A Russian-made Soyuz TMA-17M blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome last night, as it undertook a journey to the International Space Station. Aboard the spacecraft was NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui. The initial launch proceeded without incident, with the rocket successfully reaching preliminary staging orbit. However, soon after reaching space it became apparent that the spacecraft's port solar array had failed to open.
Those watching the events unfold live on NASA TV from the comfort of their homes may have been uncomfortably reminded of the fate of Progress 59, a Russian cargo spacecraft based on a modified Soyuz design which was lost in April following a terminal loss of telemetry. Thankfully, yesterday's malfunction was more annoying than life-threatening.
In spite of the malfunction, ground operators determined that there was no danger in continuing docking maneuvers with the Soyuz. Capable of functioning with one solar panel, the spacecraft was able to rendezvous with the station under normal mission parameters. The Soyuz took four orbits of Earth to rendezvous and dock with the ISS, in a journey that lasted 5 hours and 43 minutes from launch to acquisition.
In the final minutes of the mission, as if in apology, astronauts aboard the Soyuz reported visual confirmation that the faulty solar panel had finally extended. Hatch opening took place at 12:56 AM ET, with the new arrivals returning the ISS to its nominal crew compliment of six.
Lindgren , Kononenko and Yui will spend the next five months aboard the station carrying out a wide range of scientific experiments, from harvesting space crops to sessions of lunar photography designed to inform the navigation systems of NASA's next-generation Orion spacecraft.
Scroll down to see the Soyuz spacecraft's final approach to the ISS.