Russian-American Crew Arrives on ISS

Russian-American Crew Arrives on ISS

A Russian-American crew arrived at the International Space Station today. Until quite recently, a Russian-American crew would not be particularly noteworthy since joint crews have launched to the ISS on both Russian and American spacecraft since the very first mission almost 21 years ago. But in today’s geopolitical climate it is a testament to the strength of the ISS partnership as well as a recognition of the facility’s co-dependency on both countries to continue operating.

NASA’s Frank Rubio and Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin from Roscosmos lifted off at 9:54 am ET this morning in their Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Soyuz MS-22 crew: Frank Rubio (NASA) and Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin (Roscosmos). Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The local time was 6:54 pm, just after sunset, creating a beautiful backdrop.

Launch of Soyuz MS-22 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, September 21, 2022. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The space station orbits at an inclination (51.6°) easily accessible from Baikonur and the Russians have perfected a two-orbit rendezvous so it took just a little over three hours before they docked at 1:06 pm ET. After a series of leak checks and other preparations, the crews open the hatches on the Soyuz side and the ISS side at 3:44 pm ET and the new crew members floated into their new home.

NASA TV was broadcasting their arrival, but it happened when communications were shifting from one Tracking and Data Relay Satellite to another and the signal temporarily ceased. NASA TV was also covering the tanking test of the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket and switched back to that event before the TRDSS signal was restored.

Roscosmos, however, showed their arrival and Daniel Fischer (@cosmos4u) tweeted a recording.

The ISS usually has a crew complement of seven people. Ten are now aboard during this crew changeover: five Russians, four Americans, and one Italian from the European Space Agency. Already aboard were the Russian cosmonauts who arrived on Soyuz MS-21 (Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov) and the U.S./European Crew-4 (NASA’s Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins and ESA’s Samantha Cristoforetti).

The ISS crew on September 21, 2022, L-R: first row, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Peletin (Roscosmos); second row, Frank Rubio (NASA), Sergey Korsakov (Roscosmos), Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos); third row, Bob Hines (NASA), Kjell Lindgren (NASA), Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA), Denis Matveev (Roscosmos), Jessica Watkins (NASA).

The Soyuz MS-22 crew is replacing Soyuz MS-21, which will return on September 29. On October 3, Crew-5 will launch to replace Crew-4, which will return on October 10. This do-si-do of crews coming and going on roughly 6-month schedules these days — with shorter “tourist” flights sprinkled in between — is the norm of ISS operations.

Rubio’s participation in Soyuz MS-22 is the first since Russia and the United States signed a new crew exchange, or seat swap, agreement in July. NASA had been paying Russia to send astronauts to the ISS for more than a decade especially after the space shuttle was terminated in 2011 and NASA had no other way to get crews back and forth. Now that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is operational, the situation has changed and NASA no longer is willing to pay.

But both sides agree that at least one Russian and one American always must be aboard to operate the space station. ISS has a Russian Operating Segment (ROS) and a U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) that includes modules from Japan and ESA and a Canadian robotic arm. Expertise from Russia and the U.S. are needed to keep everything working.

Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine it was challenging to get Russia to agree to no payments. But despite the grim geopolitical climate, the two sides did agree.  Rubio is on Soyuz MS-22 and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina (the only woman in the Russian cosmonaut corps) will launch on Crew-5 next month with two astronauts from NASA and one from Japan’s space agency, JAXA.

NASA’s Crew-5, L-R: Anna Kikina (Roscosmos), Josh Cassada (NASA), Nicole Mann (NASA), Koichi Wakata (JAXA).

The current agreement is for just two more sets of flights, one each in 2023 and 2024, with the U.S. flights on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. NASA wants to expand and extend the agreement once Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is operational to ensure crew exchanges are in place throughout the lifetime of the ISS, which NASA hopes will be 2030.

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