Expedition 39/40 Crew Launches to ISS. Docking Waived Off

ISS EXP 39 crew
ISS Expedition 39/40 crew, Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov, Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Steve Swanson of NASA, launched to orbit as scheduled at 5:17 pm EDT, Tuesday, March 25, aboard the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft. The Soyuz was scheduled to rendezvouz and dock to ISS about six hours after launch.

About four hours after launch NASA and Roscosmos announced that an automated mid-flight correction burn did not execute as scheduled and rendezvouz and docking has been waived off and tentatively rescheduled to Thursday evening, March 27. This is the fifth “fast track” climb to orbit and rendezvouz for the Roscosmos Soyuz program. Prior to March, 2013 launch to orbit and rendezvouz took about 48 hours in the days of the U.S. Shuttle program and earlier Soyuz missions.

NASA TV has announced a tentative time for rendevouz of 7:58 pm EDT, Thursday, 27 March. As I write this Russian mission control is updating the crew on flight status, orbital parameters, sunrise and sunset times, etc. NASA telemetry and communications uplinks may be pressed into service to assist with flight operations during the next two days. Flight controllers want to determine whether the failure to fire the course correction burn was a software programming issue or hardware problem.

While this delay means Skvortsov, Atemeyev and Swanson will spend two days orbiting Earth in the cramped confines of the Soyuz descent and orbital modules they’re in no danger and have adequate provisions. Mission controllers in Houston are busy at work making changes in the schedules of the crew aboard ISS.

The waive off and delay in the docking adds the interesting opportunity for ground observers to see ISS and Soyuz TMA-12 orbiting “in formation”. Currently only morning passes of ISS are visible, pre-dawn, for North American observers. A quick check using Heavens-Above shows visible passes Thursday morning in Louisville, 13 degrees at 6:30 am; Chicago, 20 degrees at 5:29 am CDT; Colorado, Wyoming and Montana around 45 degrees at 6:00 am MDT and New York, 14 degrees at 4:55 am EDT. At this time the further north you are the higher ISS will be above your horizon. The Soyuz is orbiting below and slightly ahead of ISS.

Read NASA’s update on the delay.

ISS EXP 39 launch Mastraccio
ISS Expedition 38 flight engineer Rick Mostracchio shot this image of the Soyuz TMA-12M launch as the Station orbited over Russia.