

But Oberg also told me that having such problems so early in the mission was not a good sign. It all depends on whether the root cause is related to a simple software patch or serious hardware difficulties.

Following yesterday’s eerie midnight blastoff of Phobos-Grunt at 00:16 a.m. Moscow time atop an upgraded Zenit- 2SB booster and the apparently flawless performance of the first and second stages, the situation turned decidedly negative some 5 hours later when the pre-planned ignition burns of the Fregat upper stage failed to ignite twice.

Blastoff of Phobos-Grunt spacecraft atop Zenit-2 rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Nov. 9. Credit: Roscosmos

The 13,000 kg Phobos-Grunt (which means Phobos-Soil) spacecraft was to embark on an 11 month interplanetary cruise and arrive in the vicinity of Mars around October 2012, along with a piggybacked mini-satellite from China named Yinghuo-1, the nation’s first ever probe to orbit the Red Planet, and the Phobos-LIFE experiment from the Planetary Society.

“It has been a tough night for us because we could not detect the spacecraft [after the separation],” Vladimir Popovkin said according to the Ria Novosti Russian news agency. “Now we know its coordinates and we found out that the [probe’s] engine failed to start.”

“It is a complex trajectory, and the on-board computers could have simply failed to send a “switch on” command to the engine,” Popovkin added.

Fortunately, the engine ignition malfunction was one of the anticipated failure scenarios and a corrective action plan already exists for it – but only if it can be implemented to save the $163 million mission and Russian hopes to revive their long dormant interplanetary forays.

“But it’s an old old superstition that when leaving your house for a long voyage, if you trip on the door step, you better just lay down your suitcases and go back inside,” Oberg said.

“Seriously, on a mission so complex and innovative as this one is, with so much stuff that has to be done RIGHT the first time they’ve ever tried it, having this kind of error — even if it’s only a coding mishap — right at the start, is NOT a good omen about the quality of work on preparing the later steps,” Oberg warned.

The goal of the complicated and first of its-kind 3 year round trip mission is to deploy a lander to the surface of Phobos, grab up to 200 grams of pristine regolith and rocks, and then take off and sail back to Earth with the precious samples for analysis by the most scientifically advanced instruments available to humankind. Watch the detailed mission animation in my article here.

Russia’s historic Phobos-Grunt sample return mission to Mars and Phobos will retrieve 200 grams of soil from the surface of Martian moon Phobos and fly the samples back to Earth by August 2014. Credit: Roscosmos

Another serious problem was a lengthy gap in tracking coverage and thus two way communications with the spacecraft which minimized and seriously delayed Russian controller’s ability to diagnose and correct the malfunction.

Roscosmos stated today that after two communications sessions all necessary parameters of the spacecrafts motion have been determined and they hoped to regain contact sometime Wednesday afternoon through a ground station at Baikonur and upload new software to orient the vehicle and commands for an engine firing at some point soon. Luckily the hydrazine filled propellant tank had not been jettisoned – or all would be lost.

It appears that the earliest day the Fregat engines can be fired is sometime Thursday. The Fregat would also journey all the way to Mars and conduct the critical braking maneuver to insert Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 into separate Mars orbits.

The engine ignition failure has left Phobos-Grunt stuck in an elliptical orbit ranging from about 207 by 347 kilometers and inclined 51 degrees. The engine firings would have placed the ship into a higher altitude elliptical orbit of 250 by 4150 km and then cruising to Mars.

The Russianspaceweb website reported that “the editor of this web site received a message from the director of Moscow-based Space Research Institute, IKI, Lev Zeleny, informing that tracking facilities of the US military provided significant help in establishing exact orbital parameters of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. This data was to be used during the previous night to send commands to the spacecraft as it was passing within range of ground control stations. Zeleny reassured that the mission team still had had “few days for reprogramming before the end of the Mars accessibility window for 2011.”

Alexey Kuznetsov, Head of the Roskosmos Press Office told me previously that, “The Phobos-Grunt launch window extends until November 25.” So theoretically, there is still some time to propel Phobos-Grunt to Mars but there are also many unknowns.

Labeled Schematic of Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 (YH-1) orbiter. Main propulsion is the Fregat upper stage that failed to ignite twice following flawless liftoff on Nov. 9. Credit: Roskosmos

Further details will be reported as they emerge.

Meanwhile, NASA’s car sized Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Rover is posied atop an Atlas V rocket at her Florida launch pad awaiting a Nov. 25 liftoff.

Read Ken’s continuing features about Phobos-Grunt here:
Russia’s Bold Sample Return Mission to Mars and Phobos Blasts Off
Russian Mars Moon Sample Probe Poised to Soar atop Upgraded Rocket – VideoAwesome Action Animation Depicts Russia’s Bold Robot Retriever to Mars moon Phobos
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 Encapsulated for Voyage to Mars and Phobos
Phobos and Jupiter Conjunction in 3 D and Amazing Animation – Blastoff to Martian Moon near
Russia Fuels Phobos-Grunt and sets Mars Launch for November 9
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline
Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff

Russian Mars Moon Sample Probe Poised to Soar atop Upgraded Rocket – Video

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After an absence of almost two decades, Russia is at last on the cusp of resuming an ambitious agenda of interplanetary science missions on Tuesday Nov. 8 3:16 p.m. EST (Nov. 9, 00:16 a.m. Moscow Time) by taking aim at Mars and scooping up the first ever soil and rocks gathered from the mysterious moon Phobos. Russia’s space program was hampered for many years by funding woes after the breakup of the former Soviet Union and doubts stemming from earlier mission failures. The Russian science ramp up comes just as US space leadership fades significantly due to dire NASA budget cutbacks directed by Washington politicians.

Russia’s daring and highly risky Phobos-Grunt soil sampling robot to the battered Martian moon Phobos now sits poised at the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan atop a specially upgraded booster dubbed the “Zenit-2SB” rocket according to Alexey Kuznetsov, Head of the Roscosmos Press Office in an exclusive interveiw with Universe Today. Roscosmos is the Russian Federal Space Agency. Watch the awesome Mars mission animation in my article here. See Zenit Rocket rollout video and images below.

“The Phobos-Grunt automatic interplanetary station will launch on November 9, 2011 at 00:26 a.m. Moscow time [Nov. 8, 3:36 p.m. EST],” Kuznetsov confirmed to Universe Today.

The Roscosmos video and photos here show the Zenit rocket rollout starting from Building 45 where the final prelaunch processing was conducted late last week mounting the nose cone holding the Phobos-Grunt and companion Yinghuo-1 spacecraft to the upgraded Fregat upper stage.

Russia’s Phobos-Grunt automatic interplanetary station - lander. Credit: Roscosmos

If successful, Phobos Grunt will complete the Earth to Mars round trip voyage in some 34 months and the history making soil samples will plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere in August 2014 to waiting Russian military helicopters.

Following an 11 month interplanetary journey, the spaceship will enter Mars orbit and spend several months searching for a suitable landing site on Phobos. The probe is due to touchdown very gently on Phobos surface in Feb. 2013 using radar and precision thrusters accounting for the moon’s extremely weak gravity. After gathering samples with two robotic arms, the soil transferred to the Earth return capsule will take off in the ascent vehicle for the trip back home.

“The Zenit can launch spacecraft from Baikonur into LEO, MEO, HEO and elliptical near-Earth orbits (including GTO and geostationary orbit) and to escape trajectories as well,” Kuznetsov explained.

Zenit-2SB rocket rollout from Building 45 at Baikonur with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt automatic interplanetary station. Credit: Roscosmos

The Zenit-2SB booster with Phobos-Grunt and the piggybacked Yinghuo-1 Mars orbiter from China were rolled out horizontally by train on a railed transporter on Nov. 6, raised and erected vertically into launch position at Launch Pad 45 at Baikonur.

“The ‘Zenit-2SB’ rocket belongs to the rocket family using nontoxic fuel components – liquid oxygen and kerosene,” Kuznetsov elaborated. “The Zenit was manufactured by the A.M. Makarov Yuzhny Machine-Building Plant in Ukraine.”

“This “Zenit-2” rocket modification has significant improvements,” Kuznetsov told me. “The improvements include a new navigation system, a new generation on-board computer, and better performance by mass reduction and increase in thrust of the second stage engine.”

Zenit-2SB rocket rollout on train car to Baikonur launch pad with Phobos-Grunt sampling return mission to Mars and Phobos. Credit: Roscosmos

Likewise the upper stage was upgraded for the historic science flight.

“The Zenit’s Fregat upper stage has also been modified. The “Phobos Grunt” automatic interplanetary station cruise propulsion system was built onto the base of the “Fregat-SB” upper stage. Its main task is to insert the automatic interplanetary station onto the Mars flight path and accomplish the escape trajectory.”

“The “Phobos Grunt” automatic interplanetary station mission was constructed by the Russian Academy of Sciences Space Research Institute in Moscow and the spacecraft was manufactured by NPO Lavochkin in Moscow,” Kuznetsov told me.

The 12,000 kg Phobos-Grunt automatic interplanetary station is equipped with a powerful 50 kg payload of some 20 science instruments provided by a wide ranging team of international scientists and science institutions from Europe and Asia.

The audacious goal is to bring back up to 200 grams of pristine regolith and rocks that help unlock the mysteries of the origin and evolution of Phobos, Mars and the Solar System

Zenit-2SB rocket rollout on train to launch pad at Baikonur with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt automatic interplanetary station. Credit: Roscosmos

Zenit-2SB rocket erected vertically to launch position at Baikonur launch pad with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Mars spacecraft. Credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s Phobos-Grunt sample return mission to Mars and Phobos poised atop Zenit rocket at Pad 45 at Baikonur Cosmodrome. Kazakhstan. Liftoff set for November 9, 2011 at 00:26 a.m. Moscow time - Nov. 8, 3:36 p.m. EST. Credit: Roscosmos.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Rover has also arrived at her Florida launch pad awaiting Nov. 25 liftoff.

Join me in wishing all the best to Roscosmos and NASA for this duo of fabulous Mars missions in 2011 that will help unravel our place in the Universe – like never before!

Read Ken’s continuing features about Phobos-Grunt upcoming Nov 9 launch here:
Awesome Action Animation Depicts Russia’s Bold Robot Retriever to Mars moon Phobos
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 Encapsulated for Voyage to Mars and Phobos
Phobos and Jupiter Conjunction in 3 D and Amazing Animation – Blastoff to Martian Moon near
Russia Fuels Phobos-Grunt and sets Mars Launch for November 9
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline
Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff

Awesome Action Animation Depicts Russia’s Bold Robot Retriever to Mars moon Phobos

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In less than 48 hours, Russia’s bold Phobos-Grunt mechanized probe will embark on a historic flight to haul humanities first ever soil samples back from the tiny Martian moon Phobos. Liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome remains on target for November 9 (Nov 8 US 3:16 p.m. EDT).

For an exquisite view of every step of this first-of-its-kind robot retriever, watch this spectacular action packed animation (below) outlining the entire 3 year round trip voyage. The simulation was produced by Roscosmos, Russia’s Federal Space Agency and the famous IKI Space Research Institute. It’s set to cool music – so don’t’ worry, you don’t need to understand Russian.

Another video below shows the arrival and uncrating of the actual Phobos-Grunt spacecraft at Baikonur in October 2011.

The highly detailed animation begins with the blastoff of the Zenit booster rocket and swiftly progresses through Earth orbit departure, Phobos-Grunt Mars orbit insertion, deployment of the piggybacked Yinghuo-1 (YH-1) mini satellite from China, Phobos-Grunt scientific reconnaissance of Phobos and search for a safe landing site, radar guided propulsive landing, robotic arm manipulation and soil sample collection and analysis, sample transfer to the Earth return capsule and departure, plummeting through Earth’s atmosphere and Russian helicopter retrieval of the precious cargo carrier.


Video Caption: Every step of Russia’s Phobos-Grunt soil retrieval mission. Credit: Roscosmos/IKI


Video Caption: On October 21, the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and was uncrated and moved to assembly building 31 for fueling, final preflight processing and encapsulation in the nose cone. Credit: Roscosmos

Labeled Schematic of Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 (YH-1) orbiter. Credit: Roskosmos

Read Ken’s continuing features about Phobos-Grunt upcoming Nov. 9 launch here:
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 Encapsulated for Voyage to Mars and Phobos
Phobos and Jupiter Conjunction in 3 D and Amazing Animation – Blastoff to Martian Moon near
Russia Fuels Phobos-Grunt and sets Mars Launch for November 9
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline
Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff

Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 Encapsulated for Voyage to Mars and Phobos

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Phobo-Grunt, Russia’s first interplanetary mission in nearly two decades, has now been encapsulated inside the payload fairing and sealed to the payload adapter for mating to the upper stage of the Zenit booster rocket that will propel the probe to Mars orbit and carry out history’s first ever landing on the petite Martian moon Phobos and eventually return pristine samples to Earth for high powered scientific analysis.

Phobos-Grunt will launch on November 9, 2011 at 00:16 a.m. Moscow time [Nov. 8 3:16 p.m. EST],” said Alexey Kuznetsov, Head of the Roscosmos Press Office in an exclusive interview with Universe Today. Roscosmos is the Russian Federal Space Agency, equivalent to NASA and ESA.

“The launch window extends until November 25.”

“At this moment we are preparing the “Zenit-2SB” launch vehicle, the cruise propulsion system and the “Phobos Grunt” automatic interplanetary station at the Baikonur Cosmodrome,” Kuznetzov told me. Phobos-Grunt translates as Phobos-Soil.

Phobos-Grunt spacecraft attached to payload adapter prior to encapsulation. Note folded solar panels, gold colored sample transfer tube leading to return capsule, landing legs, antennae and propulsion tanks. Credit: Roscosmos

China’s first ever mission to Mars, the Yinghuo-1 micro-satellite, is also encased inside the nose cone and is tucked in a truss segment between the lander and interplanetary propulsion stage.

Yinghuo-1 follows closely on the heels of China’s stunning success in demonstrating the nation’s first ever docking in space between two Chinese spacecraft earlier this week on November 3.

Sealing up Phobos-Grunt. Credit: Roscosmos

Technicians completed the two vehicles enclosure inside the protective fairing at Building 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and have now transported the spaceships to Building 41 where the payload is now being stacked to the upgraded “Fregat-SB” upper stage atop the Zenit-2SB rocket.

Martian moon Phobos imaged by Mars Express Orbiter from ESA. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

The payload fairing protects the Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 spacecraft during the first few minutes of flight from the intense frictional heating and buildup of aerodynamic pressures. After the rocket soars through the discernable atmosphere the fairing splits in half and is jettisoned and falls back to Earth.

The nose cone sports a beautiful mission logo painted on the side of the fairing along with the logos of various Russian and International partner agencies and science institutes.

Phobos-Grunt payload fairing. Credit: Roscosmos

Propellants have already been loaded aboard the cruise stage, Phobos-Grunt lander and Earth return vehicle.

“The Phobos Grunt automatic interplanetary station was built, prepared and tested at NPO Lavochkin [near Moscow]. They were also responsible for inspection of the devices, instruments and systems integration,” Kuzntezov explained.

“Significant improvements and modifications and been made to both the “Fregat-SB” upper stage and the “Zenit-2SB” rocket,” said Kuznetzov.

View inside nose cone and preparing to encapsulate Phobos-Grunt. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roscosmos

Phobos-Grunt will blastoff from Launch Pad 45 at Baikonur,

Following an 11 month journey, the spaceship will enter Mars orbit in October 2012, spend several months investigating Phobos and then land around February 2013.

The goal is to snatch up to 200 grams of soil and rock from Phobos and fly them back to Earth in a small capsule set to plummet through the atmosphere in August 2014.

ESA, the European Space Agency, is assisting Russia determine a safe landing site by targeting their Mars Express Orbiter to collect high resolution images of Phobos. Look at 2 D and 3 D images and an animation here.

The regolith samples will help teach volumes about the origin and evolution of Phobos, Mars and the Solar System. Scientists would be delighted if miniscule bits of Martian soil were mixed in with Phobos soil.

Phobos-Grunt , Earth’s next mission to Mars, is equipped with an advanced 50 kg payload array of some 20 science instruments.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover was also enclosed in her payload fairing a few days ago and is on course for liftoff on November 25.

The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft is scheduled to blastoff on November 9, 2011 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It will reach Mars orbit in 2012 and eventually land on Phobos and return the first ever soil samples back to Earth in 2014. Credit Roscosmos

Read Ken’s continuing features about Phobos-Grunt here:
Phobos and Jupiter Conjunction in 3 D and Amazing Animation – Blastoff to Martian Moon near
Russia Fuels Phobos-Grunt and sets Mars Launch for November 9
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline
Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff

Read Ken’s continuing features about Curiosity & Nov. 25 launch starting here:
Closing the Clamshell on a Martian Curiosity
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action