Spaceflight Insider

Three Expedition 45 crew members blast off to Space Station

Soyuz TMA-18M launch sequence combo.

Launch sequence of Soyuz-FG with TMA-18M atop. (Click to enlarge.) Photo Credit: Roscosmos

A Russian Soyuz-FG rocket, carrying three new International Space Station (ISS) crew members, has successfully lifted off from launch pad 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch occurred as planned at 12:37 a.m. EDT (4:37 GMT) Wednesday, Sept. 2, when the rocket blasted off, carrying the Soyuz TMA-18M manned capsule with the Expedition 45 trio aboard.

The new crew is now on a two-day trip to the ISS, which will end with a docking two to the Poisk module at 3:42 a.m. EDT (7:42 GMT) on Friday, Sept. 4. On the same day, the hatches between the Soyuz and station will be opened at about 6:15 a.m. EDT (10:15 GMT). The Soyuz TMA-18M will serve as the taxi ride home for the station’s One-Year Mission duo – Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko.

Soyuz TMA-18M liftoff

Soyuz-FG lifting off with TMA-18M. (Click to enlarge.) Photo Credit: ESA / S. Corvaja

The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft is piloted by Flight Engineer Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). A veteran of two spaceflights (Expedition 17 and 28/29 to the ISS), Volkov is joined by two space debutants: Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency (ESA), the first Dane in space, and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency (KazCosmos), the first cosmonaut from the independent Republic of Kazakhstan. Aimbetov was selected to fly on this mission in place of British soprano singer Sarah Brightman, who had withdrawn in May 2015, and her backup, Japanese entrepreneur Satoshi Takamatsu, who also had quit.

The crew members completed their final pre-flight exams in Star City, outside Moscow, in late July and early August, going through the usual Space Station simulations as well as simulations aboard the Soyuz. After passing their exams, the crew was cleared to head to the launch site where they arrived two weeks prior to the launch to go through a process consisting of fit checks, final simulations, and procedure reviews.

“At the moment, I’m focusing on the assignments I have to carry out up there, and going over the take-off and landing procedures, which are most critical of all. But I hope I’ll have time to sit by the window and look down on Earth for a while,” Mogensen said before the launch.

The Soyuz-FG booster integrated with the Soyuz TMA-18M capsule was rolled out of the processing facility and was erected on the launch pad of Area 1 (“Gagarin’s launch pad”) of the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Monday, Aug. 31. A series of checks were performed, and the Core Stage and Third Stage umbilical towers were moved into position next to the launcher.

After a number of checks and preparations, teams began raising the two halves of the Soyuz Service Structure to enclose the launch vehicle and provide access platforms for workers. With Soyuz standing tall at the pad, teams also conducted a series of checkouts of the launch vehicle and spacecraft. On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the State Commission approved the crew and gave the green light for the launch.

The rocket began rising from its launch pad commencing a nine-minute ascent mission following the usual flight profile. The Launch Abort System jettisoned its Escape Tower at 1 minute and 54 seconds into the mission, marking the transition from low- to mid-altitude abort modes in a system that provides launch abort capability all the way to orbital insertion. The four boosters and their engines burned for 1 minute and 58 seconds, consuming nearly 40 metric tons of propellants.

Four minutes and 45 seconds into the flight, the Core Stage shut down its engine. Next, about four minutes later, the Third Stage cutoff occurred, and the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle and was successfully inserted into orbit. The separation was followed by the deployment of the solar panels and the communication antenna.

Since Soyuz TMA-18M uses the two-day approach to the ISS, it will receive an update on its orbital parameters during the mission’s first ground station pass following the completion of the first orbit. During the third orbit of the mission, the spacecraft will conduct a pair of engine burns, separated by about half an orbit. Another engine burn will take place during the 17th orbit of the mission to put the Soyuz in the appropriate orbit taking it to a position from where it can enter its Automated Rendezvous Sequence.

It had been initially planned to launch the spacecraft under a short-cut scheme and dock into the station in 6 hours after the blast-off, but for safety considerations it was decided to use a two-day flight pattern for the Soyuz.

Soyuz TMA-18M crew

The Soyuz TMA-18M crew. Left to right: Aidyn Aimbetov (KazCosmos), Sergei Volkov (Roscosmos) and Andreas Mogensen (ESA). (Click to enlarge.)
Photo Credit: GCTC

When the ISS hatches open, the three new crew members will be greeted by Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos, as well as Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos, Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren of NASA, and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

On Saturday, Sept. 5, at around 2:40 p.m. EDT (18:40 GMT), Commander Gennady Padalka will officially hand over command of the space station to Expedition 44 Flight Engineer Scott Kelly.

With the arrival of the TMA-18M crew at the station, a total of nine people will be aboard the orbiting laboratory for the first time since 2013. Volkov will remain aboard the ISS for six months, whereas Mogensen and Aimbetov will be aboard the station for eight days until Expedition 45 begins on Sept. 11 when Padalka, Mogensen, and Aimbetov undock from the ISS in the Soyuz spacecraft designated TMA-16M and return to Earth. The Soyuz TMA-16M transported Padalka, Kelly, and Kornienko to the space station in March. As each Soyuz remains in orbit for about six months, the exchange of spacecraft is necessary at the midway point of the One-Year Mission.

On Tuesday, Sept. 15, Kelly and Kornienko will reach the halfway point of their One-Year Mission in space to determine the long-term physiological and psychological effects of microgravity on the human body that would be endured on long-duration spaceflights – such as on a mission to Mars. The purpose of the experiment is to provide scientists with information as to how the human body adapts to the space environment, and also on how best to develop countermeasures that will help minimize the adverse effects. The pair will have spent 342 consecutive days living in space by the time they return to Earth with Volkov in March 2016 aboard the Soyuz TMA-18M.

During the coming months, the Expedition 45 crew members will perform more than 250 science experiments in categories such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.

The Soyuz TMA-M, manufactured by RKK Energia, is the latest version in the series of Russian Soyuz spacecraft, currently used to transport crews to and from the ISS. The new Generation of TMA-M spacecraft first flew in 2010 and feature various improvements over the previously used TMA version.

The 162 ft (49.4 m) tall Soyuz-FG is a medium-lift launch vehicle for manned launches and used to send Soyuz spacecraft into orbit for missions to the ISS. The FG version can deliver payloads of up to 7.1 metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Video Courtesy of Телестудия Роскосмоса (TV Roscosmos)



Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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