The newest model of the venerable Soyuz spacecraft has reached orbit! As it’s a new model, it will not be taking the rapid ascent flight profile, and will instead spend the next couple of days gradually working its way towards the ISS while the crew performs testing to validate the new vehicle.
The crew are commander Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, flight engineer Takuya Onishi of JAXA, and flight engineer Kate Rubins of NASA. Ivanishin is making his second spaceflight; Onishi and Rubins are both rookies.
New features on the Soyuz MS include more efficient solar arrays, an improved Kurs rendezvous and docking system that does not require as many antennas (which has been an issue in the past; the additional antennas represented additional possible points of failure), digital video from the docking camera for the first time on Soyuz, a new navigational system, new sensors for guidance and attitude control, and the capability to use Russia’s tracking and data relay satellites. Soyuz has in past been confined to communications with ground stations. Unlike other countries, Russia has been able to get by with that, since it simply has so much ground to put stations on! But this will allow communications during almost a complete orbit, as NASA has enjoyed with Shuttle and now Station for decades.
Although this is the first crewed flight of Soyuz MS, the new systems have been tested in space — the same upgrades were made on the Progress MS series, of which there have been two so far. The third Progress MS is now scheduled to fly July 16.