The Russian Soyuz spacecraft

Soyuz Command/Landing module

Soyuz means "union" in Russian. The Soyuz programme is the longest operational manned spacecraft programme in the history of space exploration. The first manned flight into space was on 23 April 1967. Although they were conceived by the Soviet Union at the start of the sixties, the Soyuz spacecraft are still used today, but with important modifications. They have transported Russian crews to the Soviet stations Salyut and Mir. Currently, after the Columbia Space Shuttle accident, the Soyuz are the only spacecraft available to transport crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

* The Soyuz vehicles are launched by Russian rockets of the same name, which have already undertaken 1 680 successful launches in total, including satellites and manned spacecraft. Neither the Soyuz rockets nor the Soyuz vehicles are reusable.

* The Soyuz spacecraft weigh 7 tonnes; they measure 7.2 metres in length and 2.7 metres in diameter. With the solar panels open (they remain closed during launch) the Soyuz measures 10.6 metres across. In their current TM and TMA versions, a Soyuz vehicle can carry up to three crewmembers.

* A Soyuz is made up of three modules: the service, the orbital and the re-entry modules. The orbital module (the “tip” of the spacecraft) carries the equipment necessary to dock with the ISS. The service module (the lower part) transports, among other things, telecommunications and altitude control equipment and the coupling of the solar panels. The descent module (in the middle) is where the astronauts travel and it is the only section that re-enters the atmosphere – the orbital module breaks up during re-entry.

Soyuz spacecraft

* The journey of the Soyuz to the ISS lasts two days. The return journey, in contrast, lasts only 3 hours. Normally, the decent module touches down on Earth at a velocity of less than 2 metres/sec.

* The habitable space in the descent module is just 4 cubic metres. The decent module weighs, 2.9 tonnes.

* The current version of the Soyuz is the TMA, which replaces the TM. The “A” corresponds to “anthropometric”, because in this model height limitations for the crew are eliminated; thus the Soyuz becomes an optimum vehicle for the ISS. The first flight of a TMA (the TMA-1) took place on 30 October 2002. Upon its return to Earth, in May 2003, a problem forced it to re-enter in ballistic mode and land 460 kilometres away from the planned landing site. But the astronauts were not hurt, thanks also to the “soft landing” system that reduces the impact of landing from 12g (as it was in the Soyuz TM series) to 5g.

* For the Cervantes mission, delayed six months due to the Columbia Space Shuttle accident, the Soyuz TMA-3 spacecraft will carry the Expedition Eight crew - American Michael Foale and Russian Alexander Kaleri - to the ISS together with Pedro Duque. The Soyuz TMA-3 will be docked to the ISS for use as a lifeboat vehicle for the permanent crew. While Expedition Seven – Russian Yuri Malenchenko and the American Ed Lu – will return to Earth together with Pedro Duque on board the TMA-2 which is currently docked to the Station.

Last update: 24 November 2004

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