Soyuz TMA-06M docks to ISS – boosts crew for busy period of activity

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The Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft, also known by its US designation of 32S, has docked to the International Space Station (ISS) on time at 12:29 PM GMT, boosting the station’s crew back up to six people for the first time since September 16. The extra crewmembers will be a welcome addition to the ISS, as the station moves into an upcoming week of unusually fast-paced operations.

Soyuz TMA-06M docking:

After enjoying a smooth launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, Soyuz TMA-06M has been chasing down the ISS for the past two days, in order to bring it in for a docking to the Mini Research Module-2 (MRM-2) “Poisk” docking port, slightly ahead of schedule at 12:29 PM GMT.

The docking heralds the arrival at the ISS of three new crewmembers for the Expedition 33 crew – which prior to the docking consisted of NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Suni Williams, Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

Now joining them will be NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, who previously served as Pilot of Shuttle Discovery’s STS-128 mission to the ISS in August/September 2009, and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky & Evgeny Tarelkin, both of whom are first time fliers.

Some additional life forms will also make their way aboard the ISS following docking, in the form of some Japanese Medka fish, who will be housed in the newly commissioned Aquatic Habitat (AQH), which was recently delivered to the ISS aboard the Japanese HTV-3 supply ship in July.

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After hatch opening and the traditional welcome ceremony, the three newcomers will receive a mandatory ISS safety briefing from their three colleagues, prior to being given some time to adjust to their new surroundings, unpack their kit, and set up camp in their respective crew quarters.

The newcomers will barely have time to settle in to their new home however, before a flurry of unusually fast-paced activity takes hold of the station for the next week.

Upcoming schedule:

Only three days after the Soyuz TMA-06M docking, the first in the series of activities will occur, when SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is unberthed from the ISS and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later on October 28, bringing with it some vital downmass lost with the retirement of the Space Shuttle.

Only three days after that, on October 31, a new cargo delivery will both launch and dock to the ISS, with only the second ever fast rendezvous profile to be made by a Russian Progress resupply ship.

The Progress M-17M/49P spacecraft will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and around six hours later make an automated docking to the Service Module (SM) “Zvezda” aft port, last vacated by Europe’s ATV-3 spacecraft on September 28.

In addition to delivering its load of supplies to the ISS, Progress M-17M will test out the new rendezvous profile for the second time, with the ultimate view to it being used on future flights of Soyuz spacecraft, in order to reduce the two-day rendezvous profile experienced by Soyuz TMA-06M down to just a few hours.

Sources note that the first ever fast rendezvous by a Soyuz spacecraft could occur on the Soyuz TMA-08M flight on March 28 next year.

The day after the Progress M-17M docking, and still only a week after the Soyuz TMA-06M docking, on November 1 Suni Williams and Aki Hoshide will head outside the ISS to perform US EVA-20 to bypass a leaking radiator on the P6 Truss, the full details of which were covered in a previous article here on NASASpaceflight.com.

After a period of Robotic Refuelling Mission (RRM) operations from November 14-16, during which the first ever actual robotic refuelling attempt using RRM will be made, the next flight event in the ISS’ busy calendar is the undocking and landing of Soyuz TMA-05M/31S on November 19, returning Suni Williams, Aki Hoshide and Yuri Malenchenko to Earth.

With another period of RRM operations occurring from November 28-29, the ISS will continue with the three-crew Expedition 34 for just over a month, until the docking of Soyuz TMA-07M/33S on December 21, which will boost the ISS back up to six crewmembers and round out the 2012 ISS flight events schedule, apart from the usual high volume of scientific activities that occur aboard the new fully utilised ISS on a daily basis throughout the year.

(Images via L2 and NASA).

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