Three new International Space Station (ISS) crew members were launched aboard a Soyuz-FG on Saturday. The launch, which coincidentally occurred on the same day as the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, was the penultimate flight of the Soyuz rocket developed to bridge the gap between the Soyuz-U and the Soyuz-2.
The Soyuz-FG was launched from Site No. 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 16:28 UTC on Saturday, 20 July. It carried the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft with Expedition 60 crew members Andrew Morgan of NASA, Luca Parmitano of the ESA, and Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos aboard.
Just over six hours after the launch from Baikonur, the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft successfully rendezvoused with the ISS and docked with the space station’s Zvezda service module. The hatch opening and welcoming ceremony began a further two hours later at 00:50 on Sunday, 21 July. Morgan, Parmitano, and Skvortsov join NASA astronauts Nick Hague, Christina Koch, and Expedition 60 Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos.
The Soyuz FG was designed to bridge the gap between the aging Soyuz U and the new Soyuz-2, which had yet to prove itself to Russia’s international partners. The vehicle included the upgraded RD-107A engines powering its four boosters and RD-108A engines powering the core stage. Although the engines provided the same thrust as their predecessors, they included a number of safety and reliability upgrades.
It was launched for the first time on May 20, 2001. As of Saturday’s launch, the Soyuz-FG has flown 69 missions with just one failure, the Soyuz MS-10 mishap in 2018.
The final Soyuz FG is currently scheduled to be launched in September and will carry the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft. Following its final launch, crew launch duties to the ISS will be taken over by the Soyuz 2.1a, a variant that features digital flight control systems and additional safety upgrades.