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Soyuz crewed spaceship

The Soyuz («Союз», “Union”) spacecraft has been the workhorse of the Russian space program since 1967, and is currently the main means of transporting crews to and from the ISS. Sergei Korolyov originally conceived the Soyuz as a lunar ferry spacecraft (and it could still conceivably be used for that purpose).

The Soyuz is not reuseable; a new one is built for each flight and is docked to the ISS for 6 months. The old one is piloted by the crew returning to Earth; the central crew cabin separates from the other two compartments (these burn up in the atmosphere), and makes a ballistic re-entry, parachutes deploying to slow it down before touchdown on Earth.

The outward appearance of the Soyuz hasn’t changed much over the years, but the interior is equipped with modern avionics (a “glass cockpit”).

The Soyuz vehicle consists of 3 components: the Instrument-Assembly Module (Priborno-Agregatnyi Otsek, Приборно-Агрегатный Отсек); Descent Module (Spuskaemyi Apparat, Спускаемый Аппарат); and Orbital Module (Bytovoi Otsek, бытовой Отсек). They are described in more detail on the Soyuz components page.

On re-entry, the Instrument and Orbital Modules separate and are discarded; the Descent Module makes a ballistic (unpowered) descent through the atmosphere, deploys parachutes (hopefully!) and makes a soft landing in the northern Kazakhstan landing zone.

Both Utility and Descent Modules are covered with a charcoal-colored thermal insulation.

The Soyuz has a launch tower escape system, which is of some reassurance to its passengers! Should the rocket explode on the launch pad, or during ascent, explosive bolts are fired to separate the spacecraft’s descent module from its service module, and the rocket’s upper launch shroud from the lower. The escape system’s motor then fires, catapulting the module and shroud up and free of the booster to descend by parachute some kilometers away. Such an abort occurred in 1983 on the Soyuz T-10 mission (subsequently referred to as T-10-1 or T-10-a), with the two cosmonauts on board surviving intact (“Shaken but not stirred,” as James Bond might put it).

To date there have been two fatal Soyuz flights: Soyuz 1 (death of Vladimir Komarov on landing; parachute failed to open) and Soyuz 11 (deaths of Vladislav Volkov, Georgii Dobrovolskii and Viktor Patsaev during descent because of an oxygen leak.)

There have been five main Soyuz variants that actually flew into space.

The table below (from somewhere in the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum) lists the variants that have flown under the Soyuz designation.

Soyuz types
Ship modification
Модификации корабля
Beginning of operation
Начало эксплуатации
Soyuz Original/basic 1966 55
Soyuz T First modification 1974 21
Soyuz TM Second modification 1986 34
Soyuz TMA Third modification 2002 22
Soyuz TMA-M Fourth modification 2010 In use

Previous versions

There were several sub-variants flying under the original Soyuz designation. These are rather confusing to figure out! The variants below are linked to descriptions at Encyclopedia Astronautica.

There were also many other variants that were planned, but never built, including the versions intended for transport to the Moon and back, such as the 7K-L1 Zond.

An article by Asif Siddiqi in Spaceflight magazine March 2003, “Soyuz variants – a 40-year history,” describes the variants in detail.

The next major variant was the Soyuz T. The 7K-ST flew under the Soyuz T designation. It could carry three spacesuited cosmonauts, had solar panels and digital computers. 18 attempted launches between 1978-1986, 15 of which were manned. The first launch (T-1) was unmanned. One, Soyuz T-10-1 or T-10-a, failed to reach orbit (as mentioned above) as it aborted at launch. (The following flight was designated Soyuz T-10.) Thus there were 14 actual Soyuz T flights.

The Soyuz TM was a modernized version of the Soyuz T and flew 34 missions between 1986 and 2002.

Soyuz TMA

The Soyuz TMA (200 series) ferries crews to the International Space Station and back to Earth. It made its first flight in November of 2002, replacing the previous Soyuz TM version, which had been in service since May 1986.

The following was taken from the Energiya TMA page.

Soyuz TMA technical data
Name of characteristic, dimensions Meaning Remarks
Spacecraft mass, kilograms 7220
Descent module mass, kg ~2900
Crew, persons 2-3
Orbit parameters
• inclination 51.6°
• altitude, km
~ of insertion 202/238 (Perigree/apogee)
~ during spacecraft docking up to 425
~ during spacecraft descent up to 460
Geometrical characteristics of the spacecraft, millimeters
• body length 6980
• maximal diameter 2720
• diameter of living compartments 2200
• solar array span 10,700
Calculated mass of payload, kg (with a 3-person crew)
• delivered up to 100
• returned up to 50
Flying life, days 200 (Including the autonomous flight time)
Touchdown speed, meters/second
• with the main parachute system, maximum/nominal 2.6/1.4 (3.6/2.6 via Soyuz TM)
• with the reserve parachute system, maximum/nominal 4.0/2.4 (6.1/4.3 via Soyuz TM)
Launch vehicle Soyuz FG Developed for the Soyuz TMA spacecraft; it passed flight testing during the Progress spacecraft launches in the years 2001-2002
Anthropometric parameters of Soyuz TM and Soyuz TMA spacecraft
Parameters Soyuz TM Soyuz TMA
Cosmonaut/astronaut height, centimeters
• maximum, in the standing position 182 190
• minimum, in the standing position 164 150
• maximum, in the sitting position 94 99
Cosmonaut/astronaut chest circumference, cm
• maximum 112 not limited
• minimum 96 not limited
Cosmonaut/astronaut mass, kg
• maximum 85 95
• minimum 56 50
Maximum foot length, cm 29.5

Soyuz TMA-M

The Soyuz TMA-M (700 series) is a digital upgrade of the first TMA, making its first flight in October 2010.

In April 2006 the head of Energiya, Nikolai Sevast’yanov, announced that a new Soyuz variant would be developed, that would have digital control systems (rather than the current analog «Аргон-16», Argon-16), a new telemetry system and a new Russian «Курс-Н», Kurs-N approaching and docking system (rather than the Ukranian Kurs in use).

The Soyuz TMA now is equipped with five different radio-technical systems, and this means that there are established on board five bulky and heavy transmitters, five receivers and five amplifiers, developed in the 70s, with the application of analog components. However, digital technologies will make it possible to combine all these systems into one compact block.

NK No.566

The new TsVM-101 computer (which weights 8.3 kg) will replace the Argon-16 computer (which weighs 70 kg – manufacturer’s page, in Russian). The analog telemetry system will also be replaced by a lighter digital equvalent called МБИЦ, MBITS. The TsVM-101 will initially be installed in the rear Instrumentation/Propulsion Module of the Soyuz and Progress, but it is planned to later move it to the Descent Module to take over re-entry control functions from the KS-020M computer that currently handles this, and enable the TsVM-101 to be reused. This will not happen before 2010.

The table below shows the TsVM-101 specifications, from the manufacturer’s page (I am uncertain of some translations).

TsVM-101 specifications
24 млн.оп/с
24 million operations/sec
С плавающей запятой
Set floating-point
6 млн.оп/с
6 million operations/sec
Оперативная память
2 Мбайт
2 MB
Программная память
Program memory
2 Мбайт
2 MB
Условия эксплуатации
Operating conditions
ГОСТ РВ 20.39.304-98 гр.5.5 и 5.3
Потребляемая мощность
Power consumption
от 40 до 60 Вт
Напряжение питания
Voltage range
+27; −5 В
+27; −5 V
Габаритные размеры
Overall dimensions
370 × 236 × 142 мм
8,5 кг

This photo (from the NASASpaceflight.com forum) shows the difference in sizes between the two generations of computers.

These developments will enable the ship to be cheaper, lighter and more spacious. Only Russian-made systems would be used. There will also be an improved cooling system for the hydrogen peroxide re-entry control thrusters, enabling the Soyuz to remain in space for up to a year. The ship would be designated Soyuz TMA-Ts, «Союз-ТМА-Ц», the “Ts” meaning Цифровой, Tsifrovoi, digital (later changed to “M,” presumably for “Modernized”).

The new digital system will first be test-flown aboard a modified Progress-M (beginning from serial number 401), currently Progress M-65 in August 2008 (with a “standard” Progress as backup should the systems malfunction). The first digital Soyuz will be Soyuz TMA-01M N°701, to fly in October 2010.

From 2010 there will be a transition period when old and new versions of Soyuz and Progress will be flown.

At the 2006 Farnborough Airshow Nikolai Sevast’yanov said that the next modernized Soyuz variant would be able to stay docked to the ISS for nearly a year (360 days), and also do a circumlunar mission (around the Moon), re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere at the planetary escape velocity of 11.2 km/second. The heat shielding for the Descent Module would thus need to be strengthened and thickened. The external hull design would otherwise remain much the same.

Soyuz Spacecraft Upgrade Ups Payload By 70 Kg

Roskosmos, 26/09/2010

New onboard digital command and control systems have helped increase the payload of Russia's manned Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft by 70 kg, the head of the Energia space corporation said. The new equipment replaces the Argon analogue system that has been used for more than 30 years, Vitaly Lopota said. A Soyuz with a new digital computing and telemetric system will be launched to the International Space Station on October 8.

The new onboard computer, the СС-101, will be tested by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, Lopota said. The Soyuz TMA-01M will replace the Soyuz TMA series spacecraft that have been used until now, Lopota added.

Design of transport human space vehicle Soyuz TMA-M is based on Soyuz TMA’s one which has been commissioned in 2002. The modification was customized by the Russian Federal Space Agency. Prime contractor is RCS-Energia. The vehicle of new series features the same range of objectives as the previous series.

 Compare to the basic design, Soyuz TMA-M has the following upgrades:

  • Units of the Guidance, Navigation and Control and Onboard Measurement system have been replaced with the modified ones, with up-to-date EEE-parts and enhanced SW;
  • functional capabilities of the vehicle have been enlarged through deeper integration with the Russian segment computer system and GNC onboard computer control of the systems via multiplex exchange link;
  • payload lifting capacity improved due to reduction of the onboard system mass parameters.

The updates cover one of the steps aimed at development of the advanced new-generation space vehicle (ACV). Flight certification of the units and hardware installed on Soyuz TMA-M will allow to implement relevant solutions for ACV. External view of the upgraded vehicle is similar to the Soyuz TMA one.

Flight tests of the vehicle will include two missions to the ISS. The third mission of Soyuz TMA-03M is considered as acceptance. Flight tests are to confirm proper execution of the nominal operations and off-nominal cases, maneuvers, etc.

Soyuz MS

This is to be another incremental upgrade to the TMA model, the last major upgrade before the next-generation vehicle is introduced. The modifications will initially be tested on the Progress cargo ship, designated Progress MS. First flight is (as of December 2012) to be in early 2016. As described in a forum thread at NASASpaceflight.com, the main modifications will be:

From the Energiya website:

The manned transportation spacecraft Soyuz MS developed and built by RSC Energia is designed to deliver the crews of up to three and their accompanying cargoes to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as to return them to Earth. When attached to the ISS, it also serves as a crew rescue vehicle and is kept permanently ready for emergency crew return to Earth.

The new-series spacecraft Progress MS and Soyuz MS were developed as a result of a radical upgrade of Progress M and Soyuz TMA spacecraft. The onboard command radio system Kvant-B was replaced with an integrated command and telemetry system with an additional telemetry channel. The new command radio link will make it possible to receive signals via relay satellites Luch-5, which will significantly increase the radio coverage zone for the spacecraft – up to 70% of an orbit. The spacecraft are equipped with an advanced onboard radio system for rendezvous and docking Kurs-NA. As compared with an earlier model, Kurs-A, it has improved mass and dimensions parameters and makes it possible to delete from the spacecraft hardware configuration one of the three radio antennas. Instead of the analog TV system Klyost, the spacecraft use a digital TV system, which makes it possible to maintain communications between the spacecraft and the station via a space-to-space RF link. Also included into the onboard equipment of the Soyuz MS and Progress MS series spacecraft to replace the equipment that is being phased out of production is a new Digital Backup Loop Control Unit developed by RSC Energia, an upgraded Rate Sensor Unit BDUS-3A and a LED headlight SFOK. Thanks to the use of new ground and onboard radio systems, it became possible to use state-of-the-art data transmission protocols, which resulted in improved operational stability of spacecraft control system.

Most of the engineering solutions incorporated into the design of Soyuz MS and Progress MS spacecraft will be used in the design of the new-generation Crew Transportation Spacecraft, which is currently under development at RSC Energia.


Updated 6 Jul 2016