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Soyuz 'Fast Track': How 1-Day Space Station Trips Work (Infographic)

Infographic: How astronauts are traveling to the International Space Station in hours instead of days.
By compressing flight tasks, crews going to the International Space Station can make the trip in one-eighth the time. (Image credit: Karl Tate, Space.com Infographics Artist)

For astronauts, chasing down and docking with the International Space Station has been a tedious two-day process on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. A new technique cuts this to only six hours. Following three unmanned, cargo-only test flights, the Expedition 35/36 crew is the first to try the technique.

For the Soyuz crew of three, the fast track rendezvous is much the same as before, except that tasks are compressed. In any docking maneuver, the ferry spacecraft must fire its rocket engines several times to raise its orbit to match that of its prey, in this case the International Space Station. [What It's Like to Ride a Soyuz (Video)]

The Soyuz spacecraft can fly autonomously in orbit for only about four days total, so the faster rendezvous frees up more fuel, oxygen and other supplies for possible use in an emergency.

STANDARD SOYUZ/PROGRESS FLIGHT PATH

Liftoff plus 9 minutes: Soyuz separates from booster rocket.

Flight Day 1/Orbit 3: Rocket engines fired to change Soyuz’s velocity slightly (“phasing burn” number 1).

Flight Day 1/Orbit 4: Phasing burn number 2.

Flight Day 2/Orbit 17: Third rocket engine burn.

Flight Day 3/Orbit 34: Final approach and docking with ISS.

NEW METHOD: FAST TRACK

Liftoff plus 9 minutes: Soyuz separates from booster rocket.

Soyuz executes a sequence of rocket engine burns.

Flight Day 1, Orbit 4: Five hours and 49 minutes after launch, Soyuz docks with the International Space Station.

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Karl Tate
Karl's association with SPACE.com goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. Starting in 2010, Karl has been TechMediaNetwork's infographics specialist across all editorial properties.  Before joining SPACE.com, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating  news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Karl on Google+.

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