Progress MS-09 launched to the ISS today and docked with the station just two revolutions later. This is the fastest ever ascent to the station. (It is not the fastest ever ascent to a target in Earth orbit; I believe that record may still be held by Gemini 11, which performed a direct ascent to its Agena target just 94 minutes into the flight. But is definitely the fastest to the ISS.)
It’s been positively ages since I’ve last posted, but here’s something to get me to come back out: an absolutely stunning video of the Soyuz MS-09 launch. Soyuz launches are always fun, trying to spot things like the Korolev Cross, but this one’s extra special, because it’s got some brand new rocketcam images taken from the exterior of the Soyuz spacecraft during ascent. You get to see launch events that previously have been invisible to the public. Around 3:30, watch for the launch shroud falling away; from there on out, the footage is entirely Soyuz exterior. Around 9:40, watch for the upper stage drifting away, firing a cold gas thruster to ensure a safe separation. The quality isn’t spectacular, but it’s a view we’ve not been allowed to see before. Crew on board are Sergey Prokopyev (Roscosmos, Soyuz commander and spaceflight rookie), flight engineer Alexander Gerst (ESA), and flight surgeon Serena Auñón-Chancellor (NASA, also a spaceflight rookie).
Last Thursday, the Soyuz rocket experienced a very rare abort when one of two umbilicals failed to separate at the appropriate time. This cost the perfect geometry required to attempt a new two-orbit direct ascent approach, so they reset for Saturday, with the plan of reverting to the traditional two-day chase. Today’s launch was carried out flawlessly, and Progress MS-07 is on its way to the ISS.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted; work’s been crazy busy! So I’ll quick catch you up with some of what’s gone up and down since I last posted:
On September 17, the latest Dragon capsule (CRS-12) returned from the ISS with a two tons of research material and hardware on board, including a population of laboratory mice sent into space to study effect on eyesight and movement.
On September 21, a Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome placed the latest element of the GLONASS M navigation constellation into orbit.
On September 23, an Atlas V out of Vandenburg Air Force Base carried the classified NROL-42 into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Obviously, they won’t tell us much about the payload, but the mission patch and the launch site both suggest a polar orbiting spacecraft. The size of the fairing and quantity of boosters both suggest a very big spacecraft, which is fairly typical for spy satellites. It is believed to be a signals intelligence spacecraft, which means its job will likely be to intercept communications. Maybe. 😉
Lastly, the Tianzhou 1 spacecraft returned to Earth in pieces last Friday. It was supposed to; it was an experimental robotic resupply and refueling spacecraft similar in function to Progress, which also undergoes a destructive reentry at the end of its mission. Tianzhou 1 completed a successful mission docking with the uninhabited Tiangong 2 space station, transferring propellant, and then later undocking and safely disposing of itself. Tiangong 2 is not expected to host any more human occupants, but remains in orbit as a procedures testbed for ground controllers. It is not clear when the next space station will fly; China intends to greatly increase the size and functionality of their stations, but they have had a major setback with the failure of the last Long March 5 rocket. This is the heaviest rocket they’ve built to date, and is intended to place the major elements of their new modular space station in orbit, but with a 50/50 operational record after two flights, some more work is needed before it can carry such valuable cargo.
Soyuz MS-06 launched today! And actually, by the time I’m writing this, they’re at the ISS, docked and preparing to board. Here’s the spectacular nighttime launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome:
On board are Alexander Misurkin, Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba. They are expected to stay in space until late February.
With the return of Soyuz MS-04, Peggy Whitson has established a new record — at 665 days, the most cumulative spaceflight hours for any woman on Earth, and also for any American. Globally, she stands at #8 for cumulative spaceflight time. She is also the only woman to have commanded the ISS twice, and also holds the female record for number of EVAs (ten, with a cumulative time of 60 hours, 21 minutes — there are only two men ahead of her in the overall records, Anatoly Solovyev and Michael Lopez-Alegria, with the caveat that record-holder Solovyev’s 16 EVAs does include two internal spacewalks aboard Mir).
Whitson returned in good health, as did her two crewmates, Soyuz commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Jack Fischer. There’s gorgeous video of the final descent:
The latest crew has arrived at the ISS! The international crew (Russian, American, and Italian) launched from Baikonur into a rapid ascent profile that allowed them to dock just a few orbits later.