To the International Space Station:
Soyuz Transports Cosmonauts and Astronauts


Russian Soyuz transport over Earth
Soyuz transport above Earth
Russia's Soyuz transports, used today to ferry cosmonauts and astronauts to the International Space Station, are the longest serving manned spacecraft in the world.

With the temporary halt in U.S. space shuttle flights after the Columbia tragedy, the ISS has to depend on Russia's Soyuz transports for crew trips to space and back to Earth.

In the beginning. A type of Russian space capsule known as Vostok carried the first human, Yuri Gagarin, from Earth to orbit in 1961. Later, an improved Vostok called Voskhod carried humans to orbit. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was developing a new capsule for manned Moon flight. It was called Soyuz, which means Union in Russian.

An unmanned Soyuz capsule blasted off on a test flight in 1966. Then the first manned Soyuz capsule flight carried a human to space in April 1967. That capsule, referred to as Soyuz-1, was supposed to rendezvous with an unmanned capsule called Soyuz-2. Unfortunately, problems inside Soyuz-1 caused the USSR to cancel Soyuz-2. Then, during re-entry, its landing parachute failed and Soyuz-1 crashed into the ground. That killed cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, setting back the Russian lunar program.

Since then, however, more than 220 have been built and have flown with more than 100 cosmonauts on a variety of missions. Today, Soyuz is the longest serving manned spacecraft in the world.

Redesigned over the decades. The USSR's spacecraft design bureau, OKB-1 operated by the renowned Sergei Korolev, conceived the original Soyuz in the early 1960s to carry Soviet cosmonauts to the Moon.

Although the Soviet Union lost the Moon race, it continued to use Soyuz capsules to ferry Russian crews to space – notably to the USSR's Salyut, Almaz and Mir space stations and to the historic docking with the U.S. Apollo spacecraft in 1975. Soyuz capsules also completed numerous solo flights over the years.

Over the decades, numerous modifications have refined the original capsule design to improve its capabilities as a transport vehicle, upgrade its electronic and navigation systems, and allow it to dock with a variety of space stations.

To the ISS. Today, cosmonauts and astronauts travel 200 miles above Earth to the International Space Station in Soyuz transports from Russia and space shuttles from the United States.

Soyuz transport capsules are launched on Soyuz rockets from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Over the years, four versions of Soyuz transports have been developed:

Soyuz T
Soyuz TM
Soyuz TMA
First Use


Special-purpose modifications. During the Moon race, the Soviet Union modified a Soyuz for research flights to the Moon and back. That Soyuz capsule officially was designated L1 and more-commonly referred to as Zond. It was like an ordinary Soyuz of that time, but with its human habitation module replaced by a smaller instrumentation package. Zond launches began in 1967.

Progress. Another use for modified Soyuz capsules is the Progress cargo freighter. They are Soyuz capsules emptied of seats, life-support gear, parachutes, re-entry heat shields, and solar panels, and then modified to haul gases, fuel, food, water and other goods to space. They are single-use ships that fly unmanned as automatic, robot ships under remote control.

Every eight weeks, an unmanned Progress freighter carries 5,000 lbs. of goods to the station – food, fuel, water, clothing, office supplies, scientific experiments to be conducted, replacement parts, newspapers and mail from home, and other necessities.

U.S. shuttles also can carry supplies to the ISS. By comparison, a Progress flies unmanned and can carry about 2.5 tons of supplies, while a shuttle can carry seven people and 25 tons of cargo.

Soyuz rocket launch in AP photo
Soyuz launch [ap]
Soyuz compared with shuttle. Typically in the past, U.S. shuttles have ferried long-term crews to the station, while Soyuz transports have carried short-term visiting cosmonauts, astronauts and tourists to the ISS.

A Soyuz capsule can carry three people. A shuttle can carry seven.

Soyuz and Progress capsules are not reusable. Shuttles are reusable, and they take less time to get to the ISS at less cost than a Soyuz or Progress.

It takes two years to build and launch a Soyuz transport, slightly less to build a Progress cargo ship. It could take up to four years to build a new shuttle, if the old patterns still were available. However, it seems highly unlikely that a replacement shuttle in the style of the three remaining orbiters will be built.

Over the decades, Soyuz has built up a strong safety record. Its last fatal flight was in 1971 when three cosmonauts died during re-entry. Shuttles have had fatal flights in 1986 and 2003 with a total loss of 14 astronauts.

Latest Soyuz Flights

Recent Soyuz flights
TMA-52004 Oct 14
TMA-42004 Apr 19
TMA-32003 Oct 18
TMA-22003 Apr 26
TMA-12002 Oct 30
TM-342002 Apr 25
TM-332001 Oct 21
TM-322001 Apr 28
Soyuz TMA-1 launch. Russia launched the first Soyuz TMA-1 on October 30, 2002, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew included European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Frank De Winne of Belgium and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Zaletin and Yuri Lonchakov.

After a few days at the ISS, they returned to Earth in Soyuz TM-34, which had been standing by as the station's lifeboat. Meanwhile, TMA-1 remained at the stations as the lifeboat for the next several months.

Soyuz TMA-2 launch. The Soyuz TMA-2 transport lifted off April 26, 2003, from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It ferried the station's next crew, Expedition 7 composed of U.S. astronaut Edward Lu and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, to the International Space Station.

Following a long-standing tradition at the cosmonaut training center, the new crew had taken part in a number of rituals the day before their launch, including watching the Russian movie The White Sun of the Desert.

Soyuz TMA-1 landing. The ISS Expedition 6 crew – American astronauts Kenneth Bowersox and Donald Pettit and Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin – used TMA-1 to fly down to Earth on May 4, 2003, after completing their 162-day assignment at the station. It was the first time American astronauts had returned to Earth in a Russian spacecraft.

Their return home was not without incident. They landed safely even though the Soyuz guidance system, which reads gyroscopes and accelerometers to command the capsule's attitude control thrusters, malfunctioned. They reentered the atmosphere in a so-called ballistic mode, rather than in a controlled re-entry. This caused them to land 240 miles off target in an areas 90 miles north of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The ballistic trajectory was steeper, which reduced flight time and increased deceleration. That raised the gravity load on the crew to 8g compared with 6g in a controlled re-entry.

The capsule had a type of guidance system that had flown on Soyuz since the T-5 mission back in 1979. It had completed 49 controlled re-entries without a problem.

Ballistic is one of four nominal re-entry modes available to a Soyuz T, TM or TMA capsule. The others are automatic control mode, manual control mode, and back-up ballistic mode. The TMA-1 flight was only the third time in the history of the Soyuz program that the ballistic mode had been used.

An investigating board found no need to modify the Soyuz guidance system before future flights. On the other hand, the Russians did decide to add a satellite cell phone to the capsule's equipment so any cosmonauts missing in the future could phone home. A satellite cell phone was to be shipped up to the ISS in a Progress cargo feighter to be placed in the Soyuz TMA-2 capsule for its October 2003 flight.

The board noted that TMA-1 otherwise worked as planned. The new parachutes functioned correctly and the new soft-landing system reduced the impact shock of landing on the ground from 12g in the old Soyuz TM series to 5g in the Soyuz TMA family.

After medical checkups, the trio that had landed in TMA-1 was flown to the Kazakh capital city of Astana where they boarded a jet to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center at Star City northeast of Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Expedition 7 crew of Malenchenko and Lu remained aboard the space station. Soyuz TMA-2 remained docked at the ISS as the lifeboat.

Soyuz TMA-3 launch. Soyuz TMA-3 was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the ISS on October 18, 2003, carrying the Expedition 8 crew – American astronaut and commander Michael Foale and Russian cosmonaut and flight engineer Alexander "Sasha" Kaleri – as well as ESA's Spanish astronaut Pedro Duque. When they docked at the station October 20, Foale became the first American to have lived and worked aboard both the International Space Station and Russia's Mir space station. Duque was a short-time visitor staying eight days aboard the ISS.

Soyuz TMA-2 landing. Duque and the Expedition 7 crew, Malenchenko and Lu, returned to Earth in TMA-2 on October 28, leaving TMA-3 docked at the station as lifeboat. The TMA-2 capsule landed close to its target in Kazakhstan's desert 21 miles south of the town of Arkalyk. Malenchenko became the first person to have left Earth single and returned to a wife. While in orbit in August, he had been married by radio to Texas resident Ekaterina Dmitriev. For Lu, it was the second time an American astronaut had come home in a Russian capsule and landed on foreign soil. Duque became the first person to have flown both up and down in both a shuttle and a Soyuz capsule. Foale and Kaleri remained aboard the space station.

Soyuz TMA-4 launch. Soyuz TMA-4 was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the ISS on April 19, 2004, carrying the Expedition 9 crew to relieve the Expedition 8 crew. The Expedition 9 crew is Commander Gennady Padalka and NASA Science Officer Mike Fincke. Also aboard TMA-4 was European Space Agency Astronaut AndrĊ½ Kuipers of the Netherlands, who flew to the space station under a commercial contract between ESA and Russia's Federal Space Agency. Soyuz TMA-4 docked at the station on April 21. Kuipers was to stay at the station only a few days during which he conducted science experiments. Padalka and Fincke would have a six-month duty tour.

Soyuz TMA-3 landing. The Expedition 8 crew, Foale and Kaleri, along with Kuipers, left the Station aboard the ISS Soyuz 7 spacecraft and returned to Earth on April 29 landing on the Kazakhstan steppe on April 30. Foale and Kaleri spent nearly 195 days in space, the second longest ISS expedition. Foale now has accumulated more time in space than any other U.S. astronaut. Including this mission, a 1997 tour aboard the Russian Mir space station and four shuttle missions, Foale has logged nearly 374.5 days in space. Meanwhile, Soyuz TMA-4 remained docked at the station as a lifeboat. The Expedition 9 crew, Padalka and Fincke, will live and work aboard the ISS until October when their replacements, the Expedition 10 crew, arrive. During their time at the station, Progress cargo ships will arrive and spacewalks will be made.

Soyuz TMA-5 launch. Soyuz TMA-5 was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the ISS on October 14, 2004, carrying the Expedition 10 crew to relieve the Expedition 9 crew. The new space station crew was commander and NASA science officer Leroy Chiao and flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov. Along for the ride was Russian Space Forces test cosmonaut Yuri Shargin. It was the first flight in a Soyuz for Sharipov, Chiao and Shargin, breaking a tradition of having at least one crew member experienced in piloting a capsule. TMA-5 docked at the space station on October 16. The capsule was moving too quickly as it approached the station and a warning signal sounded. Control was switched from automatic to manual and the docking was successful. It was the fourth crew rotation by Soyuz spacecraft since the Columbia disaster caused the U.S. to suspend shuttle flights in February 2003. Chiao and Sharipov previously had flown in space aboard U.S. shuttles. Shargin was a rookie in space. Chiao and Sharipov planed to spend six months aboard the station.

Soyuz TMA-4 landing. After a six-month tour of duty, the Expedition 9 crew of Gennady Padalka and American Mike Fincke returned to Earth, along with test cosmonaut Yuri Shargin. The trio flew down in the Soyuz TMA-4 capsule and landed about 55 miles north of the town of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan on October 24, 2004. Padalka and Fincke had been in space since April 9, 2004. Shargin had been in space from October 16, 2004, when he had accompanied the Expedition 10 relief crew to the station. During their time at the station, Padalka and Fincke had taken four space walks, including one in which they repaired a gyroscope that orients the large manned satellite in space.

Soyuz TMA-6 launch. Soyuz TMA-6 is scheduled for launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the ISS about April 15, 2005, carrying the Expedition 11 crew to relieve the Expedition 10 crew. The Expedition 11 crew will be Valeri Tokarev and Bill McArthur. Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori, who flew to the ISS aboard a Soyuz TM spacecraft in April 2002, will ride along for a second trip to the station.

Top of this page Solar System STO Cover Search STO Questions Feedback E-Mail
© 2004 Space Today Online