Crowded spaceport. Credit: NASA.
Expedition 47 is off to a great start as multiple flights of cargo ships arrive at the station to refuel, resupply, and deliver experiments to the ISS. The goal was to deliver three unmanned cargo ships to the station in three weeks, and prepare to add an expandable module to the station assembly.
Night launch of the Atlas 5 carrying an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship.
The race started when United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas 5 from the Florida Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It lifted an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft, named the S.S. Rick Husband (named after the Columbia shuttle commander killed during re-entry), to an orbital rendezvous with ISS. On board the Cygnus was 7,500 pounds of supplies and experiments. One of the experiments includes detailed observations and analysis of meteors plunging into the Earth's atmosphere.
Cygnus S.S. Rick Husband on approach to station.
The cargo ship docked with the station on Saturday, March 26th. Astronaut Tim Kopra used the CanadArm2 to grapple the craft and attach it to the station. The craft is expected to stay at the station for about a month, then depart with 3000 pounds of trash on board. Before it burns up in re-entry, it will release a number of small Cube-Sats.
Progress 61 departs. A very expensive trash can, but necessary for the continued operations on the space station.
On March 30, the Russians got very busy. Progress 61, another unmanned cargo ship, was undocked from its position on the Zvesda module and maneuvered away from the station. It had already had its cargo unloaded and was refilled with garbage and unneeded equipment. Its berth would be needed for another cargo ship. Progress 61 is slated to burn up over the Pacific on April 8th, after ground controllers perform some tests. Also on the 30th, the Progress 63 ship was prepared for launch.
Progress 63 at the pad before launch.
On March 31, Russia launched the Progress 63 spacecraft from its launch site in Baikonur. This Progress vehicle was an improved Progress MS, which includes communication and engineering upgrades which will be installed on all future Progress and Soyuz spacecraft. To give the ground controllers time for testing, the Progress 63 was sent into orbit for a 2-day trip to the rendezvous point rather than the current 6-hour typical flightpath.
Progress 63 reaches the ISS.
The docking with Progress 63 took place on April 2nd. It occupied the port at the end of the Zvesda module, which had just been vacated by Progress 61. On board the robotic craft was 3 tons of fuel, oxygen, and supplies for the crew. With its arrival, the Expedition 47 crew now has five spacecraft attached to the station: Two manned Soyuz craft (Soyuz 45 and 46), two Russian cargo ships (Progress 62 and 63), and the unmanned Cygnus spacecraft. It's about to get busier.
Earlier last month: The Bigelow Expandable Module is loaded onto the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship.
On this coming Friday, April 8, SpaceX will launch another of its Dragon unmanned cargo spaceships to rendezvous with the ISS. On board will be 6,900 pounds of hardware, supplies and science instruments. After a two-day flight, it will dock with the Harmony module. Significantly, it will carry the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, that will be attached to the US-built Tranquility module for testing over the next two years. Also traveling on the Dragon are some passengers: 20 Mice! The Rodent Research-3 experiment will focus on microgravity effects on bone-loss and tissue effects of flying in zero-gravity.