Soyuz Launch
A presentation in Dubai showing a previous launch of the Soyuz rocket. The Soyuz rocket is used for both cargo and astronaut transportation, and is best known today for being the main form of transportation to the International Space Station. Image Credit: Janice Ponce de Leon

Dubai: The UAE's first Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri will be rocketed to the International Space Station (ISS) at 5.56pm on September 25 to make the UAE the 19th country to visit the space station, officials announced on Monday, exactly 30 days before the much-awaited launch.

Hazza will be on the ISS for an eight-day space expedition as part of the UAE’s Astronaut Programme.

Hazza will be with crewmates Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian commander Oleg Skripochka as they lift-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan onboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft.

The Soyuz spacecraft
Hazza Al Mansouri will be with crewmates Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian commander Oleg Skripochka as they lift-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan onboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft.

Hazza will conduct a series of experiments, including a few on himself to check how his body will react to zero-gravity.

Pre-spaceflight results and samples will be compared with results when he returns to Earth.

Details on the stages of the mission before, during and after the launch were also announced on Monday.

"This is the first comprehensive space programme that develops national expertise to have manned missions to space which will help to promote better life on earth. We go to space to make our lives here better," said Salem Al Merri, Assistant Director-General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and head of the UAE Astronaut Programme.

"For almost 20 years the ISS has receiveed more than 230 astronauts from 18 countries around the world. Hopefully the UAE will be the 19th country."


number of experiments — biological, physical and geological — that will be conducted by UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri in space

Hazza will conduct 16 biological, physical and geological experiments that are not possible to be done on Earth.

Hazza will also have five video calls with the UAE to answer questions from the public, especially the youth.

He will also give three radio communications with ground control.

Revealed: ISS mission launch time of UAE's first astronaut Janice Ponce de Leon, Reporter, and Irish Belleza, videographer

Asked what Hazza's role will be during take-off, Al Merri said:  "Flight engineer one in this case is Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir who gets an additional training of up to a year and a half to prepare her for that role.

"And for the second flight engineer, which is Hazza Al Mansouri's role, they get slightly less training. They do have certain procedures that they participate in during the flight itself.

"They are trained on all the emergency procedures and also trained to assist the commander with in doing activities that he requires," he said.

"They also have to be knowledgeable of all the systems of the Soyuz and they have to be able to support any of the crew members during any procedures that we would say is off-nominal and even in nominal situations," he added.

What Hazza will take to space:

  • 100 per cent silk UAE Flag
  • 30 seeds of Al Ghaf trees
  • Materials for the scientific research such as inflatable balls representing Mars and Earth
  • Emirati food
  • Personal belongings including pictures of his family and other personal items
  • Photo of Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan with the Apollo 17 Team
  • Quran
  • Copy of the 'Qissati' of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai

Overview of the Mission:

  • Launch Date to the ISS: September 25, 2019, 5.56pm UAE Time
  • Flight time to the ISS: Approximately 6 hours
  • Launch Vehicle: Soyuz MS-15
  • Soyuz dimensions:
  • Length: 7.48m
  • Diameter: 2.71m
  • Span: 10.6m (with the solar arrays deployed)
  • Habitable volume: 8.5 cubic meters
  • Trip back to Earth: October 4
  • Flight time: 3.5 hours
  • Landing site: Kazakhstan

The Soyuz spacecraft, which is Russian for ‘Union’, is a three-seater vehicle that transports cosmonauts and astronauts to the ISS. It is the only spacecraft that is able to do so currently. In the history of space exploration, Soyuz programme is the longest operational human spacecraft programme.

Apart from people, the spacecraft also brings food, water and supplies to the space station. At least one Soyuz spacecraft is always docked on the ISS to act as a lifeboat in case the ISS crew have to make an emergency descent to Earth.

The Soyuz comes into two parts: the capsule and the rocket.

The capsule sits on top of the rocket loaded with liquid oxygen and kerosene that will propel it to escape the Earth’s atmosphere in three stages.

Where does the crew sit in the capsule during launch?

The capsule has three parts of modules: the Orbital, Descent, and the Instrumentation and Service Module.

The Orbital Capsule is the topmost part of the Soyuz. It measures approximately 2.2metres in width and 2.6metres in height, with a habitable volume of 5 cubic meters, about the size of a large van, according to Nasa. This is the part of the capsule that connects to the ISS.

During the launch, this module is sealed but can be opened from the Entry or Descent Module once in orbit. It houses the toilet and communication equipment, as well as cargo and equipment required for the crew’s survival in space.

Mission overview -02
Mission overview Image Credit: Gulf News

The Descent Module is the middle part of the capsule that is used on the crew’s ascent to space, and return and landing on Earth. It is cramped with a total habitable volume of 3.5 cubic meters only.

Here, the crew is isolated for launch and landing. They sit on custom-made seats equipped with a shock absorbing system that cushions (if we can put it that way) astronauts from the impact the spacecraft experiences when landing which has been touted as the “ultimate roller coaster ride”.

The module has a heat shield that protects it during re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. It also has an automated parachute system with a backup parachute to ease the slow down the vehicle into a safe landing speed.

The last module contains the life support systems and equipment critical during flight such as batteries, solar panels, and steering engines.

What happens during the launch?

The Soyuz rocket lifts off to space at speeds of 25,000 km/h. Once it reaches the 100km mark above sea level known as the "Karman line", the crew have officially reached space and they will experience microgravity. That's in just about nine minutes.

The Soyuz capsule will then separate and orbit the Earth to begin the chase to rendezvouz with the International Space Station. The Soyuz launch is timed after the ISS has passed the Baikonur Cosmodrome to maximise fuel efficiency and minimise travel time to six hours.

It used to take about two days to reach the ISS but this changed to six hours in 2012.

After approximately four orbits around the Earth, the Soyuz will meet with the ISS to dock.

Docking is automated. But should there be a problem, the commander can override this and manually dock on the ISS using the optical sighting device.

If mating is successful, the air pressure on the Soyuz will be equalised with the ISS. The airlock will be opened so the new crew can disembark and board the space station.

Return to Earth

After final preparations, the crew will board the Soyuz capsule again and start the undocking. The trip could take 3.5 hours and the last stages of the descent can be brutal to the body. The strong acceleration can put extreme pressure on the astronauts — plus they will again feel the effects of gravity upon re-entry.

An Italian astronaut once described the feeling as being in a head-on collision with a truck while on a small car.

The main parachute will deploy automatically at the assigned altitude and thrusters at the bottom of the module will fire up to slow down the descent. This is after the heat shield has been removed.

Once landed, the parachute will be cut off and the crew will be rescued and taken to Moscow for medical tests.

Source: Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, Nasa, Canadian Space Agency