Ten souls will sleep aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tonight, after the successful launch and docking at dusk on Wednesday of the Soyuz MS-22 and its crew of two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut. Space veteran Sergei Prokopyev and new flyers Dmitry Petelin and Frank Rubio launched from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:54:49 p.m. local time (9:54:49 a.m. EDT) , the flared mid-stage engine and four slender side thrusters of their Soyuz-2.1a rocket rolling back the encroaching evening. Three hours later, the trio docked safely with the station’s Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Rassvet module to launch a six-month science mission.
Aboard the ISS to welcome the new arrivals are Expedition 67 Commander Oleg Artemyev and fellow Russian cosmonauts Sergei Korsakov and Denis Matveev, who launched on Soyuz MS-21 in March, along with American astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob “Farmer” Hines and Jessica Watkins and Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, who reached the station aboard SpaceX’s Dragon Freedom in late April.
As detailed in yesterday’s AmericaSpace story, the flight by Salvadoran-born army doctor and helicopter pilot Rubio marks the first time an American astronaut has stepped on a Russian Soyuz since launch. Mark Vande Hei’s record aboard the Soyuz MS-18 in April. of 2021. Three subsequent Soyuz crews – last October and December and most recently the climb trek of Artemyev, Korsakov and Matveev in March – were either staffed entirely by professional Russian cosmonauts or short-term visitors.
Rubio becomes the first astronaut to launch under the banner of the Integrated Crew Agreement, signed between NASA and Roscosmos in mid-July. This will see at least one American crew member aboard each Soyuz and at least one Russian crew member aboard each Crew Dragon, to ensure the uninterrupted presence of at least one US operating segment (USOS) and at least one specialist from the Russian operational segment (ROS). on the space station. No sooner than October 3, Crew-5 – which includes American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese Koichi Wakata and Russian Anna Kikina – will lift off from historic Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
The Soyuz MS-22, atop its giant thruster, was deployed to the pad earlier this week, watched closely by the backup crew, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub and NASA’s Loral O’Hara . Early Wednesday morning, the two crews were woken up, showered and ceremonially autographed their doors at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur. A solemn blessing by a Russian Orthodox priest was followed by Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio being bused to Site 254 to don their Sokol (“Falcon”) launch and entry suits.
It gave the trio a chance to talk (albeit behind glass screens) with their friends and families. Among the NASA delegation, Chief Astronaut Reid Wiseman, ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano, Director of Flight Crew Operations Norm Knight and Johnson Space Center (JSC) Deputy Director Stephen Koerner were present. After their final goodbyes, Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio were transported by bus for the 25-minute journey to Site 31/6.
At the pad, they were squeezed into their couches in the tiny Soyuz MS-22 descent module. Prokopyev took the center commander’s seat, with Petelin on his left as Flight Engineer-1 and Rubio on his right as Flight Engineer-2. In the final minutes of the countdown, Russian music played in the cabin for the benefit of the crew. At T-5 minutes, Prokopyev’s controls were unlocked and the internal avionics aboard the spacecraft were brought into action for launch.
At T-10 seconds, the turbopumps of the RD-108A first stage engine and the RD-107A engines of the four strap-on conical thrusters reached flight speed. Five seconds later, the engines themselves ignited, casting an eerie glow over the dull orange landscape of an early autumn evening in Baikonur. “A sunset start,” gloated NASA commentator Rob Navias of the spectacular launch. Finally, the Site 31/6 refueling tower retracted and at 6:54:49 p.m. local time (9:54:49 a.m. EDT), the Soyuz MS-22 lifted off, producing combined thrust of 930,000 pounds (422,000 kilograms).
The ascent was nominal except for a few communication interruptions during the powered flight, and the Soyuz-2.1a delivered the spacecraft accurately into orbit. At the time of launch, the ISS itself was flying over northwestern Uzbekistan.
And when Soyuz MS-22 finally separated from the rocket, just under nine minutes after launch, about a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers), three hours and two full circuits of Earth passed between them and docked at the sprawling orbital outpost. The docking took place at 1:06 p.m. EDT, about three hours and 12 minutes after departing Baikonur, following a now-standard “ultra-fast” rendezvous profile.
After a few hours of pressurizing and checking for leaks, Artemyev — dressed in dark blue pants and a red shirt — opened the hatches to the station at 3:34 p.m. EDT. At the time of the hatch opening, the ISS was flying about 260 miles (420 kilometers) above the South Pacific Ocean.
Expedition 67 will operate as a crew of ten for the coming week, before Artemyev, Korsakov and Matveev board Soyuz MS-21 and return to Earth on September 29. Upon their departure, Expedition 68 will officially begin, initially under the command of the Italian Cristoforetti, who becomes the first European woman to lead the station. Her term of command is expected to end in mid-October, when she, Lindgren, Hines, and Watkins return to Earth aboard Dragon Freedom.
Meanwhile, Crew-5’s Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina entered an official quarantine period yesterday at JSC in Houston, Texas ahead of launch. The foursome will board the Dragon Endurance – which previously supported Crew 3 astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Matthias Maurer and Kayla Barron – to the station no earlier than 12:45 p.m. EDT on October 3.
Dragon Endurance spent more than 177 days in space on its maiden voyage, which ended last May. Since then she has been heavily refurbished with a new heat shield, parachutes and nacelle panels. Her four forward bulkhead Draco engines have all flown before. The “interstage” of its Falcon 9 booster was also replaced after suffering damage on a road bridge during transit in early summer.
With Crew-5 targeting six months on the ISS, this mission will push Dragon Endurance’s in-orbit time to a cumulative year in total, becoming the first Crew Dragon vehicle to approach this milestone. Its three space siblings – Endeavour, Resilience and Freedom, currently in orbit – have marked their own days in space, with Endeavor currently leading the pack for 280 days across three missions.
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