A Russian Soyuz spacecraft with three astronauts on board launched towards the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday. The Soyuz TMA-18M lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 10:37 AM local time (12:37 AM Eastern). The arrival of three new crew members will increase the orbiting lab’s population to nine, the highest since November 2013.

Soyuz Spacecraft Takes Three Astronauts To ISS

Soyuz to reach the ISS on Friday

Veteran Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov was leading the team that included first-time flyers Andreas Mogensen of Denmark and Aidyn Aimbetov from Kazakhstan. If everything goes according to the plan, the three astronauts will reach the ISS on Friday, September 4. Just a few moments after the lift-off, the rocket launched directly into the plane of the ISS’ orbit.

However, it will take Soyuz 34 orbits or two days to reach the space station. Though scientists have employed a shorter 4-orbit approach since 2013, a debris avoidance maneuver recently changed the space station’s orbit, prompting the need for a 34-orbit approach. It is Volkov’s third flight to the space station. Kazakhstan’s Aimbetov was added to the team after English singer Sarah Brightman backed out in May due to “personal family reasons.” Brightman had offered to pay a whopping $50 million for the orbital experience.

Kelly, Kornienko part of a special experiment

Aimbetov and Mogensen will be coming back to Earth along with Gennady Padalka on September 12. Padalka has been on the space station since March this year. After their departure, six astronauts will be left at the ISS: NASA’s Kjell Lindgren and Scott Kelly, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, and Sergei Volkov.

Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko are part of a year-long experiment. They will return to Earth in March next year after spending a year at the space station. Scientists are studying how they adapt psychologically and physiologically to long duration spaceflight. NASA said findings of the study would help in the future human missions to Mars.