Soyuz MS-06 arrives with three more crewmembers for the ISS

by Chris Bergin

Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos along with Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA have completed a fast track transit to the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday, with launch occurring at 21:17 UTC. Their arrival onboard the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft occurred less than six hours later, returning the orbital outpost to a full six member crew complement.

Soyuz MS-06 Launch:

The launch of the latest trio came shortly after three crew members were safely returned back to Earth.

With NASA’s record-breaking astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson joining fellow NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and former Station Commander and Soyuz MS-04 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin for a safe touchdown on the Kazakh steppes, the Station has been down to just three crew members for almost two weeks.

Notably, the orbital ballet of Visiting Vehicles meant planning for both the departure of Soyuz MS-04 (50S) and arrival of this next Soyuz MS-06 (52S) spacecraft was already taking place via the use of a Russian Progress, MS-06 (67P), vehicle ahead of this rotation.

“ISS Reboost using 67P Thrusters: A reboost of 0.34 m/s was successfully completed using 67P Rendezvous & Docking (R&D) thrusters,” noted L2 ISS Status information. “This reboost set up the planned conditions for the upcoming landing of 50S on September 3 and launch of 52S on September 12.  The 52S rendezvous will utilize the 4-orbit profile.”

With both the reboost and the departure of the Soyuz going to plan, the next step will be the fast track arrival of Soyuz MS-06.

The spacecraft (serial number 734) underwent the business end of its processing flow with fueling at the start of the month, ahead of being mated with its Soyuz FG carrier rocket.

It was then rolled out to Launch site No.1 (Gagarin’s Launch Pad) of Baikonur cosmodrome, where it has been undergoing launch preparations over the past few days, including the traditional blessing by an Orthodox priest.

Tuesday marks a busy day for the vehicle and crew alike, with the heavily choreographed – and highly ceremonial – departure to the launch site for the crew ahead of ingressing the Soyuz spacecraft.

The Expedition 53-54 crew consists of Soyuz Commander Misurkin of Roscosmos in charge of the spacecraft, aided by flight engineers Vande Hei and Acaba of NASA, ready to take up their roles on the orbital complex during a five-and-a-half month mission.

Misurkin is major in the Russian Air Force and was selected in 2006 to become a Russian cosmonaut. He flew aboard Soyuz TMA-08M on 28 March 2013 for his first space mission, during which he conducted three EVAs totaling 20 hours and 2 minutes. This included the record breaking RS-34 spacewalk in 2013 that aided the preparations for the arrival of the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM).

His current space flight duration stands at 166 days.

Acaba was selected by NASA in 2004. The California native has logged a total of 138 days in space during two missions.  In 2009, Acaba flew aboard STS-119 on the Space Shuttle Discovery mission to the International Space Station.  During this mission, he conducted two spacewalks as part of the ISS’ assembly phase.

In 2012, Acaba flew in space again, this time aboard a Soyuz spacecraft where he worked as Flight Engineer for the Expedition 31/32.  Acaba recently served as Director of Operations Russia in Star City supporting crew training in Soyuz and Russian Segment systems.

Vande Hei was selected by NASA in 2009.  From Falls Church, Virginia, Vande Hei was commissioned in the U.S. Army through the ROTC program and served as a combat engineer.  In 1999, he became an assistant professor of physics at the United States Military Academy in West Point.  He was assigned to Expedition 53/54 for what will be his first mission in space.

That journey for the crew began with the Soyuz FG lofting the Soyuz MS-06 into orbit 8 minutes 45 seconds following liftoff, after which the vehicle passed over a communications and data tracking ground station in Eastern Russia at the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Here, initial orbital parameters were determined so controllers at Mission Control Moscow could provide formal permission for Soyuz MS-06 to perform a fast track rendezvous with the Station.

Had the orbital parameters read by Vostochny not aligned with those needed for a fast track rendezvous or if Vostochny was unable to verify certain parameters, Soyuz MS-06 could have instead implemented a 2-day orbital rendezvous – which is always available as a backup option.

Under the preferred quick rendezvous plan, as taken, Soyuz MS-06 performed four Delta Velocity (DV) burns to change its overall velocity by 53.362 m/s and properly refine its orbit toward the Station.

Soyuz then began an automated rendezvous sequence with the ISS.

With a flyaround, station keeping and then final approach, the Soyuz gracefully closed in on docking with the ISS, which took place at 02:55 UTC on Wednesday.

Following soft dock and hard dock, pressurization of the vestibule between the two spacecraft then occurred, followed by hatch opening at which time the Station’s three new crew members moved into their new home.

The arriving crew were welcomed on board by Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of the ESA (European Space Agency).

The Visiting Vehicle comings and goings will continue, with the next event scheduled to be the departure of SpaceX’s CRS-12 Dragon. The spacecraft is set to unberth and return for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday.

(Images: NASA, Roscosmos and L2 artist Nathan Koga with the Soyuz rocket renders. The full gallery of Nathan’s (Falcon Heavy to Dragon to Starliner, MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here* in full hi res for L2 members)

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