Three new crewmembers are aboard the multinational International Space Station following the successful docking of a Russian spacecraft.
Sergei Volkov of Russian space agency Roscosmos, Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:37 a.m. EDT Sept. 2. The trio’s Soyuz reached the ISS on Sept. 4, and they opened the spacecraft’s hatch at 6:15 a.m. EDT.
Their arrival makes for the first time nine crewmembers are aboard the space station since November 2013. The crew will continue work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science, while also maintaining their orbiting laboratory and preparing for the departure of certain crewmembers at set intervals.
The newly docked Soyuz TMA-18M will remain at the space station until March, when it will be used by 12-month crewmembers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos to return to Earth.
Of the newest ISS crewmembers, only Volkov will remain aboard the ISS for a typical six-month rotation, with Mogensen and Aimbetoc set to return to Earth after 10 days along with Gennady Padalka, a Russian now serving as station commander. They will use another Soyuz docked at the station, Soyuz TMA-16, and are expected to land in Kazakhstan on Sept. 11.
That will leave six ISS crewmembers: Kelly, Kornienko, Volkov, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui of Japanese space agency JAXA.
Russia has been handling ISS crew shuttles for several years. SpaceX and Boeing have government contracts to take over such missions once ready. But that’s not expected until 2017 at the earliest.
SpaceX plans to use its Dragon spacecraft for manned shuttles, but protracted testing on related upgrades means it will be used only for cargo missions for the next two to three years. The company suffered a high-profile ISS cargo-mission failure in June and isn’t expected to resume launches until November at the earliest.
Boeing developed its Crew Transportation System, or CST-100, spacecraft, for its own eventual manned missions. On Sept. 4, the company announced it was rechristening the craft the CST-100 Starliner.
Various efforts also are under way to develop heavy launch vehicles for deep-space missions to Mars and beyond. Those include SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which SpaceX’s vp mission and launch operations Lee Rosen recently told attendees at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2015 conference is expected to see a first demonstration launch in “April or May.”
Also at the AIAA confab, held Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 in Pasadena, NASA disclosed it has formally booked the first CST-100 crew shuttle and is in talks to formalize its first such mission agreement with SpaceX. The dates for those missions is subject to the companies’ completing development their respective spacecrafts.