WASHINGTON — The U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts who arrived at the international space station Nov. 16 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket are expected to take part in the arrival early next year of the first nongovernment-owned spacecraft at the orbiting outpost, NASA said in a press release.

NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin launched Nov. 14 in a Soyuz capsule atop a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and docked with the station two days later. The mission, which will briefly bring the space station’s crew up to the full complement of six, originally was supposed to launch in September but was delayed following the failure of a similar rocket Aug. 24 carrying supplies to the outpost.

If all goes according to plan, the Expedition 30 crew will be on hand for the arrival of Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s (SpaceX) Dragon capsule on a mission currently slated to launch in January, NASA said. SpaceX has proposed combining the objectives of the second and third Dragon demonstration flights under its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services agreement with NASA, a mission that would see the privately owned capsule berth with the space station and deliver some nonessential supplies.

NASA has not yet formally approved combining the demonstration flights but has been operating under the assumption that this will occur.

The Dragon is tentatively scheduled for launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Jan. 12, according to an internal NASA manifest.

Dragon will first undergo a series of maneuvers to prove that it can safely approach station and communicate with astronauts on board. The craft would then make a close enough approach to be captured by the space station’s robotic arm. Upon successful completion of the mission, SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., would be cleared to begin making regular cargo runs to the space station under a $1.6 billion services contract with NASA.

Currently, American astronaut Mike Fossum of Expedition 29 commands a six-person space station crew that also includes Japanese flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov.

Expedition 30’s mission will begin officially when Burbank takes over command of the station from Fossum, who on Nov. 21 will depart the space station along with Furukawa and Volkov.

The station will then operate with a three-man skeleton crew until the other three members of Expedition 30 arrive. Those crew members, NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, are now scheduled to blast off from Baikonur Dec. 21 and arrive Dec. 23, NASA says.



Progress Docking Clears Way for Soyuz-TMA Launch


Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.