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Encyclopedia > Space rendezvous

A space rendezvous between two spacecraft, often between a spacecraft and a space station, is an orbital maneuver where the two arrive at the same orbit, make the orbital velocities the same, and bring them together (an approach maneuver, taxiing maneuver); it may or may not include docking.


Alternatively the two are already together, and just undock and dock in a different way:

  • Soyuz spacecraft from one docking point to another on the ISS
  • in the Apollo spacecraft, an hour or so after Trans Lunar Injection of the sequence third stage of the Saturn V rocket/ LM inside LM adapter / CSM (in order from bottom to top at launch, also the order from back to front with respect to the current motion), with CSM manned, LM at this stage unmanned:
    • the CSM separated, while the four upper panels of the LM adapter were disposed of
    • the CSM turned 180 degrees (from engine backward, toward LM, to forward)
    • the CSM connected to the LM while that was still connected to the third stage
    • the CSM/LM combination then separated from the third stage

Another kind of "rendezvous" was in 1969, when the Apollo 12 mission involved a manned landing on the Moon within walking distance of the unmanned Surveyor 3, which had made a soft landing in 1967. Parts of the Surveyor were brought back. Later analysis showed that bacteria had survived their stay on the Moon.

On August 12, 1962 Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 were placed into adjacent orbits and passed within several kilometers of each other, but did not have the orbital maneuvering capability to perform a space rendezvous. This was also the case on June 16, 1963 when Vostok 5 and Vostok 6 were launched into adjacent orbits.

The first space rendezvous took place on December 15, 1965 when Gemini 6 came within 30-cm of Gemini 7. The spacecraft were not equipped to dock and no physical contact took place.

The first space rendezvous and docking took place on March 16, 1966 when Gemini 8 rendezvoused and docked with the uncrewed Agena 8 target vehicle.

An example of an undesired rendezvous in space is an uncontrolled one with space debris.

Anti-satellite weapons partly fall under the category of hostile rendezvous. "Non-energy weapons" are those which do not use explosives or radiation, but just collide.

  Results from FactBites:
Enchanted Rendezvous (964 words)
A lunar mission, too, would require some sort of rendezvous either in lunar orbit, as Michael's study suggested, or around the Earth from an orbital base—perhaps the space station itself—where a lunar-bound spacecraft might be assembled or at least fueled.
Rendezvous had to be a central element of all future flight endeavors—whatever they might be.
He insisted that his committee be allowed to study rendezvous "in the broadest terms" possible because, as he presciently argued, the technique was bound to play a major role in almost any advanced space mission NASA might initiate.
Gemini Radar (3784 words)
The rendezvous radar was originally planned to be similar to ones used by the Bomarc Missile, but it was found necessary to design an interferometer type radar for low weight, small volume, and to provide the highest reliability possible.
Four rendezvous radar tests were conducted during the mission, the first in revolution 14 on the second day; the spacecraft rendezvous radar successfully tracked a transponder on the ground at Cape Kennedy.
Rendezvous was technically accomplished and stationkeeping began some 6 minutes later when the two spacecraft were about 120 feet apart and their relative motion had stopped.
  More results at FactBites »



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