Soyuz Crew: 'Phone Home'


In May 2003 The crew of Soyuz TMA-1 landed some 440 km (275 miles) short of their planned landing target in Kazakhstan. A malfunction had caused their descent vehicle to perform a ballistic rather than a controlled reentry.

This was the first flight of the new Soyuz TMA spacecraft. The current Soyuz in orbit which is due to land this evening, Soyuz TMA-2, is identical to the Soyuz TMA-1.

Since the spacecraft are identical Soyuz TMA-2 is likely to be prone to a similar malfunction. However some on-orbit checks of hardware and software, and the watchful eyes of its crew, should prevent another landing error. motorola_9505.jpg

In an episode that many involved likened to a replay of the Columbia accident, there was some doubt as to whether TMA-1 had landed safely - and where it might have landed - since no communication had been established with its crew.

After two hours of searching, rescue aircraft picked up the signal from its radio beacon and located the descent module.

All involved expressed frustration that the crew was not able to communicate with mission control - or, even if they did, that they would not have been able to give their location to the recovery team.

This problem has been solved by adding two items to Soyuz equipment inventory: a GPS receiver and a satellite phone. This way, the crew will have a wholly independent way of alerting people where they are should their communications fail or if their guidance system malfunctions taking them out of communications range.

gpsmap76PIC.jpg Soyuz crews have been provided with a Iridium/Motorola-9505 satellite phone and a Garmin GPSMAP 76 handheld GPS unit. Both units have the ability to function anywhere on Earth.

Having used both a very similar Iridium phone model and a slightly different Garmin GPS model (I have the Garmin eTrex Vista) at 75 degrees north in the Canadian high arctic I can imagine that the crew would be able to answer any location query in a matter of minutes.

The only issue with both items in space was the ability to charge the phone's batteries. It seems that safety officials had deemed these batteries (not originally designed for use aboard spacecraft) as a potential hazard while being charged. After carefully following procedures (listed below) the charging occurred without incident.

So, the next time a Soyuz lands off course, the crew will not only be able to tell everyone in Moscow that they are OK, they might even be able to order a pizza delivered to the landing site.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 25 Oct 2003

Functional tests of the Iridium/Motorola-9505 satellite phone lithium-ion batteries carried up on 7S after vibration testing had confirmed that no hazards exist due to internal shorts. These batteries may therefore be cleared to be left on board. The safety of the first battery delivered on 12P has not been formally confirmed, since it had not undergone any vibration testing. After a partial recharging on board on 9/22, it will return on Monday on 6S.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 22 Oct 2003

Handover activities today included familiarization with the GPS (global positioning system) receiver and Inmarsat/Iridium satellite phone for use by the 6S crew in case of a contingency reentry and landing. [Kaleri inserted batteries into the GPS receiver, turned it on and familiarized Malenchenko with its operation, also reporting to the ground on its functionality. The Motorola-9505 unit was unstowed, and one antenna was extended. Kaleri demonstrated its use, but the unit was not turned on and its lithium-ion battery was not installed. The kit was then stowed back in the Soyuz-212 descent module.]

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 15 Oct 2003

At 3:05am EDT, Malenchenko used a Russian ground site pass on Daily Orbit 1 to downlink the video footage taken on 10/6 of the charging of the Iridium/Motorola-9505 lithium-ion battery.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 6 Oct 2003

Yuri Malenchenko unstowed the Motorola-9505 Iridium satellite phone and recharged its lithium-ion battery. [After making the necessary electrical connections, the charging process proceeded, expected to take about 2.5 - 4 hrs, depending on battery charge level. The phone was off during the process. After briefly turning it on in the Airlock to check battery status, Malenchenko disassembled the phone and stowed it. The charging process was videotaped for the record.]

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 22 Sep 2003

MCC-Moscow has agreed to a postponement of today's scheduled charging of the Iridium satphone lithium/ion battery, pending further safety analyses.   [MCC-Houston is tentatively considering to activate the Motorola-9505 in the U.S. segment (USOS), to check whether the current battery actually requires recharging. Prior to any decisions, such activation will first be evaluated for possible impacts of EMI (electromagnetic interference) radiation on the USOS and Russian segment (RS). Plans are also being finalized to certify and fly up a second set of batteries on Soyuz 7S.]

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 16 Sep 2003

The crew again had time reserved on their schedule for familiarization with the SSSP kit, which includes the Garmin-GPS map-76 localizer and the Motorola-9505 Iridium satellite phone intended for use after landing of Soyuz 6S in late October. [The charging of the phone's battery, considered potentially hazardous, is scheduled for next Monday (9/22), pending the outcome of currently on-going tests of charging in a CTB bag at White Sands.]

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 15 Sep 2003

The crew was allotted some time for familiarization with the SSSP kit (GPS receiver plus Iridium satellite phone) and the upcoming battery charging. The Motorola-9505 phone and the Garmin-GPS map-76 localizer are intended for use after landing of Soyuz 7S in late October. [The actual charging is now scheduled for next Monday (9/22), pending the outcome of currently on-going testing of battery charging in a CTB bag, for safety, at White Sands.]

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 12 Sep 2003

Work continues at both MCCs on the identification of mutually acceptable procedural safety controls for the upcoming power-charging of the battery of the new Motorola-9505 Iridium satellite phone, which was delivered by Progress 12P with a Garmin GPS (global positioning system) locator for the mandated use on Soyuz 7S during its return on 10/28.   [The charging is tentatively planned for next Friday, 9/19. Safety procedures during the activity include placement of the entire phone headset assembly in a CTB (collapsible transfer bag) container, locating the activity in an area maximizing smoke detection capability, and keeping a Russian PFE (portable fire extinguisher) readily accessible. Final decision is up to the MMT (Mission Management Team), meeting on 9/15.]

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 6 Sep 2003

"Moscow uplinked instructions for use of the new Motorola-9505 Iridium phone and Garmin GPS (global positioning system) receiver brought up by Progress 12P. Both systems and their batteries and antennas are to be transferred to the Soyuz TMA-2 descent module and stowed in the ODF (operational data file) container, to be available for the Soyuz 6S return on 10/28. Also, pending safety certification (in work), the Iridium phone must not be activated on board and its battery not recharged without prior Go from Mission Control."

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 3 Sep 2003

Safety specialists of both sides are working the issue of the Motorola-9505 satphone battery which has not been certified as yet for recharge on orbit. The Iridium phone is to be flown on the returning Soyuz 6S next month.

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