A flawless shakedown mission from Russia’s newly modified Soyuz capsule successfully delivered a new multinational crew to the Space Station early Saturday, July 9 after a two day orbital chase.
The upgraded Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launching on its maiden flight successfully docked to the International Space Station at 12:06 a.m. EDT Saturday, July 9, while soaring 254 statute miles over the South Pacific.
“Docking confirmed,” said a commentator from Russian mission control at Korolev outside Moscow. “Contact and capture complete.”
The Soyuz was ferrying the new multinational trio of astronauts and cosmonauts comprising Kate Rubins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on the Expedition 48/49 mission.
The three person crew of two men and one woman had launched flawlessly into picture perfect skies two days earlier from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 6 (7:36 a.m. Baikonur time, July 7), in the brand new version of the Russian Soyuz capsule that has been significantly upgraded and modified.
NASA’s Kate Rubins was strapped into the right seat, Ivanishin in the center and Onishi on the left.
It was a textbook approach on the shakedown mission that culminated in a flawless docking at the Earth-facing Russian Rassvet module on the Russian side of the massive orbiting outpost.
NASA TV carried the whole operation live with beautiful color video imagery streaming from the ISS showing the Soyuz approach and black and white video streaming from the Soyuz.
The Soyuz performed magnificently. All of the upgraded and modified systems checked out perfectly on this maiden flight of the new version of Russias venerable Soyuz, said NASA commentator Rob Navias.
“All new systems functioning perfectly,” said Navias. “This has been a perfect shakedown mission for the new Soyuz crew docking at the ISS.”
The Soyuz had slowed to an approach velocity of just 0.1 m/s at docking with the forward docking probe extended.
The approach was fully automated under Russian mission control as Ivanishin carefully monitored all spacecraft systems with steady update calls back to ground control.
The fully automated approached utilized the upgraded KURS NA automated rendezvous radar system.
During final approach, the Soyuz conducted a fly around maneuver starting at a distance of 400 meters. It moved 57 degress around the station while closing in to about 250 meters.
After station keeping for about 2 minutes while ground controllers conducted a final evaluation and no issues were detected, Russian mission control at last gave the GO for final approach and the GO command for docking was given.
The Soyuz made contact and completed a perfect docking at Rassvet. The hook and latches were then closed in for a tight grasp onto the station.
The crews then conducted a series of leak and pressurization checks.
After everything checked out, the hatches were finally opened about two and a half hours later at 2:26 a.m. EDT.
The new crew members of Expedition 48 officially floated aboard the International Space Station at about 2:50 a.m. EDT, July 9 with the hatches opened between their Soyuz MS-01 and the space station and after a live video transmission link had been established to show the festivities.
They were welcomed aboard with hugs and joined the Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos.
With the arrival of Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi, the stations resident crew is beefed up to its normal six person crew complement.
They soon held the traditional video telecon for well wishes and congratulations from family, friends and mission officials.
The new trio will spend at least four months at the orbiting lab complex conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.
Rubins is on her rookie space mission. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a doctorate in cancer biology which will be a big focus of her space station research activities.
The new trio will join Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos.
“The approximately 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations – not possible on Earth – will advance scientific knowledge of Earth, space, physical, and biological sciences. Science conducted on the space station continues to yield benefits for humanity and will enable future long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space, including the agency’s Journey to Mars,” says NASA.
The newly upgraded Soyuz offers increased reliability and enhanced performance.
Many changes were instituted including enhanced structural performance to minimize chances of micrometeoroid penetration. Engineers also added a fifth battery for more power and storage capacity. The solar arrays are also about one square meter larger and the efficiency of the solar cells increased about 2 percent.
Also a more modern command and telemetry system to interact with a new series of new Russian communications satellites that will offer greatly increased the coverage by ground control. This was previously only about 20 minutes per orbit while over Russian ground stations and will now increase up to 45 to 90% of orbital coverage via the Russian comsat system.
A phased array antenna was also added with increased UHF radio capability in the Soyuz descent module that now also include a GPS system to improve search and rescue possibilities.
The newly upgraded KURS rendezvous radar system will weigh less, use less power and overall will be less complicated. For example it doesn’t have to be moved out of the way before docking. Weighs less and uses less power.
New approach and attitude control thrusters were installed. The new configuration uses 28 thrusters with a redundant thruster for each one – thus two fully redundant manifolds of 28 thrusters each.
All of these modification were tested out on the last two progress vehicles.
Multiple unmanned cargo ships carrying tons of essential supplies and science experiments are also scheduled to arrive from Russia, the US and Japan over the next few months.
A SpaceX Dragon is scheduled to launch as soon as July 18 and an Orbital ATK Cygnus should follow in August.
The SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 mission is slated to deliver the station’s first International docking adapter (IDA) to accommodate the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, including the Boeing built Starliner and SpaceX built Crew Dragon.
A Japanese HTV cargo craft will carry lithium ion batteries to replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used on station to store electrical energy generated by the station’s huge rotating solar arrays.
Two Russian Progress craft with many tons of supplies are also scheduled to arrive.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.