Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas visitors at ISS

Soyuz FG rocket lifts off the pad at Baikonur into a wintery blue sky.
On Sunday Dec 17, the second half of the Expedition 54 team left Russia for a two-day chase to the International Space Station. On board the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft were Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos), Scott Tingle (NASA), and Norishige Kanai (JAXA). They docked at the station on Tuesday morning. 
Before the launch, at the simulator (L-R): Kanai, Shkaplerov, and Tingle.
This is Shkaplerov's third trip to the ISS. This time he will take over as station commander when the current lead crew returns to Earth. FOr Kanai, though this may be his first spaceflight, he previously made a two-week stay in the seabase off the Florida coast in 2015, simulating communications protocols in a future Mars mission with long signal delays.  Scott Tingle has been a Navy test pilot and also flew as a member of the elite Blue Diamonds demonstration team. He has 54 combat missions to his credit, and joined NASA in 2009. This is his first flight to space. 
Current spacecraft docking locations at the ISS.
November and December have seen a busy schedule of flights to and from the station. The Cygnus resupplu spacecraft arrived on November 13 for a three week stay. After delivering its supplies, the spacecraft undocked on December 6 for a 12 day period of free-flight testing, before entering the Earth's atmosphere on December 18 for a fiery end. During that time it also launched 14 Nanorack Cubesats.
Cygnus OA-8, named SS Gene Cernan.
 SpaceX launched another Dragon supply ship CRS-13 on Dec. 8. This time, both the capsule (C-108) and the Falcon 9 rocket are being used a second time, as part of SpaceX's re-usable spacecraft system. It is currently docked to the US-built Harmony module. 

CRS-13 docked to the Harmony module.
On Thursday Dec. 14, Soyuz MS-05 undocked from the ISS for a return to Earth. In Command of the spacecraft was Sergei Ryazansky (Roscosmos), accompanied by Randy Bresnik (NASA) and Paolo Nespoli (ESA). Bresnik had been Commander of Expedition 53 before leaving the station in the capable hands of Misurkin, commanding Expedition 54. 
Beautiful picture of returning Soyuz capsule over Kazakhstan.
Sadly, it has been reported that astronaut Bruce McCandless II has died. He was made famous around the world for the image of him in the shuttle EVA suit flying tether-free around the space shuttle. Most people are unaware, but he served as Houston Mission Control communicator during the historic moonwalk of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 in 1969. He also was part of the crew that launched the Hubble Space Telescope on STS-31 in the shuttle Discovery.
McCandless in his official NASA WSS press photograph, strapped into the Manned Maneuvering Vehicle (MMV).
One of the most famous photos of the Shuttle period, McCandless flies free in the MMV during mission STS-41B around the space shuttle Challenger.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

50 Years Ago: Apollo 4 Flight Get US Closer to the Moon

Lift-off of the mighty Saturn V rocket assembly from pad 39. NASA.

After the fire disaster of Apollo 1, tests still continued while lessons were learned and changes were made to the Apollo command and service modules. Possibly faulty wiring and systems in the Apollo Block 1 command modules were redesigned to bring newer, better safety factors in line with program directives. There was still a use for the Block 1 command modules though, and the flight of Apollo 4 was one of them.
Stages being assembled in the giant Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB.

The Apollo 4 mission, also designated as AS-501, was the first mission to start with the Apollo naming protocol. The families and friends of the Apollo 1 fire tragedy had insisted failed test being redesignated as Apollo1.  Three other Saturn test flights had occurred before this mission, but had used the Saturn 1b first stage for the unmanned tests. This Apollo 4 mission had been delayed from its original date in 1966, due to the Apollo 1 Stand-down and the delays in re-wiring and re-equipping the newer Block 2 capsules. Thus it was that this mission would use a still-functional, unmanned Apollo Block 1 capsule as a test capsule to record data during the flight.
The fully-fitted Saturn V stack inside the VAB, in one of the four assembly bays. On a humid day, tiny clouds could form at the very top inside the building.

Roll-out of Apollo4 on the giant crawler and tower transporter, slowly moving away from the VAB.

Apollo 4 in place on pad 39A. The crawler has already unlocked and moved away from the launch base.

 The Saturn V's first stage heaving the rocket into the upper atmosphere.
Liftoff finally occurred on November 9. This was the first flight of the Stage 1C and S-2 second stage. It was the first time NASA had restarted the S-IV-B third stage. The capsule was placed into a high arc to simulate the returning velocity of capsule coming back from the moon. The capsule safely passed through re-entry, chutes deployed, and it landed in the Pacific ocean not far from the recovery ship USS Bennington. It was a hugely important mission, because it proved that the Saturn V could work, and that the systems were in place to get men to the Moon and back safely before the end of the decade.
Apollo 4 capsule ends its trip in the Pacific Ocean.

Apollo 4 command module next to the USS Bennington before retrieval.

The Apollo 4 capsule is on display at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The hatch is open so that you can see inside.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

October was a Busy Month for Expedition 53

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei on EVA during one of the first two spacewalks in October. (NASA)

While science experiments and observations continue onboard the International Space Station, so does the unending resupply and maintenance of equipment. This month saw the crew perform three spacewalks working on the robotic arm, and a supply mission docking from Russia.
Astronauts Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei making it look easy.

The spacewalk series was interrupted by the Progress docking, so let's start with the October 5th EVA. Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and astronaut Mark Vande Hei  began the triple EVAs with a 6 hour and 55 minute walk to replace one of two Latching End Effectors (LEEs) on the robotic CanadArm2. The LEEs are designed to grapple objects before moving them. The astronauts also worked on some module insulation and cables.

The next EVA took place October 10th, again with Bresnik and Vande Hei. Over 6 hours and 26 minutes, they worked to lubricate the newly installed LEE, and then replaced a camera system on the end of the arm.

Russian Progress cargo spacecraft approaches the station near an already-docked Soyuz.

Before the astronauts could complete their 3rd EVA of October, Russia attempted to launch Progress 68P to the station to deliver supplies. The launch was scrubbed on October 12, due to faulty  equioment on the launch pad at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. The problem was quickly fixed and a second attempt to launch was more successful on October 14. Instead of flying a shortened 6-hour flight to the ISS, ground controllers used a older 2-day approach plan for the craft. It arrived at the ISS on October 16th. The craft (also known as Progress MS-07) docked at the Russian-made Pirs module. 

Astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Pauolo Nespoli (ESA) help Joe Acaba move into the airlock.
The final EVA of October took place on the 20th, and lasted 6 hours and 49 minutes. They attached another camera to the CanadArm2, and completed some minor work. The EVA made the 5th spacewalk for Randy Bresnik and the 3rd for Joe Acaba,
The next major event for Expedition 53 will be a launch of Orbital ATK's Cygnus supply mission.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Last of the Summer ISS Traffic

Space Voyagers prepare to bard their spacecraft. Top to bottom: Alexander Misurkin, Joe Acaba, Mark Vande Hei.
As we approach the time for summer to transition to fall, one spacecraft arrived at ISS while another took its leave. Soyuz MS-06 lifted off from Baikonur on Tuesday, carrying the second half of the Expedition 53 crew. The Soyuz was piloted by Soyuz commander Alexander Misurkin (Roscosmos), and flight engineers Joe Acaba and Mark Vende Hei both of NASA. Both Misurkin and Acaba are veterans of previous space missions. Vande Hei is making his first trip into space. The crew will stay aboard the International Space Station for five and a half months, eventually becoming the lead half of Expedition 54.

Soyuz rocket departs at night from Baikonur.

The crew joins Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and flight engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos) and Paolo Nespoli (ESA). As well as working on over 200 experiments in the next half year, the team is preparing for three spacewalks during October. 
After undocking, the Dragon gently moves away from the ISS before commencing re-entry procedures.
On the 17th, the SpaceX Dragon unmanned cargo ship undocked and was moved awy from its berth by the robotic arm, under the control of astronaut Bresnik. Once at a safe distance, ground engineers fired the descent thrusters and slowed the craft for re-entry. Splashdown in the Pacific off of California took place at 10:14 a.m.  This had been the 12th resupply mission with Dragon for SpaceX.

Space Station parking before the Dragon left the station.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

X-37b Launches before Kennedy Gets Hit by Irma

Falcon 9 rocket with X-37b aboard launches from Kennedy Space Center. (SpaceX)

SpaceX Made a beautiful launch Thursday of their Falcon 9 rocket, this time without their Dragon resupply space capsule. In another first for the company, the US Air Force had chosen SpaceX to lift the secretive X-37b re-usable winged spacecraft into orbit. Normally the Atlas V has been the rocket of choice, but now the military is looking to lower costs and prove the concept of using different boosters. 

An X-37b spacecraft on the runway after landing. Service crew gives a good indication of size. (NASA)

This was the fifth launch of an X-37b. While the Air Force does not announce which of the two spacecraft was in use, NASA reports that the Air Force alternates between the two craft, which would mean this is the third mission for the first spacecraft to fly. The Air Force also does not comment on the expected length or purpose of the mission. Fans of the X-37b will be diligently following any reports by satellite spotters of changes in orbit. 

Damage to the Vehicle Assembly Building after hurricane Matthew in 2016. (NASA)

Shortly after the launch, and then the recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage, the Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX, the Air Force, and other companies located at Cape Canaveral began shutdown and safety procedures in advance of this weekend's hit by hurricane Irma. The hurricane is very wide and although it is set to travel up the length of the Florida west coast, the storm will reach to the other side of the state and could cause damage to structures and equipment. 

For more information on the threat levels used by NASA and the story of how the Space Center prepares for a hurricane, check out the detailed article at NASA

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Expedition 52 Returns to Earth

Great picture of Soyuz MS-04 landing.

Alas, it was time for her to come home. Peggy Whitson left the International Space Station after 288 days, some of which was unplanned but welcome. That means she now holds the American record of 665 days in space throughout all her missions. The World record is held by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who has currently 879 days in his name. He will have more, as he is scheduled to return to the ISS in September next year.
Preparing to close the hatch to Soyuz MS-04. L-R: Peggy Whitson, Fyodor Yurchikhin, and Jack Fischer. They undocked from ISS at 5:58 pm on Friday. Landing occurred at 11:22 pn Eastern time.

Originally, MS-04 was supposed to land with only two occupants. It had arrived at the ISS four and a half months ago, with just Yurchikhin and Fischer on board. The Russian agency Roscosmos was temporarily reducing crew members while a new space station module is under construction, due to be installed on the ISS next year. This allowed NASA to keep Peggy Whitson on board for extra time and increase the availability of slots for NASA personnel. 

Crew of ISS with flags from participating nations.

Officially, once the Soyuz undocked, Expedition 53 began under the command of NASA astronaut Commander Randy Bresnik, and crewed also by flight engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos) and Paulo Nespoli (ESA). They will be on their own until more crew arrives in mid-September.

You can read more about Peggy Whitson's career in space at NASA

Sunday, August 20, 2017

ISS: Dragon Arrives and Russians Take a Walk

SpaceX Dragon resupply cargo vessel orbiting Earth and about to dock with the ISS. NASA pic.

SpaceX made another great launch last Monday, August 14th. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted the Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit, and then flew back to Earth for a soft landing back at Cape Canaveral. The Dragon carried thousands of pounds of supplies and experiments for the crew on Expedition 52 in the International Space Station. 

NASA graphic of the current spacecraft locations on the ISS.

After a two day "chase" the Dragon spacecraft caught up to the ISS and maneuvered into a capture position. Astronauts Jack Fischer and Paulo Nespoli used the robotic arm to grab the capture point and guide the craft to its docking adapter. Eventually the spacecraft was secured at the new Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) on the US Harmony module. Dragon will remain at the station for unloading, and then reloading of items to return to Earth in September.

Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchkhin (L) and Sergey Ryazanskiy (R) preparing to exit.

On Thursday, August 17, Russian cosmonauts conducted an EVA to launch satellites and bring samples back inside. Expedition 53 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy left the Russian Pirs module for a seven hour spacewalk. They launched five nanosatellites that had been stored outside the station from a previous supply mission. One of the satellites was to test 3-D printed materials, while several others were commemorative or experimented with communications.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

ISS: The View from the Cupola.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson doing what any one of us would do in space: Look back at Earth. (NASA)

When members of the International Space Station aren't doing experiments, maintaining the station, eating, or doing hours of exercise, they share a common interest: looking at home. In the photo above, posted by astronaut Peggy Whitson, she comments that even after 638 days in space, she finds the view incredible. She is pictured above during some personal time in the cupola, the station's best viewport of the planet Earth. Click to enlarge. There is a Russian spacecraft visible in the upper left, and a solar panel just off to the center left.

What would you most want to view from space?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Three New Crew for Expedition 52 Arrive at ISS

Contact! Soyuz crewed spaceship MS-05 reaches the docking port on the International Space Station. (NASA TV)

 ISS Expedition 52 received three new crewmembers with the arrival on Friday of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Using the six-hour ascent interception plan, the Soyuz reached the station safely and docked at 5:54 Eastern Daylight time. On board the spacecraft were Soyuz commander Sergei Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos), astronaut Randy Bresnick (NASA) and astronaut Paulo Naspoli (ESA). The crew now stands at six, including Expedition 52 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin (Roscosmos), Peggy Whitson (NASA), and Jack Fischer (NASA). 

Soyuz training photo. L-R: Paulo Nespoli, Sergei Ryazanskiy, Randy Bresnick.

The new crew is expected to remain on the ISS for four months. During that time, the station expects arrivals from Dragon, Progress, and Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Much of the science work for this mission will involve medical studies including an interesting look at how Parkinson's disease is started. They will also study how small satellites can be used in critical situations such as natural disasters or severe weather monitoring. The original Exp. 52 crew of Yurchikhin, Whitson and Fischer are expected to leave the station in September.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

SpaceX Scores! Re-Used Dragon Docks with ISS

View from ISS: Robotic arm guides the captured Dragon cargo ship to its docking port. (NASA TV)

It has been a dream of the folks at SpaceX to begin launching re-used spacecraft, with the goal to reduce costs of space transportation. Well they can check off a major milestone now, because on June 3rd, they launched the first refitted Dragon cargo space capsule on board a Falcon 9 rocket. Days later, the Dragon caught up to the ISS and astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer used the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System) robotic arm to grapple the craft and move it to dock at the U.S. Harmony module.

Current locations of docked spacecraft at the International Space Station. (NASA)
The Dragon spacecraft used on this mission (CRS-11) was previously used on mission CRS-4. After returning safely to Earth, it was unloaded, inspected, cleaned, and repaired with some new parts to keep it in operable condition. The only spacecraft to have done this sort of thing before, was the Space Shuttle, last docked at the ISS in 2011. This is the second time SpaceX has reached a re-usability objective - the first was in March when a refurbished Falcon 9 first stage successfully delivered a satellite to orbit and then landed again. Although the Falcon 9 used in this mission has not flown before, it did land safely at LC-13 at Cape Canaveral, and will now be refurbished for a future flight.
Falcon-9 rocket safely standing after an upright landing on pad LC-13. (SpaceX)

The ISS crew will take their time removing science equipment and space parts from the Dragon. It will stay docked until July 2nd. This week will keep them quite busy, as the schedule sees two spacecraft events: the undocking of Russian Progress 66 from the station, and the arrival of a new Russian ship, the Progress 67.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

ISS: Cargo and Crew Transfers Underway

Soyuz MS-03 undocks from the International Space Station. A Progress Supply ship is docked in the background. (Credit: NASA)

On June 2, Soyuz ship MS-03 departed for a return trip to Earth. Rather than the usual three crewmembers, this trip only included two: Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos) and Thomas Pesquet (ESA). 
Before the departure, a Change of Command ceremony took place.
Peggy Whitson turns over command of the station to Fyodor Yurchikhin. (Credit: NASA TV)

On June 1st, Expedition 51 officially ended when astronaut Peggy Whitson gave command to cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin. With the ceremony completed, the Expedition 52 period did not officially begin until Novitskiy and Pesquet departed for Earth. The two had 196 days in space before leaving on Friday. Crew reinforcements for Expedition 52 will arrive in July.
From L-R: Novistkiy, Whitson, Pesquet. (NASA)
Computer simulation of Soyuz module separations during re-entry process. The crew is located in the center module, which has the heat shield. The service module and crew docking module burn up during re-entry.
Touchdown! Soyuz MS-03 safely lands after firing landing thrusters activate during the final few moments of descent. Landing took place in Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, there is a resupply mission ending and another one beginning. SpaceX was due to launch a special resupply mission on Friday, but had to postpone for a day because of lightning concerns at the launch site. This mission (CRS-11) would feature the first use of a reusable Dragon cargo ship. Ship number C-106 was last used on mission CRS-4 in September of 2014.

Falcon-9 rocket lifts off from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center, FL. (Credit: SpaceX)

Actual launch of mission CRS-11 took place Saturday June 3. The Falcon 9 rocket took off flawlessly and after ten minutes separated from the Dragon spacecraft, which continued its flight into orbit. The rocket itself however, descended by parachute and engine power to land vertically back at Kennedy on pad LC-13. With a safe landing, the rocket can be refurbished and prepared to be reused on another future flight.

Cygnus resupply spacecraft. (NASA)
While Dragon makes its way to the ISS, another ship is leaving. Early Sunday morning, astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson used the station's CanadArm robotic arm to pull the undocked Cygnus spacecraft OA-7 (Named John H. Glenn) from its berth and release it. This move comes a month earlier than scheduled, in an effort to reduce the future workload for the crew. The Cygnus will now move away from the station, and spend a week doing experiments under control from ground flight engineers. The John H. Glenn will deploy several small satellites on Thursday, and after experiments are completed, the craft will de-orbit and burn up over the Pacific Ocean on June 11.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Equipment Failure on ISS Triggers Unplanned EVA

Astronaut Peggy Whitson making repairs to the EXT-1.
It doesn't happen often on the ISS, but when a critical electrical command component breaks down, it's great to know there's a backup system in place. In this case, on May 20 the EXT-1 MDM electrical command controller went down. It controlled external US segment systems, which includes things like the Mobile Transporter (MT),  Secondary Electrical Power System (SEPS), Passive Thermal Control System (PTCS), and a couple of Truss rotary joints. When the system failed, the EXT-2 took over right away so there was no degradation of systems. However, if THAT item were to fail, NASA would have lost control over the facing direction of the solar radiators and several other critical station systems along the Truss.
Astronaut Jack Fischer moves along the outside of a module.
Immediately the decision was made to go outside and replace the broken equipment. Using components stored aboard the station for such a situation, a new EXT-1 was assembled and tested. Then on May 23, astronauts Peggy Whitson (Commander of Expedition 51) and Jack Fischer made a short spacewalk of over two hours. The mission event was a success, and systems are back to normal.
Record holders for EVAs.
This EVA brings Peggy Whitson into the top three record holders for time spent on spacewalks. Currently, the Russians hold the lead.
You can read more details of the operation at NASA