Soyuz crew relocates spacecraft to new space station parking spot

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 1:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT) after docking.

The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft is seen during a flyaround of the International Space Station on Friday. At left is a solar array of a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo freighter. Credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now

Two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut strapped into their Soyuz spacecraft Friday and moved the capsule to a different docking port on the International Space Station, clearing the way arrival of a fresh crew next month.

Russian commander Sergey Ryzhikov manually controlled the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft during the relocation maneuver. Cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins were also aboard the spaceship.

All three crew members launched inside the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft in October, and are scheduled to return to Earth on April 17. The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft has custom-fitted seat liners for each crew member, and all three were aboard for the relocation maneuver Friday, ready to return to Earth in case of problems reconnecting with the space station.

The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft undocked from the space station’s Russian Rassvet module at 12:38 p.m. EDT (1638 GMT) Thursday. Rassvet is located on the lower part, or the Earth-facing side, of the space station’s Russian segment.

Ryzhikov, a 46-year-old former Russian Air Force fighter pilot, flew the Soyuz spacecraft away from the Rassvet module. After backing away to a distance of about 130 feet (40 meters), Ryzhikov performed a flyaround maneuver around the rear side of the space station to reach a position above the complex around.

The commander then guided the Soyuz spacecraft to a manual docking with the Poisk module on the upper part, or space-facing side, of the space station’s Russian segment. Docking occurred at for 1:12 p.m. EDT (1712 GMT) to wrap up the 34-minute maneuver.

The undocking, flyaround maneuver, and re-docking all happened while the Soyuz and space station soared around the world at a velocity of roughly 5 miles (8 kilometers) per second.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian commander Sergey Ryzhikov, and flight engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. Credit: NASA/GCTC/Roscosmos

The crew relocated the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft to clear the way for the next Soyuz mission to dock with the Rassvet module after launching April 9 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russian commander Oleg Novitskiy, flight engineer Pyotr Dubrov, and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will launch on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft. Novitskiy and his crewmates will replace the Soyuz MS-17 crew members on the space station before their April 17 homecoming.

Russian officials want the Soyuz MS-18 mission to dock with the Rassvet module, and not Poisk, to allow cosmonauts to use Poisk for a spacewalk later this year to help prepare for the arrival of Russia’s Nauka laboratory module.

The space station’s Poisk and Pirs modules double as docking ports and airlocks for spacewalks. A Progress supply ship that arrived at the station last month will take away the Poisk module later this year to make room for the Nauka laboratory on the lower docking position on the Zvezda service module.

The Nauka lab module is scheduled for launch in July from Baikonur on a Russian Proton rocket. It will be the most significant addition to the Russian part of the space station since 2000, when the Zvezda module itself was launched.

This was the 19th Soyuz port relocation in International Space Station history, and the first since August 2019.

Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov, and Rubins are currently living on the space station with four crewmates who launched in November aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Dragon commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialists Soichi Noguchi and Shannon Walker will climb aboard their Crew Dragon capsule April 5 to perform a similar port relocation maneuver, freeing up the space station’s forward docking port for the arrival of the next Crew Dragon on April 23.

Unlike the Soyuz relocation, the Crew Dragon will undock and dock automatically, with Hopkins and his crewmates monitoring systems and ready to take manual control if necessary.

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