Soyuz MS-24 Successfully Docks Following Russia’s First Manned Launch in a Year

On Friday, September 15, the Soyuz MS-24 mission successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying a crew of three to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew, consisting of Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub, as well as NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, docked with the ISS just over three hours later.

This mission has been long-awaited by Kononenko, Chub, and O’Hara. Originally, they were scheduled to fly to the ISS aboard Soyuz MS-23 in February 2023. However, due to an inflight coolant leak on the docked Soyuz MS-22 in December 2022, Roscosmos made the decision to send MS-23 uncrewed to the Station. The Soyuz MS-22 eventually returned safely to Earth without the crew.

The coolant leaks that occurred on Soyuz MS-22 and Progress MS-21 during their stays on the Station have been officially attributed to “external impacts” by Roscosmos. Fortunately, there have been no signs of similar leaks on the Soyuz MS-23 and Progress MS-22, 23, and 24 spacecraft.

The upcoming landing of Soyuz MS-23 is scheduled for no earlier than September 27. This landing will bring back Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin, and Frank Rubio of NASA, who have completed an extended tour of duty aboard the Station. Rubio’s stay in space will make him the first American to spend more than a calendar year in space, surpassing Mark Vande Hei’s record single spaceflight duration of 355 days. Rubio will have spent a total of 371 consecutive days in space.

While Rubio’s extended stay aboard the ISS has broken the US record for the longest single spaceflight, it falls short of the world’s all-time record held by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who spent 437 days aboard the Mir space station in 1994-1995.

Following the undocking of the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft with Prokopyev, Petelin, and Rubio on board, Expedition 69 will come to an end, and Expedition 70 will begin. The crew of Soyuz MS-24 will join the Crew-7 astronauts as members of the new expedition, following the usual process of changing flight increments aboard the Station.

Oleg Kononenko, the commander of Soyuz MS-24, has an impressive background. Born in what is now Turkmenabat, Turkmenistan, he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering before becoming a cosmonaut. Kononenko has flown four missions to the ISS and has accumulated a total of 736 overall days in space, the most of any currently active cosmonaut or astronaut.

Nikolai Chub, on the other hand, is making his first flight into space at the age of 39. He received degrees in management and informatics before becoming a cosmonaut candidate in 2012. Chub has also participated in training programs with the European Space Agency and has served as a backup crewmember for previous Soyuz missions.

Loral O’Hara, also making her first flight to space, brings her expertise as an engineer to the mission. With a background in aerospace engineering and experience working on underwater vehicles, O’Hara’s skills will contribute to the success of the mission.

The Soyuz MS-24 mission is part of the Soyuz launch vehicle family, which has a long history dating back to 1966. While it has flown as many as 1,900 missions, its current launch cadence is not as frequent as during the Cold War era. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and associated sanctions have caused some customers to switch to alternative launchers, reducing the number of Soyuz flights.

The Soyuz 2.1a variant, used for the MS-24 mission, has a record cadence of eight flights in 2022. It replaced the analog flight control system with a digital model, allowing the rocket to perform a roll maneuver to change its flight path. The Soyuz 2 variants have all been upgraded with digital flight control, telemetry, and uprated engines.

Despite the current geopolitical tensions, the United States and the Russian Federation continue to collaborate as partner countries in the ISS. They have agreed to fly each other’s nationals on their spacecraft to ensure continued access to the Station.

The successful docking of Soyuz MS-24 marks an important milestone in space exploration. As the crew settles into their new home aboard the ISS, they will contribute to ongoing research and experiments that will inform future missions to deep space. The knowledge gained from their experiences in microgravity will help scientists better understand how the human body reacts and adapts in space, paving the way for further exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.