International Space Station with Soyuz
Science & Exploration

Watch live – Luca returns to Earth

04/02/2020 10093 views 74 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Beyond

After six months on the International Space Station and just over four as commander, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will return to Earth together with US astronaut Christina Koch and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov in the Soyuz-MS13 spacecraft.

Watch the trio land in the steppes of Kazakhstan on ESA’s Web TV on Thursday 6 February from 09:00 CET (08:00 GMT). Farewells, closing the hatch and undocking from the International Space Station can be seen on NASA TV.

Follow @esaspaceflight on Twitter for updates.

Farewells and hatch closure Coverage starts 03:00 CET (02:00 GMT) Hatch closing scheduled for 03:30 CET (02:30 GMT)
Undocking Coverage starts 06:15 CET (05:15 GMT) Undocking scheduled for 06:49 CET (05:49 GMT)
Landing Coverage starts 09:00 CET (08:00 GMT) Landing expected at 10:14 CET (09:14 GMT)

Return to Earth

Soyuz MS spacecraft infographic - Modules and Specs
Soyuz MS spacecraft infographic - Modules and Specs

The ride home for Luca, Christina and Alexander is shorter than the ride up: after six months in space, and a whole year for Christina, it is less than four hours from undocking to landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan.

Shortly after undocking, the Soyuz spacecraft separates into three parts. The orbital and service modules burn up on reentry in the denser layers of Earth’s atmosphere. The descent module turns to position its heatshield towards the direction of reentry, so that it can handle the 1600°C created by the friction with our atmosphere.

Reentry starts at an altitude of about 120 km, when their cruising speed of 28 800 km/h is reduced dramatically and the crew are pushed back into their seats with a force of 4–5 g. This is equivalent to four to five times their own body weight.

Luca during Soyuz redocking
Luca during Soyuz redocking

Parachutes deploy to reduce speed even more and the astronauts sit in custom-fitted seats that absorb the shock of impact. At the last moment, retrorockets fire before touchdown to limit the impact to around 5 km/h.

After landing, the crew deploy a communication antenna, so that the rescue teams can pinpoint them, but usually search and rescue teams are already onsite to retrieve the space voyagers.

The spacecraft is cramped and astronauts return to Earth in a weakened state, so pulling the crew out of their capsule one by one can take some time.

Luca will return to Cologne, Germany where he will be supported by ESA medical, crew support and operations teams as he readapts to Earth’s gravity.

Beyond Mission

Pointing beyond
Pointing beyond

While in command of the International Space Station, Luca took the lead role of EV1 in the first three of four complex spacewalks to maintain the cosmic ray detecting Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer AMS-02. During this spacewalk series he surpassed ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang’s European record for the longest cumulative spacewalk by one hour and three minutes. Luca has now spent a total 33 hours and 9 minutes spacewalking over the course of six EVAs.

The AMS spacewalks were considered even more challenging than those to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, as the bus-sized instrument was never designed to be serviced in orbit. The spacewalks were four years in the planning, and required the development of new procedures as well as more than 20 new tools.

In addition to these spacewalks, Luca supported over 50 European experiments in orbit including Analog-1 in which he controlled a rock-collecting rover in the Netherlands, from space.

Find out more about Luca and his second space mission in the Beyond brochure – available to download in English and Italian – as well as Beyond mission podcast, ESA Explores, and the Beyond playlist over on YouTube.