Soyuz MS-02 On Its Way to ISS – UPDATE

Soyuz MS-02 On Its Way to ISS – UPDATE

UPDATE, October 21, 2016:  Docking was successful at 5:52 am ET this morning.

ORIGINAL STORY, October 19, 2016: Three new crew members for the International Space Station (ISS) lifted off on time at 4:05 am ET this morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  They are expected to arrive at ISS on Friday morning on their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft.  The launch comes just hours after two Chinese astronauts entered their own space station, Tiangong-2.

Today’s launch was postponed from September 23 because of a “squeezed cable” inside the spacecraft.  Soyuz MS-02 is the second of a new version of the Soyuz spacecraft and some of the kinks are still being worked out.  The first Soyuz was launched in 1967 and the spacecraft has undergone a number of upgrades over the decades.  This MS version replaces the TMA-M variant.  The first MS launch, Soyuz MS-01, also was delayed this summer because of last minute technical issues.

Soyuz MS-02 on launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakshtan, minutes before launch on October 19, 2016 ET.  Screenshot from NASA TV.

The three crew members aboard Soyuz MS-02 are NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko.  They are taking the 2-day trajectory to ISS, rather that the shorter 6-hour route, to checkout the new spacecraft systems.  Docking is expected at 5:59 am ET on Friday.

They will be the second crew to dock at a space station this week.

Two Chinese astronauts docked with and entered their own space station, Tiangong-2, yesterday (Eastern Daylight Time-EDT). Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong were launched on Shenzhou-11 on Sunday (EDT).  They will spend 30 days aboard their 8.6 metric ton (MT) space station, China’s second (Tiangong 1 was launched in 2011 and was visited by two three-person crews in 2012 and 2013 respectively).  That will double the duration of the longest Chinese human spaceflight to date, the 15-day Shenzhou-10 flight in 2013.  Tiangong-1 and -2 are precursors to a 60 MT multi-modular space station China plans to have in place by 2022.

The Soyuz MS-02 crew will remain aboard the 400 MT ISS until February 2017.   ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russian, Japan, Canada and 11 European nations working through the European Space Agency (ESA).  It has been permanently occupied since December 2000 with crews rotating on 4-6 month schedules. 

The Soyuz MS-02 crew will be joining three crew members already aboard — NASA’s Kate Rubins, JAXA’s Takuya Onishi and Roscosmos’s Anatoly Ivanishin.  They are getting ready to come home in less than two weeks, having been aboard the facility since July.  Their replacements will be launched four weeks from now.  On November 15, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky will head to ISS continuing the routine do-si-do of crew arrivals and departures.

In the meantime, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus OA-5 cargo spacecraft is in orbit waiting for Soyuz MS-02 to dock.  Its launch was delayed a day, from Sunday to Monday, so it missed its original arrival date this morning.  NASA decided to have it loiter in space while Soyuz MS-02 arrives and the crew has a day to acclimate itself.  Cygnus is berthed to ISS, rather than docking.   It will be grappled using the robotic Canadarm2 at about 7:05 am ET on Sunday, with berthing to an ISS port about two hours later.

NASA TV will cover the Soyuz MS-02 docking on Friday beginning at 5:15 am ET and the Cygnus berthing operation on Sunday beginning at 6:00 am ET.

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