Members of Expedition 48 docked with their Soyuz-MS spacecraft to International Space Station today in the night. In this way number of personnel inside ISS increased to six!
Space journey of Kate Rubins (NASA, flight engineer), Takuya Onishi (JAXA flight engineer) and Anatoly Ivanishin (Roscosmos, commander) started with impressive launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at 01:36 GMT on July 7, 2016 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Crew members probably recalled during their flight comfortable conditions, which were offered by Baikonur cosmodrome; Soyuz-MS in spite of technical upgrade still offers rather rough conditions for three crew members. Their flight lasted for 48 hours and serve also as test flight of Soyuz-MS, what explains prolonged time of journey. Warm welcome celebration prepared by Expedition 48 commander Jeff Williams (NASA) and two flight engineers from Roscosmos Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin, was nice recompense hardships of the journey. Rubins, Onishi and Ivanishin passed 34 Earth orbits before Soyuz-MS reached correct position for autonomous docking controlled by Kurs-NA docking system. International Space Station was already prepared for attaching Soyuz to zenith docking port of ISS Rassvet module at 04:12 GMT.
At 01:51 GMT Soyuz-MS started rendezvous with International Space Station, which was placed on orbit with perigee at 401.65 km and apogee at 420.81 km. Kurs-NA was activated, but Anatoly Ivanishin was already prepared to take control over spacecraft in case of any problems. Also Takuya Onishi was not fully relaxed, because during whole flight he was responsible for supporting Ivanishin during all flight procedures including possible manual docking. After two hours Soyuz established connection link with ISS and continued flight according to plan. At 03:41 GMT distance between spacecraft and ISS decreased to only 2000 m; last maneuver was flyaround the ISS and aligning Soyuz with Rassvet. It begun when Soyuz was around 300 m – 400 m from Station. At 04:00 GMT Soyuz-MS was only 55 m from International Space Station. Few minutes later after passing 30 meter , LED headlamp on spacecraft was turned on and started to illuminate docking port; it is standard procedure which helps in case termination of automatic docking. Without this, Anatoly Ivanishin would not be able to dock correctly. Luckily Kurs-NA was working properly and last corrections before docking were performed using attitude control thrusters installed on service module of Soyuz-MS. When Soyuz reached 6 m distance from docking port, it seemed to be aligned perfectly for docking. At 04:04 GMT guiding beam of Soyuz docking port was placed inside Rassvet port. After retracting piloting beam docked was confirmed at 04:06 GMT, 408 km over South Pacific, 6 minutes earlier comparing to flight plan.
Next two hours passed on checking sealing of the docking port and finally, at 06:26 GMT, hatch inside ISS was opened by Oleg Skripochka. Inside Soyuz-MS hatch was opened by Kate Rubins and all three new members of ISS crew entered to Station.
On picture above: view from display inside Mission Control Center in Korolev.