Saturday 20 July is launch day! And ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano has a fixed schedule that will lead him to his Soyuz MS-13 rocket together with NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and commander Alexander Skvortsov. This post shows the steps to launch and Beyond. All times are Central European Summer Time (CEST).
The trio get ready to leave their Cosmonaut Hotel rooms at around 11:30 and sign the door to their rooms, leaving their mark alongside the many cosmonauts and astronauts that preceded them. Their guests leave at around midday leaving the crew a last half hour of privacy before they leave for the bus at 12:30.
The ‘space bus’ brings the crew to ‘Building 254’ where the crew don the Sokol suits that protect Soyuz astronauts from loss of pressure or fire. The Sokol suit is designed to be worn in a sitting position making it difficult to walk – you will see the astronauts hunched over as they make their way to the Soyuz spacecraft. The suit is folded and tied together with elastic bands to ensure it does not leak.
As it can be quite warm inside, each astronaut carries a small battery-powered ventilator with them, with a hose that attaches to the suit to provide air circulation.
Five hours before launch (13:28) technicians begin the Soyuz rocket fueling process while the astronauts check their suits for leaks and flight surgeons record their medical data. Four hours before launch liquid oxygen is pumped into the Soyuz rocket’s boosters.
At 15:28, three hours before launch, the astronauts leave for Gagarin’s launchpad. The trip from building 254 taking around 25 minutes. The crew give a salute before walking to a lift that takes them to the top of their 50 m-tall rocket.
Two hours before launch, Alexander, Luca and Drew will set up communications with the launch control centre from their position inside the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft.
For the astronauts, the final two hours are spent waiting for the fuel to load, checking systems and ensuring everything is ready. As they wait and prepare they listen to music that is chosen beforehand. You can listen to Luca’s playlist here.
The hatch is closed one hour and 45 minutes before launch. Around 45 minutes later the service structure is partially lowered, and leak tests are done while the flight procedures are prepared.
Thirty minutes before launch the emergency escape system is armed. Five minutes later the service towers are fully lowered. Seven minutes before liftoff all pre-launch operations are completed and the automatic launch program is activated just under one minute later.
Five minutes before liftoff the Soyuz spacecraft takes full control and Luca, Drew and Alexander close their helmets. Final fueling of the oxidiser and nitrogen is completed just over two minutes before launch and the Soyuz switches to internal battery-power one minute before launch.
At 20 seconds before liftoff the launch command is given and at 15 seconds to launch the second umbilical cord attached to the rocket is released. Five seconds before liftoff the rocket is firing at full thrust.
The Soyuz launcher delivers 26 million horse-power to reach an orbital speed of 28 800 km/h. After the engines ignite they will propel the trio 1640 km in less than 10 minutes – averaging a 50 km/h increase every second for nine minutes.
There are three stages to reaching Earth orbit with the Soyuz rocket, each referring to a part of the rocket that uses its fuel and is then ejected to fall back to Earth. The iconic four boosters are called the first stage. It takes only two minutes for them to burn up and deliver their thrust – by this time Luca, Drew and Alexander will be flying 41 km high, travelling at 8300 km/h and have travelled 39 km over land.
Roughly 30 seconds later the fairing and escape system is jettisoned too. The second stage has been firing all this time but runs out of fuel at roughly five minutes after liftoff. The second stage is ejected at a height of 176 km above Earth (they will have entered space by now) leaving the trio travelling at a speed of around 13 500 km/h. In just five minutes they will have travelled 500 km over land – imagine leaving Rome and arriving in Milan just over five minutes later!
After the second stage is ejected, the third stage ignites to give the final thrust to push our astronauts out of gravity’s reach. At almost nine minutes after liftoff the intense acceleration comes to an end when the third stage stops firing and falls back to Earth. With a final jolt the astronauts will feel weightless and be flying in space en route to the Space Station!
Watch live coverage of the launch, docking and hatch opening via the ESA TV livestream.