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A Soyuz capsule just made a record-breaking 3-hour flight to the International Space Station

Three new crewmembers arrived at the International Space Station today (Oct. 14) after a record-breaking speedy flight to the orbiting lab. 

The Russian Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov docked with the space station at 4:48 a.m. EDT (0848 GMT), just 3 hours and 3 minutes after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Soyuz rocket.

By coincidence, the rocket launched on Rubins' birthday (she turned 42), prompting congratulations from Russian flight controllers at the Roscosmos agency's Mission Control. "I would like to join in and say Happy Birthday to you. It's a beautiful day and you celebrated it wonderfully," one official said after the crew entered the station. 

"Thank you so much," Rubins replied. "It's been the best birthday I ever had."

Typically it takes about six hours for a Soyuz spacecraft to chase down the International Space Station, and the Soyuz must complete about four orbits around  the Earth. But the Soyuz MS-17 made it in only two orbits, making it the first crewed Soyuz spacecraft to try the "fast-track" rendezvous method.  

Related: Soyuz 'fast-track' trips to space station explained (infographic)

Russia has previously tested the two-orbit rendezvous method with its Progress cargo resupply spacecraft, which is nearly identical to the Soyuz spacecraft used to transport crew. So far five Progress missions have used the new, two-orbit rendezvous method to reach the space station. The fastest Progress flight so far, Progress 70, arrived at the space station 3 hours and 48 minutes after liftoff, in July 2018. 

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The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov is seen as it approaches the International Space Station during a 3-hour flight on Oct. 14, 2020.

(Image credit: NASA TV)
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The six-person crew of Expedition 63 wave aboard the International Space Station after the arrival of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov at the International Space Station on Oct. 14, 2020.

(Image credit: NASA TV)
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A Russian Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft launches atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Oct. 14, 2020 to ferry NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov to the International Space Station.

(Image credit: RSC Energia)
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A Russian Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft launches atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Oct. 14, 2020 to ferry NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov to the International Space Station.

(Image credit: RSC Energia)
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Expedition 64 Russian cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos, top, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, middle, and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryzhikov, bottom, wave farewell prior to boarding the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft for launch, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

(Image credit: RSC Energia)
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The Soyuz MS-17 crew ship with the Expedition 64 crew inside is pictured just a few meters away from the Rassvet module’s docking port ahead of the fasted Soyuz trip to the station in history on Oct. 14, 2020.

(Image credit: NASA TV)

Both Soyuz and Progress missions traditionally took about two days to reach the International Space Station. In 2013, the Soyuz spacecraft carrying three Expedition 35 crewmembers to orbit became the first to test out the new six-hour rendezvous. With today's flight, the Expedition 64 crew slashed that travel time in half.

Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov will spend about six months working on board the orbiting lab as members of Expedition 64. They join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who arrived at the space station in April, bringing the total population of the station up to six crewmembers.

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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  • Aspire58
    I'm sure there must be a good reason, but why does it take us like 3 days to do the same thing?
    Reply
  • TomBillings
    "I'm sure there must be a good reason, but why does it take us like 3 days to do the same thing?"

    The reason it we take 3 days is that using the longer method gives you more opportunities each month to launch at a target with a pre-determiined orbit, including a pre-determined phase and plane. The Russians can launch in this pattern, but can only do so a few times a month, if the ISS is to be in the right position, relative to the launching spacecraft.
    Reply
  • Zymurgist
    Gemini 11 launched on September 12, 1966. Astronauts Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr. and Richard F. Gordon Jr. performed the first-ever direct-ascent (first orbit) rendezvous with an Agena Target Vehicle, docking with it 94 minutes after launch. This still stands as a record and I’m not impressed by the Russian effort. What took you guys so long?
    Reply
  • Alex
    I would challenge this : on April 15th 1968 unmanned Soyuz vehicle named "Cosmos-213" has docked to a similar unmanned "Cosmos-212" just after 47 mins since launch. Both these cases tho (Cosmos-213 and US Manned Record) were cases where the target was launched from the same or very close launchpad, so the orbit of the target and the chasing vehicle were almost the same. This is not the case with ISS, so less than an hour docking doesn't seem possible based on the sky mechanics. Looking forward to see one lap docking, should be around 90 mins - this is faster than my commute sometimes!.
    Anyway - big congrats to Roscosmos.
    Reply
  • AirFrank
    Alex said:
    I would challenge this : on April 15th 1968 unmanned Soyuz vehicle named "Cosmos-213" has docked to a similar unmanned "Cosmos-212" just after 47 mins since launch. Both these cases tho (Cosmos-213 and US Manned Record) were cases where the target was launched from the same or very close launchpad, so the orbit of the target and the chasing vehicle were almost the same. This is not the case with ISS, so less than an hour docking doesn't seem possible based on the sky mechanics. Looking forward to see one lap docking, should be around 90 mins - this is faster than my commute sometimes!.
    Anyway - big congrats to Roscosmos.
    The orbital plane of the ISS passes through the launchpad twice every day so in theory we have a launch opportunity twice every day. The bigger issue is phasing.
    Reply
  • Zymurgist
    Alex said:
    I would challenge this : on April 15th 1968 unmanned Soyuz vehicle named "Cosmos-213" has docked to a similar unmanned "Cosmos-212" just after 47 mins since launch. Both these cases tho (Cosmos-213 and US Manned Record) were cases where the target was launched from the same or very close launchpad, so the orbit of the target and the chasing vehicle were almost the same. This is not the case with ISS, so less than an hour docking doesn't seem possible based on the sky mechanics. Looking forward to see one lap docking, should be around 90 mins - this is faster than my commute sometimes!.
    Anyway - big congrats to Roscosmos.
    I was unaware of this mission and it is impressive. but it was an unmanned robotic docking which puts in in a different class. Reconsidering my earlier comment, congratulations to the Russians though for both fine efforts.
    Reply