Next International Space Station crew launches atop Soyuz rocket
Launching atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, three people are heading toward the International Space Station. The trio will arrive at the $100 billion complex in just under six hours.
NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, along with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, launched inside their Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft atop a Soyuz-FG rocket. Liftoff occurred at 5:17 p.m. EDT (21:17 GMT) Sept. 12, 2017, from Pad 1/5, also known as Gagarin’s Start – named after the first human to launch into space in 1961.
The trek into orbit lasted just over nine minutes. However, the crew will have to travel around the planet about four times before rendezvousing and docking with the ISS. Docking is scheduled for about 10:57 p.m. (02:57 GMT Sept. 13) with hatch opening scheduled about 2.5 hours later.
This is Misurkin’s second spaceflight. He first flew to the ISS for a 166-day stay in 2013 as part of Expedition 35 and 36.
Acaba is on his third flight. He first flew into space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery during mission STS-119 in 2009. Just over three years later, he flew into space again to be part of the space station’s Expedition 31 and 32 increments.
Vande Hei, on the other hand, is on his first flight into the black of space. He was selected in 2009 to be an astronaut. While waiting for his first flight assignment, he served as an aquanaut aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory as part of the NEEMO 18 undersea exploration mission. He spent nine days 62 feet (19 meters) below the ocean’s surface some 5.4 miles (9 kilometers) off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The Soyuz MS-06 was the first time since June 2010 that two NASA astronauts launched into space aboard a Soyuz at the same time. This was due in part because of Russia’s decision last year to reduce its regular ISS crew-size from three to two. This would have also reduced the full ISS crew complement from six to five. However, because of a legal dispute between Boeing and Energia involving Sea Launch, five Soyuz seats were given to the American aerospace company. Boeing, in-turn, sold them to NASA.
Vande Hei, Acaba, and Misurkin will join the already-aboard Expedition 53 astronauts Randy Bresnik of NASA, Sergey Ryazansky of Russia, and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, who arrived at the outpost in their Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft on July 28, 2017.
Vande Hei, Acaba, and Misurkin will remain on the outpost through late-February 2018, while Bresnik Razansky and Nespoli will return to Earth on Dec. 14, 2017.
Carrying the Soyuz MS-06 trio into orbit was the Soyuz-FG rocket. The two-stage booster is just over 160 feet (49 meters) tall with a core diameter of about 9.7 feet (just under three meters). Additionally, it has four strap-on liquid-fueled boosters.
Once the engines on the four boosters and core stage throttled up to full power, they overcame the launch pad weights holding the rocket in place and the vehicle began to rise skyward. The boosters, each with an RD-107A engine, burned for about two minutes before falling away. The core stage with its RD-108A engine continued powering spaceward for an additional 2.5 minutes before it too fell away.
At about the same time boosters fell away, the escape tower at the top of the rocket jettisoned, as it was no longer needed. About 40 seconds after that, the launch shroud around the Soyuz spacecraft also fell away, as it too was no longer needed.
Seconds before the core stage was nearly depleted of its rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen propellant, and about to separate, the upper stage with its single RD-0110 engine began firing. The process of starting the upper stage engine while still attached to the lower stage, called hot-staging, lasted for several seconds before the core stage detached and fell away.
The upper stage continued to fire the rest of the way to orbit, an approximately four-minute burn. A few seconds after engine cutoff, the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft was detached, and the twin solar panels and antennas deployed. The spacecraft and crew were placed into an initial orbit of about 126 miles (202 kilometers) traveling more than 17,000 mph (27,000 km/h) to begin its chase of the ISS.
The launch was the 135th Soyuz spacecraft to take the to skies. It was also the 60th flight of a Soyuz-FG rocket, which is part of the R-7 family of rockets that has its origins in the former Soviet Union. The first R-7 to take flight was in May 1957.
Additionally, painted on the Soyuz rocket was an image celebrating the 60th anniversary of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to be orbited. The tiny probe launched on Oct. 4, 1957, from the very same launch pad that Soyuz MS-06 launched from.
Video courtesy of Space Videos
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.