A little while ago the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft, which blasted off about two days ago from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, has reached the International Space Station carrying three new crew members. Scott Tingle of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of JAXA now complete the Expedition 54 crew.
In the latest launches of the MS version of the Soyuz spacecraft, the 6-hour fast track was used but a change of schedule had the consequence of preventing from using it in this case. That’s because the fast track requires a very precise set of maneuvers possible when the Station is in a certain position.
The Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft was scheduled to be launched on December 27 to meet the demands in terms of orbital dynamics for the use of the fast track. However, NASA requested to avoid a launch during the holidays so the three new crew members departed 10 days in advance.
With the current position of the Station Soyuz MS-07 needed to perform a different series of alignment maneuvers to reach the berthing point and the 2-day track makes it possible to accomplish them much more easily. On the other hand, this decision made it possible for SpaceX Dragon space cargo ship to reach the Station a few hours before the astronauts were launched. An arrival of two spacecraft almost at the same time wouldn’t have been allowed.
On the other hand, this early arrival means that the International Space Station had a reduced crew for a shorter period. In the past it happened that for various reasons only 3 people were on board for several weeks, in this case only a few days have passed since the departure of 3 Expedition 52/53 astronauts.
After the docking at the International Space Station’s Rassvet module, the procedures that will lead to the opening of the hatch begun. Soon the new crew members will physically enter the Station, where they will be greeted by their colleagues with a short welcome ceremony. NASA’s website still reports April 2018 for their return to Earth but in recent days the communication of an extension arrived so their return is postponed to June 3.