On July 22 (UTC) Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) conducted successful launch of Soyuz-FG launch vehicle carrying Soyuz TMA-17M crewed spaceship with three cosmonauts of the Expedition 44/45 to the International Space Station (ISS) from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft with Commander Oleg Kononeko (Roscosmos), flight engineers Kimiya Yui (JAXA) and Kjell Lindgren (NASA) took a six-hour ride to the space station, where they joined the orbiting Expedition 44 trio – Gennady Padalka and two 'One-Year Crew' members, Mikhail Korniyenko and Scott Kelly. Notably, toy R2-D2 robot from the Star Wars will serve as zero gravity indicator during the tonight's flight.
Expedition 44 will be busy aboard the orbital station by conducting various biological, pharmaceutical, physiological, physical and other scientific experiments in microgravity to benefit life on Earth and future space crews. In addition, crew members will test different technologies – in particular, Oleg Kononenko will perform an experiment on remote control of robots on the Earth, one in Saint-Petersburg, and another in Munich.
Expedition 44/45 trio will stay on orbit until December. During their half-year orbiting mission they are scheduled to welcome Soyuz TMA-18M crew members Sergey Volkov (Roscosmos), Andreas Mogensen (ESA) and Aidyn Aimbetov. The latter is a Kazakh cosmonaut, who replaced famous singer and space tourist Sarah Brightman, after she withdrew from the flight 'for personal reasons'.
According to media, Kazcosmos will pay Roscosmos $20 million for the flight of its cosmonaut, which is much less than a price tag of near $50 million set by Russian space authority for 'orbital tourists'.
Trio Kononenko-Yui-Lindgren are also expected to take part in reception on the ISS of Japanese HTV-5, Russian Progress M-29M and Progress MS-1, SpaceX' CRS-8 Dragon, and Orbital ATK's ORB-4 Cygnus cargo spaceships. Notably, all these spacecraft missions are not similar to usual ISS cargo resupply missions:
- HTV-5, also known as Kounotori 5, is a heavy cargo vehicle that serves the space station far less frequently that Russian or US spaceships, therefore each HTV mission, the latest carried out in 2013, draws much attention;
- Following Progress M-27M mission failure, each Progress cargo spaceship flight is expected and worried about a little bit more than before. Moreover, Progress MS-1 will be the first mission of a modified Progress vehicle;
- SpaceX' CRS-8 and Orbital ATK's ORB-4 missions of Dragon and Cygnus spacecraft, respectively, will be their first flights after mission failures. In October 2014 Antares rocket, carrying Cygnus ORB-3 spaceship, exploded shortly after the launch; and in June 28 Falcon 9 booster faced a flight anomaly at the end of the first stage burn.
- Since Orbital ATK is 're-engining' its Antares rocket now, ORB-4 Cygnus is slated to be launched aboard Atlas V booster, which will be the first cargo resupply mission for its operator, United Launch Alliance.
This mission is the third flight for Oleg Kononenko, who has already been in orbit for 391 cumulative days, and the first flights for both Kimiya Yui and Kjell Lindgren, who have become now the 217th and 218th people to board the International Space Station. You can follow the crew activity aboard the ISS in social media: Kjell Lindgren, Kimiya Yui, and Scott Kelly in Twitter, and Scott's Instagram.
Some interesting facts about Soyuz spaceships, Soyuz TMA-17M's solar array segment that was not deployed in a situation reminded Soyuz TMA-14M mission, photos of Soyuz-FG rocket launch and astronauts on-board, are all below (images credit: NASA & Roscosmos):
P.S. Interesting facts:
- Soyuz-FG launch, Soyuz TMA-17M flight and docking to the space station were insured by Ingosstrakh insurance company for 2.4 billion rubles ($41.7 million). Herewith, non-deployment of a solar array segment will not result in an insurance payment since the spaceship safely docked the ISS.
- Design of Soyuz TMA-17M mission patch reminds a logotype of NASA's Apollo 17 mission, launched 43 years ago. "I am a big fan of the Apollo program and it would have been a pity not to use this coincidence between Soyuz 17 [M] and Apollo 17," Soyuz commander Oleg Konenenko told, Space.com informs.