The Soyuz MS-20 space tourism flight docks with the ISS

Roscosmos and Space Adventures launched and docked the Soyuz MS-20 space tourism mission to the International Space Station for a 12-day stay. The crew of three, including two Japanese space tourists, are flying aboard the Soyuz spacecraft, with liftoff at 7:38 UTC (2:38 a.m. EST) on Wednesday, December 8, 2021, from Site 31/6 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It docked successfully six hours later.

Soyuz MS-20 Crew

Aboard the Soyuz is Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire known for launching online businesses Start Today and Zozo. In addition to his Soyuz mission, he has a circumlunar flight aboard SpaceX’s spacecraft – called “dearMoon” – booked for the earliest in 2023. Maezawa has purchased the two available seats on this Soyuz flight.

He will be joined by Yozo Hirano, a media producer from Zozo, who will document the MS-20 mission. This flight will mark the first time that two Japanese astronauts have flown together, as well as the first flight for any Japanese space tourist.

The mission is commanded by experienced Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, on what is his third spaceflight. During the mission, it will be ready to pilot the Soyuz in the event of failure of the automated guidance software.

The Soyuz MS-20 crew posed in front of their capsule. From left to right, Yozo Hirano, Alexander Misurkin and Yusaku Maezawa. Notice Maezawa’s nickname, “MZ”, painted on the fairing in the background. 1 credit

Maezawa and Hirano become the eighth and ninth private citizens to fly on a mission scheduled by Space Adventures, a Virginia-based space tourism company. It will also end a decade-long hiatus in the Russian tourism program, as the agency has not accepted tourists since Canadian Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberte in 2009.

Once aboard the orbiting lab, the MS-20 trio will join Expedition 66 crew members—NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, and NASA astronaut Kayla Barron. ESA Matthias Maurer and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov for a 12-day mission.

While its primary vocation is tourism, astronauts Maezawa and Hirano will take part in various experiments, both on the ground and in the orbital laboratory. One of them is the LAZMA medical experiment, which aims to study blood microcirculation under microgravity conditions during pre-launch training in Baikonur.

In addition to this, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) has prepared several experiments to be conducted independently on the ISS.

Preparations before the launch of Soyuz

Preparations for the Soyuz MS-20 mission began as early as Nov. 21 when technical management approved loading the crewed spacecraft with propellant components and compressed gases. Crew seat liners, which are custom-made for each cosmonaut, were also installed in the descent module while crews inspected the spacecraft’s onboard systems.

The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft (center) is lifted on a support to be encapsulated in its launch fairing. Two Progress spacecraft can be seen on the right. 1 credit

After refueling, the Soyuz spacecraft was flown back to the Site 254 Integration and Test Facility for further processing. This included loading the payload and installing multi-layer thermal insulation, as well as weighing and coupling to the launcher’s spacecraft adapter.

On November 26, specialists from RSC Energia and Roscosmos coupled the Soyuz spacecraft to the adapter section of the upper stage of the launch vehicle. Six days later, crews loaded the spacecraft onto a train and transported it to Site 31 to prepare the spacecraft for flight. On the same day, the MS-20 crew also conducted an inspection of their spacecraft, familiarizing themselves with the spacecraft layout and cargo placement.

On December 3, the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft was coupled to the third stage of the Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle. It was then moved to the transport and installation unit and coupled with the previously assembled stack of the first and second stages. Upon completion, the State Commission for Flight Testing of Crewed Space Systems conducted a review of the readiness for deployment of the Soyuz rocket. After receiving the GO, the Soyuz MS-20 rolled out to the launch pad on Sunday morning to begin pre-flight preparations.

Launch teams then began connecting service lines to ground support equipment to perform autonomous tests of the spacecraft and launcher.

With some autonomous testing underway for the spacecraft, two days before launch on Monday, December 6, teams conducted general testing of the launcher by simulating liftoff and its flight until separation from the spacecraft in orbit. target.

On launch day, the three crew members get dressed and head by bus to the launch site. They then climbed into the service towers and boarded their Soyuz spacecraft.

About six hours after liftoff, the spacecraft docked with the Poisk module of the International Space Station where it will remain for 12 days. As previously stated, the crew will spend part of their mission conducting experiments and documenting the mission.

Once their stay on the Station is over, they will leave the laboratory aboard Soyuz and return to Earth for a landing in Kazakhstan.

(Main image: Preparations for the launch of the Soyuz MS-20 continue in Baikonur. Credit: Roscosmos)

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