Sunday, July 31, 2016

ISS Now at 5 Docked Spacecraft

The situation before the latest Dragon arrived. Dragon is now docked at the Harmony module.
It has been a busy July at the International Space Station, with one ship leaving and three ships arriving. It started at the beginning of July with the undocking of Progress M-62 from the Pirs module. Also designated Progress spacecraft MS-1, it was the first Progress mission using the new MS series of cargo ships. After undocking, engineers performed computer and navigation exercises with the craft to test the new systems which are also found on Soyuz spacecraft. Progress 62 was deorbited and burnt up in re-entry the next day.
Then on July 7, Soyuz MS-01 lifted off from Baikonur with the remaining crew of Expedition 48. This Soyuz was the first of the new, and ultimate, Soyuz space capsule modifications. It docked with the ISS on July 9 at the Rassvet module. These two flights were reported earlier this month.

Soyuz MS-01 docked at the Rassvet port.
The next two flights were unmanned cargo space missions. Uniquely, this was the first time that two robotic spacecraft were in pursuit of the ISS at the same time, and actually docked within a day and a half of each other.  First came the Russians.
Cargo flight Inbound.
Progress 64 (NASA designation) is the third of the new Progress MS vehicles (Russian designation MS-03), and was launched on July 16th. It docked at the open Pirs module on July 19th, taking the "Long Route" 2-day orbital chase to give engineers more test flight time, rather than fly the now normal 6 hour flight path.
Gotcha! Dragon is captured with the robotic arm.
The latest to arrive is the Dragon, mission CRS-9. It was launched by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral at pad LC-40 on July 18th. It docked at the US-built Harmony module on July 19. Significantly, it carries some important medical experiments, and especially the new Spacedock adaptor which will enable other spacecraft with the adapter standard to dock at the same port. 
That made for 3 spacecraft dockings within 11 days, a very good achievement for the crew of Expedition 48!

50 Years Ago: Gemini 10 Docks in Space

Gemini 10 lifts off from Cape Kennedy.

Fifty years ago on July 18, 1966, astronauts John Young and Michael Collins took off for another NASA attempt at docking with the Agena target vehicle. On two prior missions, there had been problems with the Agena docking vehicles, sometimes due to errors in launch, and recently when the payload shroud failed to separate from the target dock. On this flight, things went much better. The Agena was blasted into space more than an hour before the Gemini-Titan rocket took off. It successfully deployed in orbit and awaited the Gemini capsule.
Agena Target Vehicle in view from the Gemini capsule.

Gemini 10 took off from Launch Complex 19 at about 3 in the afternoon into clear skies. During launch, it seems that one of the umbilical hoses from the launch tower came loose and clung to the Titan's second stage. It appeared to pose no trouble during the remaining flight. The capsule reached an altitude of 159 miles. Their first goal was to reach the Gemini 10 Agena target. Using fuel in the service module, they made up the 970 miles separating them, and docked with the Agena the next day (July 19th). For the first EVA of the mission, Collins opened his hatch and began photography experiments. One item pictured was a color patch on the capsule, which engineers would use to resolve color imaging issues for space photography. He also made some ultraviolet images of the Milky Way. The EVA was cut short when both astronauts experienced severe eye irritation. Some lithium hydroxide had leaked into their ventilation system. After closing the hatch the air system was purged and the problem solved.
Closing in for docking.
They next used the fuel in the Agena to boost their orbit higher, until they had reached more than 40 miles higher. This was the highest altitude reached by astronauts so far. Their goal was to reach another space vehicle - this time the Gemini 8 Agena target, which had lost power and was floating dead in in space. It was the original Agena that had been involved in the first docking in space on Gemini 8, just moments before a malfunction in the Gemini 8 thruster system caused the two docked vehicles to spin dangerously. To save their lives, Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott had forced an emergency separation from the Agena and then completed gaining control of their capsule and landing early in the Pacific Ocean. Now, Young and Collins found the Agena orbiting in a stable position and ready for the second part of the mission. For this rendezvous, they jettisoned the original Agena and approached the Agena (8) with their own thruster system.

Artist's idea of the Collins EVA to Agena 8. (If I could read the artist's name I would give credit.)
Collins performed the second EVA, exiting the Gemini capsule and floating the short distance to the Agena vehicle, where he retrieved a micrometeorite collection shield. The hand-held maneuvering unit helped him orient himself, but there were no handholds on the Agena in those days, so working around the Agena was difficult. After returning to the capsule, there were problems with the umbilical cord and so before closing the hatch, it was jettisoned along with the EVA chestpack. Ten other science experiments were performed by the astronauts during the mission. On July 21st, they deorbited and re-entered the atmosphere, landing 3 miles from the recovery ship USS Guadalcanal.

Helicopter view of John Young being hoisted up to safety.
For Command Pilot John Young, this was his second spaceflight, having originally flown with Gus Grissom on the first Gemini manned flight. He would go on to ave the longest career of any astronaut, and eventually became the only person to fly four different spacecraft type: Gemini, Apollo Command Module, Apollo Lunar Module, and the Space Shuttle. This was Michael Collins' first space mission, and he would go on to fly on the historic Apollo 11 mission. For a time, the capsule of Gemini 10 was on display in Norway, but is now home in the USA at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

John Young on the left, Michael Collins on the right.


Beautiful Atlas V Launch

Atlas V carrying a Defense Department satellite roars from pad LC-41.
There are so many rocket launches around the world these days that I primarily like to cover the manned mission variety. But some launches just catch my eye, like this one. Atlas and ULA just keep a busy pace with successful satellite launches from Cape Canaveral. This one lifts off on a beautiful Thursday into the Florida sky, the 64th launch of the Atlas V rocket and the 135th of the Atlas program. 
Another view of the launch. On board is the NROL-61 spy satellite.
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) maintains the supervision of our country's fleet of satellites that monitor security situations around the world, especially keeping an eye on those countries that are hostile to America. For the United Launch Alliance, the company that manages many of the satellite launches (and previously, shuttle launches), this flight was the 23rd launch for the NRO. The NRO has also used Delta rockets for some of its missions.
You can read more about this satellite at at:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

50 Years Ago: New Apollo Program Logo

Design for the Apollo program insignia.
Fifty years ago on July 16, 1966, NASA held a special news event at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The event celebrated the unveiling of the new logo design that would symbolize the upcoming Apollo moon landing program. Significantly, you can see that North America and its Florida launch site figure dominantly on the Earth and that the A's crossbar includes three stars representing the three-men crews that would fly the missions.

50 Years Ago: Aiming Toward the Space Shuttle

The M2-F2 carefully maneuvers for touchdown. All photos NASA. 

On July 12, 1966, NASA and Northrop successfully dropped the new M2-F2 lifting body from a specially prepared B-52 bomber over a dry lake bed at Edwards AFB. The craft was advanced from the original design first test by Northrop's M2-F1 which flew back in 1963.

M2-F2 attached to a pylon on the B-52 before the flight.

The B-52 was the same one used to drop X-15 aircraft, with a modified carry pylon that allowed it to carry lifting bodies as well as the X-15s. On this first flight, Milton Thompson guided the craft from a drop height of 13, 716 feet at a top speed of 727 km/hr, which is equivalent to a little over Mach .6. The flight lasted 3 and a 1/2 minutes.

Cockpit of the M2-F2.

The NASA lifting body tests were important precursors to helping engineers in the initial designs of a possible re-usable spacecraft which could glide from orbit back to the Earth. Eventually these designs would become the Space Shuttle.

M2-F1 sitting next to the retired M2-F1.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

50 Years Ago: AS-203 Tests Saturn IVB Stage

AS-203 blasts off from the LC-37B launchpad.
Fifty Years Ago, on July 5, 1966 NASA tested a major component of the Apollo/Saturn system. An unmanned Saturn 1b rocket lifted off from Cape Kennedy with a Saturn IVB stage that needed testing and certification. 
AS-203 sitting on the Saturn 1b pad modification pad.
The rocket lifted off and the flight went well, throwing the Saturn IVB stage into an orbit 100 miles above the surface. Engineers conducted tests on the fuel movement, useage, and storage. They also conducted tests alternating pressurizing and depressurizing the stage. During one of those tests, contact was lost and radar at the Trinidad Tracking Station detected the stage now in multiple pieces. NASA finally concluded that the propellants in either of the two tanks had exploded. Despite the loss, NASA considered it a success, as all systems were tested and had functioned.

Expedition 48 grows to 6 Crew

The entire Expedition 48 crew. Newly arrived (front, left to right): Kate Rubin (NASA), Anatoli Ivanishin (Roscosmos), and Takuya Onishi (JAXA). Already aboard (back, left to right): Oleg Skripochka (Roscosmos), Alexey Ovchinin (Roscosmos) and ISS Commander Jeff Williams (NASA). Credit: NASA TV
After a 2-day orbital journey checking out new systems on a new spacecraft, the Soyuz carrying the Expedition 48/49 crew docked to the Russian Rassvet module on the ISS. They blasted off from Baikonur on Thursday the 7th, in a beautiful daytime launch in a clear sky. The flight had been delayed from its original planned launch date of June 24th, but a software glitch kept them grounded while engineers repaired the problem.
The Soyuz lifts off in front of an army of cameras. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
We've been getting used to the quick 6-hour launch to the station, but this time the Soyuz was the first launch of the new MS series capsule and the two day orbital chase would be used to help engineers test out new features for the Russian spacecraft system.  The Progress (robotic cargo) version of the MS design had just recently been at the ISS and just last week undocked and deorbited.
Soyuz MS-01 docks at the Russian Module. (NASA TV)
With the full crew aboard, Expedition 48 begins in earnest and the three newcomers will be busy indeed. Rubins and Onishi are on their first trip to space, while Ivanishin has arrived for the second time at the station. Commander Williams and his two Russian team members are scheduled to depart in September, when Expedition 49 will start. The new crew will remain on board until late October.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Progress 62 Completes Redock Test then Leaves the ISS forever.

Progress 62 as photographed by Tim Peake before he returned to Earth.
Russian engineers are continuing efforts to improve the remote piloting of the Russian-designed spacecraft. Progress spacecraft, though similar to Soyuz manned spacecraft in most aspects, are designed to be remote-controlled by computer and by ground controller input. Occasionally, however, there may come a surprise when the Kurz digital navigation system fails. And that's when the engineers want the ISS Russian cosmonauts to step in and "manually" control the craft. "Manual" control actually means radio control from the station, as there are no cosmonauts in the robotic cargo deliver Progress vehicles.
View of Progress 62 from the Pirs Module.
On Friday July 1st, a test was done to the Progress vehicle to see if new upgrades to the manual docking system were working properly. The spacecraft had already been filled with waste and garbage from the ISS, and was ready for this weekend's disposal trip to Earth. Cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin used the remote workstation in the Russian Zvesda Module to control the ship. It correctly undocked from the Pirs module, then moved to a position about 600 feet from the ISS. After a half hour of monitoring and testing, they brought the craft back to redock with station.  According to a report from NASA though, there were unusual movements of the spaceship during the redocking procedure. Engineers will be studying the downfeed to assess what may have caused it.
Progress 62 (also designated MS-01) floating above the Earth.
Progress 62 is also the first MS supply ship. The MS series is an upgrade of the progress design, allowing for small satellites to be launched from a new compartment and sporting new navigation and computer guidance features. With the test complete, its mission was accomplished and on Saturday the craft left the ISS for the last time. After backing away from the station to avoid thruster particle contamination, ground controllers guided the craft into a fiery deorbit over the Pacific Ocean where it burned up.