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.
|Beginning of operation
|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|
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.
- 7K-OK: Soyuz 1 to 9. 9 launches. The first launch ended in disaster (death of Vladimir Komarov on landing).
- 7KT-OK: Soyuz 10 (aborted), 11. Two launches. Soyuz 11 was the second disaster (death of the three crew during descent).
- 7K-T: Soyuz 12, 13, 17, 18-1 (aborted), 18, 25, 26-29, 31-33, 35-40. 19 launches.
- 7K-MF6: Soyuz 22. One launch.
- 7K-T/A9: Soyuz 14, 15, 21, 23, 24, 30. Six launches.
- 7K-TM: Soyuz 16, 19 (Apollo-Soyuz Test Project). Two launches.
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.
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.
|Name of characteristic, dimensions||Meaning||Remarks|
|Spacecraft mass, kilograms||7220|
|Descent module mass, kg||~2900|
|• 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|
|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 foot length, cm||29.5|
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 №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).
24 million operations/sec
|С плавающей запятой
6 million operations/sec
|ГОСТ РВ 20.39.304-98 гр.5.5 и 5.3|
|от 40 до 60 Вт|
|+27; −5 В
+27; −5 V
|370 × 236 × 142 мм|
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
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.
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:
- higher power output from the solar panels through the use of more efficient photovoltaic cells
- different arrangement of the approach and orientation thrusters which should make it possible to achieve docking even if one of the engines fails or perform a safe de-orbit burn even “if there are two failures in the engines”
- a new system of mutual measurements for approach and docking. Instead of the optical device now used for control and manual orientation of the vehicle, a so-called “video orientator” is being developed whose work will not be hampered by orbital lighting conditions as is currently the case
- improved communications systems
- the old command radio link will be replaced by a unified command/telemetry system which will make it possible to receive telemetry via satellite and control the vehicle when it is not within sight of Russian ground stations
- GLONASS/GPS receivers which after parachute deployment and after touchdown will make it possible to send exact coordinates to Mission Control via the Kospas/Sarsat system
- Energiya: Accommodation of the equipment newly inserted onboard the Soyuz TMA-M vehicle. OMS: onboard measurement system (СБИ: системы бортовых измерений); GN&CS: guidance, navigation and control system (СУДН: системы управления движением и навигации); TCS: Thermal Control System (СОТР: Система обеспечения теплового режима).
- Soyuz (external link, 183 KB.) Page illustration from the Reference Guide to the International Space Station PDF.
- Two Soyuz diagrams by “Junior” (30 KB each): 1, 2
- RIAN: Soyuz TMA-M – a new series of the legendary Soyuz spacecrafts
Striking view of Soyuz TMA-9 (foreground) and Progress M-57 docked to the ISS; they are rather reminiscent of remora fish.
Soyuz TMA-17 departs the ISS on 2 June 2010, showing a good closeup of its probe-and-drogue docking cone.
- Encyclopedia Astronautica: Soyuz TM; Soyuz TMA
- Energiya: Soyuz TMA manned transport spacecraft; Soyuz TMA-M manned transport vehicle of a new series. Main characteristics, modifications, test results and some diagrams
- FP Space: Soyuz/Progress upgrades, 20/8/2007
- FGUP NII/ФГУП НИИ: Space radio measuring docking systems. A brief description of the Kurs docking system.
- Interspacenews.com: A Brief History Of The Soyuz Spacecraft
- James Oberg: “Consultant Report: Soyuz Landing Safety” and “Secrets of Soyuz”. No spacecraft is 100% safe, and the Soyuz has had a few minor mishaps and one near-fatality: the Soyuz-5 pilot, Boris Volynov, nearly met the same fate as the Columbia crew. Also: “Soyuz TMA – Improvements to the Russian Spacecraft”
- NASASpaceflight.com: the subscription-based L2 section has the Soyuz Crew Operations Manual (SoyCOM) – final (258 pages) available
- NASA Space Station: Soyuz information pages and Soyuz Gallery
- Russian Space Web: Soyuz spacecraft. Features an interactive diagram
~ Page last updated: 20/12/2012