Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Soyuz Crew Headed Home After Deorbit Burn

A crew homebound from the International Space Station is plunging back through the atmosphere after a thruster firing that dropped their Russian Soyuz spacecraft out of orbit and on course for landing in central Asia.

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri fired the Soyuz braking rockets for four minutes and 17 seconds, slowing the ship by 257 mph -- enough to start a supersonic slide back through the atmosphere.

Soyuz spacecraft comprise three different segments -- an Orbital Module, which is occupied by crews in flight; a Service Module with propulsion and solar power-generation systems; and a gumdrop-shaped Descent Module -- the segment the crew straps into for atmospheric reentry and landing.

This graphic shows the reentry profile and the point at which the Descent Module and the two other Soyuz segments separate.

A parachute system ultimately is deployed to slow the spacecraft during the final stages of reentry, and small thrusters are fired just before landing to ensure a soft touchdown.

The Soyuz spacecraft was flying about 12 miles away from the International Space Station at the time of the deorbit burn. Landing is scheduled for 3:53 a.m. about 50 miles north of the city of Arkalyk in central Kazakhstan.

Eight rescue helicopters are awaiting the capsule's arrival on cold, snow-swept steppes. Temperatures are in their teens. Sustained winds are 11 to 15 knots with gusts up to 30 knots. Skies are mostly cloudy.

You can can watch the atmospheric reentry and landing live here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage. And be sure to refresh this page for periodic updates.

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