Successful launch of Soyuz TMA-18M crewed spaceship!

On September 2, 2015, Roscosmos conducted successful launch of Soyuz-FG launch vehicle, carrying Soyuz TMA-18M crewed spaceship with cosmonauts Sergey Volkov, Andreas Mogensen and Aidyn Aimbetov, from Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan.

The launch of Soyuz TMA-18M was the 500th launch vehicle mission conducted from Baikonur Site 1, also known as 'Gagarin's start'.

Launch of Soyuz-FG with Soyuz TMA-18M from Baikonur. Credit: Roscosmos
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The mission was 3rd manned spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015, after successful flights of Soyuz TMA-16M and Soyuz TMA-17M. It foresees 'long' 2-days flight path scheme, which is, according to acting Director of Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) Alexander Ivanov, is “the most safe and reliable one". Thus, Soyuz TMA-18M successfully docked to the International Space Station's Poisk module on September 4.

With the arrival of the Expedition 45/46 crew members, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, first Dane in space European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen, and first cosmonaut of an independent Kazakhstan Aidyn Aimbetov, nine people are aboard the orbiting laboratory for the first time since 2013.

The three joined Expedition 44/45/46 Flight Engineers Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos, and Kimiya Yui of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Aimbetov, Volkov and Mogensen (from left to right) in spacesuites in front of their national flags. Credit: NASA
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Expedition 45 will commence in few days, presumably since September 11, when Padalka, Mogensen and Aimbetov undock from the orbiting outpost in Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft and return to Earth. Therefore, Mogensen and Aimbetov will stay on-orbit for only 10 days. Soyuz TMA-18M spaceship, carrying Volkov and 'one-year crew' Kelly and Kornienko, is slated to return from space in March 2016.

Notably, the Kazakh cosmonaut flight has become a reality only after a series of other crew members' refusals. Originally, the third member should have been famous British singer Sarah Brightman as a space tourist, but on May 13, 2015, she had withdrawn from training 'for personal reasons'. Japanese space tourist Satoshi Takamatsu, Brightman's back-up, was believed to be taking her place but also declined.

It was rumored that Russian businessman Filaret Galchev was offered the seat, but realized that he didn't have enough time to prepare for the flight. Finally, Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov was selected to fly. Contract on his flight, presumably estimated at about $20 million, was signed between Roscosmos and Kazcosmos during MAKS-2015 airshow, held in Moscow, on August 27.

Talgat Masabayev, Kazcosmos Chief (left), and Igor Komarov, Chairman of Roscosmos State Corporation (right). Credit: Roscosmos
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The next crewed spaceflight is scheduled for mid-December, when Soyuz TMA-19M spaceship, carrying Commander Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos, Flight Engineers Timothy Peake (ESA) and Timothy Kopra (NASA), is expected to be launched on Soyuz-FG rocket to deliver Expedition 46/47 members to the ISS.

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