Sunday, August 17, 2014

ISS Summer Summary

ISS robotic arm just prior to releasing the Cygnus resupply ship. The dotted-line object is the side view of the Cygnus' solar panels, seen exactly edge-on.

It may not be the calendar end to summer, but students all over the USA know good and well that their summer vacation is over and they are heading back to school. And I am finished this year with company business travel, so it's time to get back to commenting on the rubble in space seen from my Space Bunker in Utah. Since my last post at the end of July, what's up with mankind's outpost in Earth Orbit?

Just hours ago, the Cygnus robotic cargo spacecraft burned up in re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. It's been a busy 6 weeks of comings and goings for Expedition 40 up on the International Space Station. Back in June, both the SpaceX and Orbital launches had been postponed. ANd the new Russian Angara rocket had suffered a launch glitch on the 27th. On July 1st  a launch of a NASA Delta 2 was scrubbed when a problem developed with a sound-suppression system. At least India had success with the launch of a Polar-orbit rocket carrying 5 satellites.

The next day NASA's Delta 2 took off and launched a carbon-dioxide research rocket into space. And the rockets kept on flying. The Russians were next.

The Rokot lifts off from Plesetsk with 3 communications satellites. RIA Novosti.

The Russians had a series of launches starting with the launch of a light-carrier class Rokot from the Plesestk space center on July 4th. Then on the 9th, a Soyuz rocket lifted off from Baikonur with a weather satellite and a couple other payloads. Finally, the new Angara rocket had a successful launch.

Angara on the pad at Plesetsk. RIA Novosti.

The first flight of the Angara on July 9th from Plesetsk lifted a dummy payload into space to test the rocket systems. The Angara is meant to supplement the Soyuz rocket type launches and relieve the burden of launches only a Soyuz can perform, though it is not man-rated. To show off the demand for the Soyuz rocket, another one was launched on the 10th from the French space Center in French Guiana placing 4 communications satellites into orbit. 

Antares lifts off.

On July 13, Orbital Sciences launched its Antares rocket from its facility on Wallops Island, Virginia to place the Cygnus cargo craft on a path to the ISS. Close behind, SpaceX launched a Falcon rocket placing 6 ORBCOMM satellites into orbit on the 14th. On Wednesday, the Cygnus cargo craft docked with the ISS.

Docking for the Cygnus with help from the CanadArm robotic arm.

Carrying food, oxygen, and supplies from Earth, the Cygnus also delivered 32 micro-satellites which will be released over time by the crew of Expedition 40. The Cygnus was docked by engineers on Earth this time using the robotic arm after astronaut Commander Steve Swanson captured the craft, and secured to the Harmony module of the station. The craft is named SS Janet Voss in commemoration of the astronaut who passed away in 2012.

The launches continued. A Soyuz carried a biological research satellite into space on July 20. On the 22nd, a Russian Progress Robot cargo ship was undocked from the ISS to make a place for an upcoming resupply mission. The Progress ship was then directed to deorbit and crash into the Pacific.

A Progress cargo craft approaches the ISS. 

On Wednesday the 23rd, a new Progress craft was launched from Baikonur and arrived at the ISS six hours later. The M-24M carried supplies for the station. Once unloaded, it will eventually be filled with trash and undocked later.

Delta 4 does the job, launching into a clear blue sky. SpaceFlight Now.

On Monday the 28th, a Delta 4 carried the GSSAP classified secret satellite into orbit. The satellite, though developed in secret, will be used to do research on possible collisions in space and any potential enemy military weapons developments in space.

European control room engineers monitor the docking of the ATV to the ISS. ESA.

On Tuesday the 29th, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the 5th and last of the ATV robot cargo ships to the ISS. It was lifted on the Ariane 5 rocket from the French space center in French Guiana, South America. It was the 60th successful launch of the Ariane 5, a remarkable achievement.

And the rockets kept flying. On August 1st an Atlas 5 blasted off from Cape Canaveral, carrying a GPS navigational satellite. On August 5th SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the AsiaSat 8. On the same day, the ESA announced a remarkable success: the Rosetta space probe rendezvoused with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Instead of just passing close by, the probe has matched its speed and direction and will travel with the comet, studying it from close up.

Radar imaging of the comet nucleus. ESA.

The ATV finally docked with the ISS on Tuesday the 12th. It was berthed at the Russian Zvesda module, and astronauts began unloading the cargo ship. Although it is the last of the ATV series of cargo craft, the technology from this version will be used to design and build the service module for NASA's future Orion spaceship.

Long March rocket action. Xinhua news.

China got back into the space scene on August 9th, launching a Long March 4C rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province. It carried a remote-sensing satellite. A few days later on the 12th, another Atlas 5 took off, this time from Vandenberg AFB in California, carrying its own remote-sensing satellite, the WorldView 3.

View from the ISS, Cygnus released from the station, seen just right of center.

And that brings us to the last couple of days. Orbital's CRS-2 mission was over, and the Cygnus craft undocked on Friday. The ground engineers gave the craft remote directions to de-orbit and burn up this morning as it re-entered the atmosphere.

A previous Cygnus craft disintegrates and burns up over the Pacific.

Orbital has 6 more cargo missions under the current contract, and will no doubt receive further contracts in this successful series. And with the morning's fireworks provided by Cygnus, we get back to the business of watching the business of working in space.

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