Russia delays next Soyuz launch to space station

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WASHINGTON — The next Soyuz mission to the International Space Station has been postponed to July, but that delay will not have an immediate effect on two U.S. cargo missions also slated for launch to the station that month.

The Russian state space corporation Roscosmos announced June 6 that the launch of the Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft, which had been scheduled for June 24, has been rescheduled for July 7. The statement did not explain the delay other than citing a need to perform additional tests of the spacecraft’s software, but earlier reports in the Russian media stated there were concerns the spacecraft would start rolling uncontrollably when attempting to dock with the station.

Soyuz MS-01 is the first of an upgraded model of the venerable crewed spacecraft, with improvements in its control and power systems. It will bring to the station Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, American astronaut Kate Rubins and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi to the station.

The delayed launch will not affect the departure of the Soyuz TMA-19M currently on the station. That spacecraft, carrying Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, American astronaut Tim Kopra and British astronaut Tim Peake, is scheduled to return to Earth on June 18.

The delay also does not affect plans for two U.S. commercial cargo launches to the station in July, despite overlapping schedules with Russian launches. Orbital ATK is planning to launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on its Antares rocket no earlier than July 6, while SpaceX is planning to launch a Dragon cargo spacecraft on a Falcon 9 early July 16.

NASA spokesman Dan Huot said June 6 that the Dragon launch remains scheduled for July 16, even though a Progress cargo spacecraft launch, also delayed because of the Soyuz issue, has been rescheduled for July 17. He said a formal launch date for the Cygnus mission will be announced after engineers complete analysis of a static fire test of the Antares first stage that took place May 31.

Despite the delay, activities on the station continued as normal. Early June 6, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams entered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for the first time. BEAM, a demonstration of expandable module technology, arrived at the station in April on a Dragon cargo flight and was expanded to its full size May 28. Williams, performing checks on the module, reported it to be in “pristine” condition.