Station crew relocates Soyuz spaceship to new Russian module

The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft during approach to the Nauka module Monday. Credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now

Two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut strapped into their Soyuz ferry ship Tuesday at the International Space Station and moved the craft to a new docking port on Russia’s Nauka lab module that arrived at the complex in July.

The relocation maneuver cleared the way for a new Soyuz crew spacecraft to dock with the Rassvet module at the space station next month.

Russian commander Oleg Novitskiy, flying on his third expedition on the space station, manually controlled the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft during the relocation. Novitskiy was joined by Russian flight engineer Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.

All three crew members launched on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft April 9. They were all aboard the Soyuz crew module, wearing their Sokol launch and entry space suits, in case problems re-docking with the space station forced them to return to Earth.

The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft undocked from the Rassvet module, located on the lower side of the space station’s Zarya module, at 8:21 a.m. EDT (1221 GMT). After backing away from the complex, Novitskiy, a former pilot in the Russian Air Force, initially flew the Soyuz spacecraft toward the U.S. segment of the station for a quick photo session.

Dubrov briefly left his seat in the Soyuz cockpit to enter the spacecraft’s upper orbital compartment, where he collected still images and video of the exterior of the space station.

Then the Soyuz moved back toward the Russian segment to line up with the Nauka docking target.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, commander Oleg Novitskiy, and flight engineer Pyotr Dubrov tried on their Sokol spacesuits Sept. 21. They will wear the suits during the relocation maneuver Tuesday. Credit: NASA

Nauka is attached to the lower, or Earth-facing, side of the Zvezda service module near the aft end of the space station. The Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module is the newest element of the complex, and the largest addition to the station in more than a decade.

The new Russian lab arrived at the space station July 29, eight days after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Nauka ran into several problems after launch, then a glitch inadvertently commanded the module’s control thrusters to start firing a few hours after docking, temporarily causing the space station to lose control of its orientation.

The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft docked with the Nauka module at 9:04 a.m. EDT (1304 GMT), and hooks closed a few minutes later to create a firm mechanical connection.

It was the 20th Soyuz port relocation in the history of the International Space Station, and the second this year.

“All of the activities went by the book this morning,” said Rob Navias, a NASA spokesperson providing commentary on NASA TV.

With the Rassvet docking port free, the relocation cleared the way for launch of a three-person crew on Russia’s Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft Oct. 5 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Commander Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran cosmonaut, will lead the Soyuz MS-19 crew for the flight to the space station. Klim Shipenko and Yulia Peresild, a Russian film director and actress, will join Shkaplerov.

Shipenko and Peresild will spend 11 days on the space station to film a Russian feature length movie titled “The Challenge.” The two-person film crew will leave the station and return to Earth on Oct. 16 aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft with Novitskiy.

The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft, seen in this illustration docked with the Rassvet module, moved to the Nauka module just behind Rassvet. Credit: NASA

Shkaplerov will remain at the station for more than five months. Dubrov and Vande Hei, who launched in April, will also stay behind at the space station. Their stays in space were extended to make room for the short-duration mission by Shipenko and Peresild.

Dubrov and Vande Hei will now remain in space for nearly one year before returning to Earth with Shkaplerov in March on Soyuz MS-19.

The Soyuz relocation maneuver Tuesday will be followed later this week by the departure of a SpaceX Cargo Dragon supply ship.

The Cargo Dragon has been docked at the station since Aug. 30. After the space station astronauts finish packing cargo and experiments into the supply ship, the Cargo Dragon is set to undock at 9:05 a.m. EDT (1305 GMT) Thursday, setting up for splashdown off the coast of Florida around 11 p.m. EDT Thursday (0300 GMT Friday).

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