A U.S. and Russian Soyuz crew docked with the International Space Station late Sept. 25, successfully completing a third consecutive "express" four orbit launch-to-rendezvous transit to restore the orbiting science lab to six-astronaut status.
The Soyuz TMA-10M delivered Mike Hopkins, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy for a six month tour of duty as the capsule carried out an automated docking with the station's Russian segment Poisk module at 10:45 p.m., EDT.
The "express" mission opens the door anew for Orbital Sciences' Cygnus re-supply capsule to make a second attempt to rendezvous and berth with the space station as soon as Sept. 28.
Orbital launched Cygnus on Sept. 18 with a non-critical 1,543 pound cargo of crew provisions to complete the final demonstration phase of the Dulles, Va.,-based company's $288 million NASA COTS agreement. A successful rendezvous and berthing qualifies Orbital to launch ISS supplies on a commercial basis under a $1.9 billion, eight-mission NASA contract.
Cygnus was to approach the station on Sept. 22, maneuvering close enough for Parmitano and Nyberg to grapple it with the Canadian robot arm. A GPS navigation software mismatch between Cygnus and the station prompted a one-day delay in the final approach phase and then a subsequent decision for the well-fueled Cygnus to loiter in orbit until the Soyuz operations were complete.
Soyuz TMA-10M crew was greeted by ISS Expedition 37 commander Fyodor Yurchikin, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. The TMA-10M fliers replace U. S. and Russian astronauts Chris Cassidy, Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin, who descended to Earth on Sept. 10, following 5 1/2 months in orbit.
The TMA-10M flight, like the Soyuz crew transport missions launched in late May and March, followed the “express” four-orbit, six-hour launch-to-docking timeline rather than the traditional two day transit.
Kotov, Ryazanskiy and Hopkins lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25 at 4:58 p.m., EDT, or Sept. 26 at 2:58 a.m., local time, climbing to orbit through clear but darkened skies. Solar arrays and KURS system navigation antennas deployed normally and four rendezvous maneuvers followed over the next two hours to set up the accelerated final approach and docking.
Hopkins, a U. S. Air Force colonel and flight test engineer, is the first of NASA's 2009 class of astronauts to launch. Kotov, a physician and colonel in the Russian Air Force, logged 359 days in orbit during ISS missions in 2010 and 2007. Ryazanskiy, a biochemist who joined Russia's cosmonaut corps in 2003, is also flying for the first time.
Their tour of duty is expected to include three Russian spacewalks for the installation of science equipment and external maintenance and visits by a Cygnus cargo craft in December as well as SpaceX Dragon and Russian Progress freighters early next year.
The newly fortified Expedition 37 crew, led by Yurchikhin, has a research agenda that includes nearly 120 experiments in human health, technology demonstrations, biology and the other physical sciences as well as Earth observations
One of the spacewalks by Kotov and Ryazanski, tentatively planned for Nov. 9, will expose an Olympic torch to space a few days before it returns to Earth with Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano.
The space torch will then make its way to the 2014 Winter Game scheduled for Soichi, Russia in February.