Next ISS Crew Ready for Launch on Sunday

Next ISS Crew Ready for Launch on Sunday

Two Russians and an American are getting ready to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) Sunday night Eastern Standard Time (Monday morning at the launch site). At the same time, the current three ISS crew members will be coming home soon.

Anatoly Ivanishin, Anton Shkaplerov and Dan Burbank are scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft at 11:14 pm EST (11:14 am Monday at Baikonur). The three will join a Russian, an American and a Japanese who have been aboard the ISS for nearly six months. Both the spacecraft and the rocket used to launch it are named Soyuz.

The launch of Soyuz TMA-22 was delayed for several weeks while Russia investigated the cause of an August 24 launch failure of a Soyuz rocket that doomed the Progress M-12M (or Progress 44 in NASA’s numbering system) cargo spacecraft intended to take supplies to the ISS. Consequently, the ISS has had only three crewmembers instead of six aboard for a longer than usual time.

Russia launched three Soyuz rockets in October demonstrating that the basic vehicle appears fit for duty. One of those sent another Progress cargo craft to the ISS. There are several versions of the Soyuz rocket, and the one that will be used for Soyuz TMA-22 tomorrow is somewhat different from those that flew in October, but Russian and American space program managers clearly are convinced that the rocket is flight ready. The August 24 launch failure was traced to a clogged fuel line.

Each Soyuz spacecraft can accommodate three people. ISS crews rotate three-at-a-time on roughly six month schedules that coincide with the on-orbit lifetime of the Soyuz spacecraft that take them back and forth and serve as “lifeboats” in case there is an emergency. A Soyuz spacecraft can remain in orbit for about 200-210 days, meaning that the three crew members who are already aboard ISS must return very soon as their Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft reaches that limit. Those three — Mike Fossum, Satoshi Furakawa, and Sergei Volkov — will return on November 21.

The new crew will dock with ISS on at 12:33 am EST on Wednesday, November 16, providing only a few days to hand over operations from one crew to another.

ISS will then be back to a three-person crew until normal operations are expected to resume with the launch of another three-person crew (one Russian, one American and one European) on December 21. The number of crew aboard the ISS directly affects how much time is available for conducting scientific experiments in the three international laboratories — the U.S. Destiny module, Europe’s Columbus module, and Japan’s Kibo module — that comprise part of the orbiting facility. Scientific research in the microgravity environment of space was one of the primary rationales for building the space station.

Tomorrow’s launch begins a week of human spaceflight related events. On Monday-Wednesday, NASA is hosting a “community workshop” on long term plans for human spaceflight where it will introduce the results of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG). On Thursday, a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee will hold a hearing on NASA’s human space exploration program.

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