Soyuz TMA-18M Launch to Briefly Increase ISS Crew to Nine – UPDATE

Soyuz TMA-18M Launch to Briefly Increase ISS Crew to Nine – UPDATE

UPDATE, September 2, 2015, 12:50 am EDT:  Soyuz TMA-18M launched successfully on time at 12:37 am EDT.   Docking is scheduled for September 4 at 3:42 am EDT.

ORIGINAL STORY, September 1, 2015, 5:52 pm EDT:  Soyuz TMA-18M is scheduled to launch in a few hours from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with three new crew members for the International Space Station (ISS).  The three men — from Russia, Denmark (under the auspices of the European Space Agency), and Kazakhstan — will join six already aboard, increasing the crew complement to nine for about one week.  Launch is just after midnight (12:37 am) Eastern Daylight Time.

This mission is a bit of an anomaly in recent years where two of the
three crew will remain on board the ISS
for just one week instead of several months.   ESA’s Andreas Mogensen
and Kazakhstan’s Aidyn Aimbetov will return to Earth on September 11 EDT
(September 12 local time at the landing site) along with Russia’s
Gennady Padalka, who has been on ISS since March.  Padalka launched with
NASA’s Scott Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko on Soyuz TMA-16M.  Those two are staying aboard for a one-year mission, but the Soyuz TMA-16M
spacecraft can only remain on orbit for six months so it and Padalka —
along with Mogensen and Aimbetov — will come back to Earth. Russia’s
Sergei Volkov will command Soyuz TMA-18M and replace Padalka.

Soyuz TMA-18M crew, from left:  Aidyn Aimbetov (Kazakhstan), Sergei Volkov (Russia),
Andreas Mogensen (ESA/Denmark). Photo credit:  NASA

Mogensen and Aimbetov’s time aboard ISS will be even shorter than
expected because Soyuz TMA-18M will use the two-day
rendezvous trajectory to get there instead of the new six-hour direct
ascent route introduced for crew launches on Soyuz TMA-08M in March 2013
The two-day trip is necessary because the ISS orbit was raised recently
to avoid a piece of space junk, changing the orbital dynamics involved
in getting there.  The new orbit also caused a one day slip in the
launch date (from September 1). 

Soyuz TMA-18M now will arrive
on September 4, giving Mogensen and Aimbetov just seven and a half days
on ISS.  It may be just as well since the ISS will be a bit crowded with nine people —
the first time since November 2013 that so many have been there at one time.  On the other hand, ESA said that it means significant
replanning of Mogensen’s research activities and some experiments will
have to be left for other astronauts to complete in the future.

Aimbetov was a last minute addition to the crew after
singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from the mission.  A military pilot, he
was selected as a Kazakh cosmonaut in 2002 and trained at Star City.  He
became a Russian citizen along the way, but is flying as a Kazakh, not
Russian, crew member.  He was assigned to the flight in June and Kazakh
officials say they are paying $20 million, so he apparently is filling
Brightman’s “space tourist” slot, although he has been through the full
training regimen.  He will be the third Kazakh cosmonaut (after Toktar
Aubakirov and Talgat Musabayev), not counting Soviet cosmonauts from
Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union.

NASA TV coverage of the launch begins at 11:45 pm EDT tonight (September 1). 

Docking on September 4  is scheduled for 3:42 am EDT;  NASA TV coverage begins at 3:00 am EDT.

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