Three members of Expedition 48 returned today from International Space Station inside capsule of Soyuz TMA-20M after 172 days in space.
Return of Jeff Williams (NASA), Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka (both from Roscosmos) started, when their Soyuz TMA-20M undocked from ISS Poisk zenith docking port remaining 415 km over Mongolia at 21:51 GMT. Alexey Ovchinin was designated as Commander of Soyuz; Oleg Skripochka and Jeff Williams took their places as Flight Engineers (Oleg Skripochka was first flight engineer). Soyuz, which was docked to Poisk module since March 19, 2016, performed two separation burns after three minutes from separation. Journey to Earth was planned for around 3 hours 16 minutes with landing zone in central Kazakhstan. In this way commandership of ISS and Expedition 49 was transferred to Anatoly Ivanishin from Roscosmos, who will be supported by Kate Rubins from NASA and Takuya Onishi from JAXA. Three crew members will welcome new astronauts, when Sergey Ryzhikov (Roscosmos), Andrei Borisenko (Roscosmos) and Robert Kimbrough (NASA) will dock inside Soyuz MS-02 launched on atop of Soyuz-MS on 23rd September 2016.
On picture above: Jeff Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka.
Deorbit burn, necessary for entering atmosphere, was performed after 2 hours 21 minutes, at 00:21 GMT, and lasted for 281 seconds. Soyuz started to reduce speed until it reached velocity of 460 km/h and entered upper layers of atmosphere. After next 25 minutes Soyuz released two modules using pyrotechnical charges: capsule was freed from Instrumental Module and Orbital Module (capsule called also Descent Module is placed between Instrumental and Orbital modules). It entered atmosphere with speed increased to 28 Ma and after passing through dense layers of atmosphere capsule deployed drag parachutes to reduce speed; next phase of flight was extracting main parachute. Capsule just before touching Earth started rocket thrusters providing final speed reduce and landed punctually at 01:13 GMT. Capsule rolled a little turning upside with thermal shield, but rescue teams were already on landing zone and helped Jeff Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka to left the capsule. All three are in good health and are at the moment in Karaganda; Jeff Williams will fly to Houston (surely he will celebrate reaching new NASA record of cumulated days spent in space which he bet with 534 days after Expedition 48) and his Russian colleagues will spend next days in Star City under Moscow.