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Flight to International Space Station accomplished in record time


The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (Image courtesy NASA)
The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (Image courtesy NASA)

Kevan Karanjia, Staff Writer

March 30, 2013 — It usually takes two days but the recent journey to the International Space Station by a Soyuz spacecraft took only six hours.

The Soyuz spacecraft nears the International Space Station (Image courtesy NASA)
The Soyuz spacecraft nears the International Space Station (Image courtesy NASA)

The most recent trip to the International Space Station was accomplished in a record time of six hours. 

The Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft launched Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying three Expedition 35 crew members.

Reaching the ISS isn't an easy feat, it requires precise timing and coordination. 

Spacecraft have to reach the correct orbital height and speed of the space station at the right time. 

The journey usually takes two days because of the time required for the ship to pick up speed orbiting the Earth. 

Astronauts use the time to coordinate their flight and also prepare for any problems or delays that might come up in the process. 

A longer journey would be dangerous because the spacecraft has limited supplies while the opposite - an even quicker trip, would require very careful planning.

All six Expedition 35 crew members (Image courtesy NASA)
All six Expedition 35 crew members (Image courtesy NASA)

Regular trips to the ISS usually take around 34 orbits of the planet but Thursday's effort was accomplished in just four. 

The new four-orbit plan has been done three times in the past, with the unmanned spacecraft Progress being used to deliver supplies to the ISS. 

The Russian Federal Space Agency had to upgrade the Progress and Soyuz crafts for the attempts to be accomplished.

In the past, astronauts had to wait until they were over the ground control station before manual engine burns could be coordinated. 

Now, the two ships flight control system has been digitized, meaning schedules for the engine burns can be uploaded by ground control into the computers. 

The spacecraft can perform all maneuvers automatically, and communication with the ground is not necessary.    

The Russians also undertook many studies on the new flight plan, ensuring the crafts and ISS could perform the very careful maneuvering required of the quick journey. 

After the success of a few unmanned test trips, the four-orbit plan was approved. 

If there were any problems on the way, the astronauts could simply switch to a one day plan, orbiting Earth a few more times.

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