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Soyuz MS-22 launches crew exchange mission with NASA
Lifting off on Sept. 21, 2022, the Soyuz MS-22 mission re-started regular trips of American astronauts aboard Russian crew vehicles to the ISS. However, this time, Russia provided seats for NASA aboard Soyuz in exchange for the US space agency's flying Russian cosmonauts aboard newly introduced American transport ships.
Soyuz MS-22 mission at a glance:
Soyuz MS-22 mission planning
As of 2020, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Anna Kikina were expected to fly aboard Soyuz MS-22 starting the 68th long-duration expedition aboard the ISS. However, by May 2021, Sergei Prokopiev, Anna Kikina and Dmitri Petelin were listed on the Soyuz MS-22 crew, while Kononenko was moved to the follow-on expedition. Roskosmos officially confirmed that crew on May 19, 2021. At the same time, Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub and Andrei Fedyaev were publicly assigned to be backups. However, by December 2021, Kikina was transferred to a US commercial crew (Flight USCV-5) in an exchange program with NASA, so that an American astronaut could fly aboard Soyuz MS-22.
On Jan. 20, 2022, Roskosmos confirmed that US astronaut Frank Rubio would replace Kikina aboard Soyuz MS-22 if the exchange agreement with NASA was reached. In the following months, NASA and Roskosmos hammered out details of the deal for crew exchange, starting with the Soyuz MS-22 mission. The agreement ensured that with any emergency departure of one crew vehicle from the ISS, the station would still have the second international crew staffed with specialists in the Russian and American segments. NASA went ahead with the agreement despite unspeakable brutality and bloodshed perpetrated by Russia in its unprovoked war against Ukraine.
By September 2021, the launch of Soyuz MS-22 was shifted in the ISS flight manifest from Sept. 13 to Sept. 21, 2022. Roskosmos confirmed that launch date on Jan. 2, 2022, and specified the launch time as 16:54 Moscow Time. At the time, the Soyuz MS-22 mission was expected to last 188 days.
Soyuz MS-22 launch campaign
The spacecraft was shipped to Baikonur by rail on Dec. 7, 2021, and reached the processing building at Site 254 on Dec. 14, 2021. The rocket for the mission arrived at Baikonur's processing facility on June 29, 2022.
The active launch campaign for the mission started in early July 2022 at Site 254.
On September 5, the primary and backup crews arrived at Baikonur for final preparation and launch of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft. On September 7, the crew members conducted the traditional familiarization training inside the flight-worthy spacecraft, which was undergoing final preparations inside the processing building. The next day, Soyuz MS-22 was transferred to the fueling station for loading propellant components and pressurized gases.
Crew of Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft conducts familiarization training inside the flight-worthy vehicle on Sept. 7, 2022.
On September 13, specialists from RKK Energia completed the final visual inspection of the spacecraft after which it was rolled inside its payload fairing. The resulting payload section was then lifted into vertical position again and placed back into its processing rig. On September 15, the primary and backup crews took their seats inside the vehicle for the final inspection of their spacecraft. Later in the day, the payload section was loaded onto the railway trailer and transferred to the vehicle assembly building at Site 31 for integration with the Soyuz-2-1a rocket. The launch vehicle was rolled out to the launch pad on the morning of Sept. 18, 2022.
Soyuz MS-22 launch profile
A Soyuz-2-1a rocket carrying the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft lifted off from Site 31 in Baikonur on Sept. 21, 2022, at 16:54:49.531 Moscow Time (9:54 a.m. EDT). During the launch and ascent to orbit, the Soyuz commander Prokopiev was sitting in the central seat with Petelin to his left and Rubio in the right seat.
Propelled by the simultaneous thrust of the four engines of the first stage and the single engine of the second stage, the rocket headed east to align its ascent trajectory with an orbital plane inclined 51.6 degrees toward the Equator. Slightly less than two minutes into the flight, at an altitude of around 45 kilometers and a velocity of 1.75 kilometers per second, the ship's main emergency escape rocket was jettisoned, immediately followed by the separation of the four boosters of the first stage. Around 35 seconds later, as the vehicle exited the dense atmosphere at an altitude of 79 kilometers and a velocity of 2.2 kilometers per second, the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft split into two halves and fell away.
The second (core) stage of the rocket continued firing until 4.8 minutes into the flight. Moments before the second stage completed its work, the four-chamber engine of the third stage ignited, firing through the lattice structure connecting the two stages. Moments after the separation of the core booster at an altitude of 157 kilometers and a velocity of 3.8 kilometers per second, the tail section of the third stage split into three segments and separated as well.
Following the 8-minute 49-second climb to orbit, the third stage of the rocket released Soyuz MS-22 into an initial orbit with an inclination 51.6 degrees toward the Equator (at L+529.48 seconds).
Rendezvous and docking
At the time of Soyuz MS-22's entering orbit, the ISS was in the 416.184 by 432.116-kilometer orbit, around 13 degrees ahead in the phasing angle from the newly launched transport vehicle. The mutual position of the two spacecraft should allow Soyuz MS-22 to perform a three-and-half-hour rendezvous profile with the station.
During its second orbit, Soyuz MS-22 maneuvered to the 381.119 by 421.583-kilometer orbit, with its apogee (the highest point) coming within a vicinity of the station.
According to the Russian mission control in Korolev, the autonomous rendezvous of Soyuz MS-22 had the following timeline:
During the rendezvous process, Soyuz MS-22 had been scheduled to perform six maneuvers with following specifications:
The automated docking at the nadir (Earth-facing) port of the Rassvet, MIM1, module, a part of the Russian ISS Segment, was scheduled at 20:11 Moscow Time (1:11 p.m. EDT), but it actually took place at 20:06:33 Moscow Time (1:06 p.m. EDT).
The hatch opening between the spacecraft and the station was opened at 3:34 p.m. EDT or around 11 minutes ahead of planned 22:45 Moscow Time (3:45 p.m. EDT).
With the arrival of the Soyuz MS-22 crew, the population of the station temporarily increased from seven to 10 people.
Soyuz MS-22 is expected to stay at the station for around six months until March 28, 2023.
Soyuz MS-22 crew members:
Logo of Soyuz MS-22 mission.
Soyuz MS-22 rolls out from the assembly building on Sept. 18, 2022. Credit: Roskosmos
Crew of Soyuz MS-22 (left to right): Frank Rubio, Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitry Petelin. Credit: Roskosmos
Crew boards Soyuz MS-22 on the launch pad on Sept. 21, 2022. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz MS-22 lifted off shortly after sunset on Sept. 21, 2022. Credit: Roskosmos
Separation of the third stage as seen by a camera aboard the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft at orbital insertion 529.48 seconds after liftoff on Sept. 21, 2022.