Spaceflight Insider

Russia sets new date for Soyuz MS-02 mission, confirms decision to cut ISS crews

Expedition 49 NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, left, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, center, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos answer questions from the press outside the Soyuz simulator ahead of their Soyuz qualification exams, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City, Russia. The trio will fly to the ISS aboard the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, left, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, center, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos answer questions from the press outside the Soyuz simulator ahead of their Soyuz qualification exams, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. The trio will fly to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA.

Russia has set Nov. 1 as the new launch date for the next crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS), designated Soyuz MS-02. The announcement came just days after the country approved the plan of reducing its space station crew from three to two cosmonauts. These two decisions force reschedules in Russia’s spaceflight program.

The start of the Soyuz MS-02 mission was initially targeted for Sept. 23, but it was delayed due to a technical malfunction – a short circuit in the spacecraft’s equipment.

Workers watch as the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft is lowered to a horizontal position in preparation for being encapsulated in its fairing on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Workers watch as the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft is lowered to a horizontal position in preparation for being encapsulated in its fairing Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016, at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: Victor Zelentsov / NASA

Soyuz MS-02 will be the second mission of the upgraded Soyuz-MS spacecraft. The vehicle will be launched atop a Soyuz-FG rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to transport a trio of Expedition 49 crew members to ISS: NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko.

The crew arrived at Baikonur on Sept. 8 for final preparations before the upcoming flight. However, due to the slip, the trio returned to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow to continue training until the new launch date gets closer.

The postponement also affects the current crew onboard the ISS – NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin, and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi – as their return home was targeted for Oct. 30. Since the new launch date for Soyuz MS-02 was announced, it has become clear their mission will be extended in order to keep the space station inhabited. However, the new date of departure from the ISS has not been revealed yet.

The exact date of the crewed launch to the ISS after Soyuz MS-02 remains in question too. The liftoff of the Soyuz MS-03 mission, planned for Nov. 15, could also be affected by the postponement of the second Soyuz MS flight.

Besides rescheduling the upcoming mission to the ISS, Russian media has announced that the decision about downsizing the space station crew of cosmonauts from three to two has finally been made. The TASS press agency revealed the crew reduction will start with the March 2017 launch of the Soyuz MS-04 mission and will last until the launch of the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), which is scheduled for the end of 2017.

“In case the endorsed schedule is observed and the MLM gets into operation in December 2017, the curtailment will affect only one Russian crew. Otherwise, the practice of curtailment will continue until the commissioning of the module,” a source in the Russian aerospace industry told TASS.

According to the source, this decision was dictated by the reduction of Russian Progress cargo spacecraft launched to the ISS annually from four to three. NASA will rely on the two commercial resupply services spacecraft – Dragon and Cygnus – to send U.S. cargo to the space station. Three Progress spacecraft a year are not enough to support a trio of cosmonauts working permanently on board the ISS.

 

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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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