Russia has set Nov. 1 as the new launch date of the next crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS), designated Soyuz MS-02. The postponement comes just days after the country approved the plan of reducing its space station crew from three to two cosmonauts. These two decisions force reschedules in Russia’s spaceflight program.
The start of Soyuz MS-02 mission was initially targeted for Sept. 23, but was delayed due to technical malfunction - a short circuit in the spacecraft’s equipment. Now, when the cause of malfunction is finally determined, the Roscosmos State Corporation announced the new date of the launch.
"Yesterday a meeting of the state commission was held that took a decision on the Soyuz launch on Nov. 1," a NASA representative in Russia’s Mission Control Center said on Tuesday.
Soyuz MS-02 is the second mission of the upgraded Soyuz-MS spacecraft. The vehicle will be launched atop a Soyuz-FG rocket, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It will transport a trio of Expedition 49 crew members to ISS, consisting of NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko.
The crew arrived at Baikonur on Sept. 8 for final preparations for the upcoming flight. However, due to the slip, the trio was returned to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow, to continue training operations during additional spare time before liftoff.
The postponement also affects the current crew onboard the ISS - NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi - as their return home was targeted for Oct. 30. Since the new launch date for Soyuz MS-02 was announced, it has become clear that their mission will be extended in order to keep the space station inhabited. However, the new date of the departure from ISS has not been revealed yet.
The exact date of the next manned launch to ISS, remains in question too. The liftoff of the Soyuz MS-03 mission, planned for Nov. 15 could be also affected by the postponement of the second Soyuz MS flight.
Besides rescheduling the upcoming mission to ISS, the Russian media inform that the decision about downsizing the space station crews of cosmonauts from three to two has finally been made. The TASS press agency revealed that the crew reduction will start with the March 2017 launch of Soyuz MS-04 mission and will last until the commissioning of a Multirole Laboratory Module (MLM), which is scheduled for the end of 2017.
“In case the endorsed schedule is observed and the MLM gets into operation in December 2017, the curtailment will affect only one Russian crew. Otherwise the practice of curtailment will continue until the commissioning of the module," a source in the Russian aerospace industry told TASS.
According to the source, this decision was dictated by the reduction of Russian Progress cargo spacecraft launched to the ISS annually from four to three as NASA will rely on commercial resupply services. Three Progresses a year are not enough to support a trio of cosmonauts working permanently onboard the ISS.