Soyuz TMA-06 crew set sail on their busy ISS expedition

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A Russian Soyuz FG launch vehicle has lofted the next set of International Space Station crewmembers on their Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft. Commander Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeni Tarelkin and former Shuttle astronaut Kevin Ford will link up with Expedition 32’s Suni Williams, Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide on Thursday.

Soyuz Launch:

Ford, who previously served as pilot aboard space shuttle Discovery on her STS-128 mission to the station in September 2009, will first serve as an Expedition 33 flight engineer through mid-November, and will then transition to commander of Expedition 34 through March, 2013.

Ford was the sole American on the launch, as the ISS looks forward to gaining Russian Flight Engineers Novitskiy and Tarelkin of the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Ford previously spent 14 days in space as pilot aboard Discovery, delivering the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) “Leonardo” to the station with more than 15,000 pounds of science and storage racks to the orbiting outpost.

During the mission, Ford’s tasked included the use of Discovery’s OBSS (Orbiter Boom Sensor System) to help conduct a survey of the orbiter’s Thermal Protection System (TPS); installed and unberthed “Leonardo,” operated the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) in support of two of the mission’s three spacewalks and helped unload critical supplies from Leonardo.

The Soyuz TMA-06 launch was delayed from October 15 to October 23 due to failure of equipment aboard Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft during tests on Baikonur cosmodrome.

The trio’s Soyuz TMA-06M were lofted into orbit by their Soyuz FG launch vehicle at 10:51 UTC.

This was the first Soyuz launch from Pad Number 31/6 since Soyuz T-12 in 1984, 28 years ago – due to the need to check new systems installed on this complex for manned launches, while maintenance and upgrade requirements to launch the new Soyuz range at Pad Number 1/5.

The Soyuz, which first flew in 1966, was a modification of the Voskhod rocket featuring an upgraded and lighter telemetry system, and more fuel efficient engines. It was initially used to launch only Soyuz spacecraft; however with the introduction of the Soyuz-U in 1973 it began to launch other satellites as well.

The Soyuz-U, which remains in service, is the most-flown orbital launch system ever developed, having made around 750 flights to date, plus around 90 more in the Soyuz-U2 configuration optimised to use synthetic propellant.

The Soyuz-FG itself – an improved descendent of the Soyuz U – has performed 23 flights without issue. The vehicle has an analog control system, but it will eventually be replaced by the Soyuz-2.

The Soyuz-2 was developed from the older Soyuz models, and features digital flight control systems and modernised engines. Two variants are currently in service; the Soyuz-2-1a, and the Soyuz-2-1b which features an RD-0124 third stage engine which provides additional thrust. The RD-0124 was declared operational on 3 May 2011.

A third configuration, the Soyuz-2-1v, is currently under development and is expected to make its maiden flight next year. It features an NK-33 engine in place of the RD-108A used on the core stages of the other configurations, and does not include the strapon boosters used by other configurations. (Click here for an array of documentation on this vehicle in the L2 Russian section).

Docking is expected in two day’s time, on Thursday, with the Soyuz joining with the space-facing Poisk module of the orbiting laboratory.

The new crew be aboard the station as SpaceX’s Dragon departs after its CRS-1 mission, and should get to see the next Dragon arrive in January on its CRS-2 mission – pending the outcome of the failure investigation into the loss of Engine 1 on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle during ascent.

The crew’s tour should include no less than our Russian Progress resupply vehicle visits, although it is now unlikely they will get to see Orbital’s Cygnus vehicle make its debut run to the ISS, following yet more delays to its schedule.

Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin will remain aboard the station until March 2013, whereas Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide, who arrived at the complex in July, will return to Earth November 19.

Mid-December will see three new crew members launch, namely NASA’s Tom Marshburn, Canada’s Chris Hadfield and Russia’s Roman Romanenko – rounding out the six-person Expedition 34 crew.

(Images via NASA and Roscosmos).

(NSF and L2 are providing full high level space flight coverage, available no where else on the internet, from Orion and SLS to ISS and COTS/CRS/CCDEV, to European and Russian vehicles).

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