Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cygnus Cargo Craft Arrives at International Space Station

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft has arrived at the International Space Station.

On just its second official resupply mission to the orbiting outpost(Orb-2), and traveling at 5 miles a second, Cygnus was captured by Expedition 40 crew members Steve Swanson of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA.

Working from the robotics workstation in the Cupola, the pair slowly moved the station's 57 foot long robot arm, Canadarm2, into position before capturing and grappling Cygnus at 11:36 a.m. Irish Time.

Once Cygnus was now in the capable hands of Canadarm2, robotics teams on the ground turned their attention to berthing Cygnus to the Earth facing port of the Harmony Module. Berthing of Cygnus to Harmony occurred at 1:53 p.m.

Expedition 40 crew members running test captures ahead of Cygnus' arrival

Just some of Orbital-2's cargo include 28 Cubesats, which are small, inexpensive satellites that can be used for Earth imaging and disaster monitoring. Also on board is a satellite related investigation, and some student experiments that will be unpacked by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, further enhancing the station's scientific and technological capabilities.

Cygnus is expected to remain docked to the station for around a month, before being unberthed and released by Canadarm2, destined for a fiery demise by burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

This is Irish Space Blog.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cygnus Launches on Second Mission to ISS

The Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft has launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, destined for the International Space Station.

Orb-2 or Cygnus, which is just after launching atop an Antares rocket on its second official resupply mission to the orbital laboratory, lifted off of Launch Pad 0A at 5:52 p.m. Irish Time today(July 13). The cargo craft is carrying a little under 1.500 kilograms of cargo, supplies and spare parts to the ISS.
Orbital Sciences Cygnus launches from Wallops on its Orb-2 mission to the ISS.



Launch of Orb-2 was originally scheduled for July 11. However, poor weather conditions at Wallops delayed the scheduled rollout of the Antares rocket, with launch scheduled for Saturday(July 12). However, the launch was postponed once again by one day due to further adverse weather conditions at the launch site.

Provided all goes according to plan, Cygnus will carry out a series of orbital maneuvers and burns, adjusting its orbit so that it can rendezvous with the station on July 16.

Traveling at 5 miles a second and working from the station's robotics workstation in the Cupola, Expedition 40 commander Steve Swanson, assisted by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, will be in charge of grappling the spacecraft using the station's 57 foot-long robotic arm, Canadarm2. Cygnus is expected to be grappled at 11:37 a.m. Robotics teams on the ground will then berth Cygnus to the Earth facing port of the Harmony Module a few hours later.

Expedition 40 crew members running test captures ahead of Cygnus' arrival
Just some of Orbital-2's cargo include 28 Cubesats, which are small, inexpensive satellites that can be used for Earth imaging and disaster monitoring. Also on board is a satellite related investigation, and some student experiments that will be unpacked by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, further enhancing the station's scientific and technological capabilities.

Cygnus is expected to remain docked to the station for around a month, before being unberthed and released by Canadarm2, destined for a fiery demise by burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

This is Irish Space Blog.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Progress Resupply Ship Redocks With ISS After 2 Days of Tests

The Russian Progress 53 resupply cargo craft, which departed the International Space Station on April 23, has re-docked with the orbiting laboratory after conducting tests on a new automated rendezvous system.

A view of the International Space Station taken from Progress external cameras
The Progress cargo ship, which undocked from the aft end of the station's Zvezda Service Module on Wednesday April 23, completed important tests and evaluations of its automated rendezvous and docking system, before re-docking with the station's Russian segment at 13:13 Irish Time this afternoon, as the ISS flew 260 miles high over eastern Kazakhstan.

During testing, teams on the ground in the Russian Mission Control Room near Moscow commanded the Progress to back away to a distance of 500km(311 miles) from the ISS.

The Progress completed today's automated docking using the new KURS-NA rendezvous system, which uses just a single antenna, allowing four others to be removed. It is hoped that if these tests are satisfactory, then future Progress vehicles will be lighter, use less power, and possess updated electronics. This will in turn allow more cargo to be transported to the International Space Station.

Today's redocking comes just two days after NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson successfully completed a spacewalk which lasted just over an hour and a half to replace a faulty computer outside of the station.

As for the Progress, the Expedition 39 crew will open the hatches between the craft and the station, then fill it with trash and other unwanted items no longer needed, before it undocks from the station for a final time on June 9 to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

This is Irish Space Blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Astronauts Complete Spacewalk to Replace Faulty Space Station Computer

NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson have successfully completed a short spacewalk to replace a faulty computer aboard the International Space Station.
Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson
credit: NASA

The station's backup computer, or Multiplexer/Demultiplexer(MDM) failed during routine testing on April 11, prompting teams on the ground to plan for today's contingency Extra-Vehicular Activity(EVA) by Mastracchio and Swanson.

Even though the second computer is still functioning normally, the faulty MDM, which is responsible for sending commands to some of the space station's systems including the cooling system, solar alpha rotary joints and mobile transporter rail car, needed to be replaced.

The spacewalking duo, with nearly eighty spacewalking hours between them, began their excursion at 14:26 Irish Time and exited the station's Quest Airlock soon afterwards. The pair soon got to work on the task in hand, as they made their way over to the work site on the station's S0 Truss.

Working harmoniously together, Mastracchio, who now ranks sixth on the all time list of cumulative hours spent on an Extra Vehicular Activity, made light work of removing and replacing the faulty MDM with Swanson. Upon its removal from S0, Mastracchio reported that he had in his possession, "An MDM, slightly used."
After today's EVA, Mastracchio tweeted this picture saying:
"In front of the Japanese modules on today's EVA. Not a selfie."

The pair swiflty began the installation of the replacement MDM, which has been stowed inside the Destiny Module of the ISS since April 2001. Altogether there are 45 MDMs aboard the orbiting complex.

With the new MDM installed, teams back on Earth in the Mission Control Center in Houston began conducting preliminary tests of the computer, and not long after, Mastracchio and Swanson were given the good news that the installation had been successful and that everything was working fine.

Just over two hours after beginning today's spacewalk, the pair began to head back to the Quest Airlock, wrapping up today's contingency spacewalk, which lasted just over two hours.

Today's spacewalk comes just hours after the Progress M-21M cargo ship un-docked from the aft end of the Zvezda Service Module to test its KURS automated docking system. The Progress will back away to a distance of 311 miles from the space station, before it redocks with Zvezda early on Friday morning.

This is Irish Space Blog.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cygnus Completes its First Mission to ISS

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft has completed its first resupply mission to the International Space Station, burning up in the Earth's atmosphere on February 19 after spending over a month docked to the station.
Cygnus was released by Canadarm2 at 11:41 a.m. Irish Time


Expedition 38 flight engineers Koichi Wakata and Mike Hopkins, working from the Cupola, used the station's 57 foot-long Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach Cygnus from the Earth facing port of the Harmony Module and manipulate it into a position for release.

Hopkins, who is making his first space flight, took control of Canadarm2, before releasing Cygnus at 11:41 a.m. Irish Time, as the station flew 260 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

Now loaded with trash and other unwanted items the crew no longer needed, Wakata and Hopkins commanded Cygnus to perform a 90 second departure burn to move a safe distance away from the ISS.

Cygnus, which is named after the late Gordon C. Fullerton, performed a series of orbital maneuvers and de-orbit burns on Wednesday, before burning up in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean later that evening.

With the departure of Cygnus, attention turns to the next launch of a cargo ship from US soil. The Space X Dragon capsule will make its third resupply flight to the International Space Station, with the launch of Space X-3 from Cape Canaveral on March 16.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

The Challenges of a One-Year Mission to the ISS

In March 2015, one astronaut and one cosmonaut will launch from Kazakhstan to spend one year living and working in space aboard the International Space Station.



Kornienko and Kelly will spend one year living on
the International Space Station in 2015
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, will launch atop a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with fellow cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, scheduled for March 2015. Kelly and Kornienko will live aboard the orbiting complex for one year, before returning to Earth in 2016.

The one year mission will allow scientists to see how the human body will adapt to the microgravity living and working conditions found aboard the ISS, as well as examining the psychological effects of living off the planet for one year.  The scientific community will also be carefully watching how Kelly and Kornienko re-adapt to life back on Earth after spending a year in low-Earth orbit. Changes in vision are just one of the many side effects that have been observed in some astronauts returning from long-duration spaceflights, and researchers want to learn more about its root causes and develop countermeasures to minimize this risk.

The duo will also have to combat bone and muscle loss (which happens to every astronaut when they fly in space for several months) by exercising for 2.5 hours each day, using the station's treadmills, bike machine known as CEVIS(stands for Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System) and a weights machine called ARED(stands for Advanced Resistive Exercise Device). For a six month mission, astronauts can lose up to 15% muscle volume.

Just in case you were wondering, this will not be the first time human beings will be sent into orbit for a year-long mission. In 1994, cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov spent over 437 days living aboard the Russian space station Mir, before returning to Earth in 1995. Despite suffering from a clear decline in morale for the first two months of his mission, Polyakov was able to regain his pre-flight mood for the rest of the mission.

Scott Kelly with Robonaut 2 during Expedition 26
Upon returning to Earth in his Soyuz capsule after a successful mission, Polyakov decided he would rather walk the small distance from his spacecraft to a nearby reclining chair, demonstrating that humans would be able to walk on the surface of Mars after several weightless months in transit from Earth. This extra-long duration mission showed that the human body could deal with the strains and stresses of living in space for such an extended period of time. However, Kelly and Kornienko will be the first space farers to spend a year living on the International Space Station.

Recently I began asking astronauts who have spent time living and working aboard the ISS about the one year mission, and what they thought the biggest challenges will be for Kelly and Kornienko.

ESA astronaut and Expedition 26/27 Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli, who spent six months living on the ISS in 2010 & 2011, told me that now is a good time to an attempt a mission of this nature:

 "I feel we need to know more about what happens to the body and what happens to the mind when you stay in space for a long time, so I think that now is a good time and I think we should do it."

Nespoli went on to mention that the technology we have on the space station is far superior to what Polyakov had at his disposal on Mir, and how it will be easier to connect with family friends and Mission Control teams all over the world.

"There was a Russian cosmonaut who stayed in space for well over a year, so the Russians have done this in a more restricted and confined environment than what is today space station, where we have internet, telephone, teleconference capabilities so we can talk to Mission Control whenever we want".

I also asked Doug Wheelock, who, like Nespoli, lived aboard the ISS alongside Scott Kelly, about his thoughts on the upcoming mission, and what challenges would be faced by the one year crew. He went on to say that the biggest obstacles would be dealing with the mental stresses of living off the planet for such a long time:

"I think the greatest challenge will be managing the physiology & psychology of isolation, emotion, & senses... it is critical to stay in the moment".

Finally, I recently spoke with Expedition 35/36 Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy, who returned from the International Space Station back in September 2013, about his thoughts on the one year mission:

"In my experience on coming home day, as we were closing the hatch I thought to myself "What would I think if I was halfway done right now? How would I feel? What would I need? To be honest I felt a little accumulative fatigue- when you're living at your workplace, and you can't shut the door to work and go home in the evening and kick back and watch Monday Night Football- you're there all the time and it eventually catches up to you".

Cassidy, who completed a total of three spacewalks, or EVAs, during his most recent flight, also had a few ideas regarding how the crew doesn't become fatigued with the heavy workload that comes with living aboard the orbiting outpost, suggesting a longer weekend from time to time in the second half of the mission:

"I think my recommendation would be in months 7 through 12, the second half of the year is to have a three day weekend every month because you really need a good recharge. Sunday is a really good day to have a recharge, and to have an extra Sunday thrown in the mix every now and then would go a long way".

All in all, it appears that everyone in science and space exploration fields are confident about the one year mission. Both Kelly and Kornienko have lived aboard the ISS before, so it's fair to say that we have a very experienced crew on our hands, logging a total of 356 days in space between them.

It is hoped that data recorded from this 2015 mission will assist teams on the ground in their understanding of the effects of long terms weightlessness on the body, and what it may be like for humans if they were sent on a mission to Mars in the future. After Kelly and Kornienko return to Earth in 2016, we will no doubt, be one small step closer to the human exploration of the Red Planet.

Godspeed!


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Saturday, December 28, 2013

External Cameras Cause Problems for Russian Spacewalkers

A pair of cameras which were scheduled to be fixed to the exterior of the International Space Station today, December 27, have caused problems for two Russian spacewalkers during installation.

The Urthecast cameras, which launched aboard the Progress 53 resupply ship, are designed to send live images of the Earth back to viewers on the ground. They were due to be installed on the exterior of the station's Zvezda Service Module.

A view from a window in Zvezda of today's spacewalk
credit: NASA

Expedition 38 spacewalkers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy began the EVA at 13:00 Irish Time to get to work on a spacewalk which was scheduled to last seven hours. The duo quickly got to work on getting all their tools in order before commencing the installation of one high resolution camera(HRC) and one medium resolution camera(MRC) on Zvezda.

Kotov and Ryazanskiy, having initially installed the HRC, were told that the telemetry received
from the camera itself by Russian Flight Control Teams in Korolyev, Russia appeared to be in good working order.

However, after installing the MRC a few hours later, the pair were told that telemetry and circuitry received by teams on the ground were not what they should have been, and the decision was then made to uninstall both cameras and return inside the space station in order to try and find a solution and work the problem.

During today's EVA, Kotov jettisoned a cable reel used to install the cameras opposite of the station's direction of travel for disposal.

The space walkers were then instructed to take detailed photographs of the electrical connectors mated earlier for additional review.

In addition to this, an experiment known as Vsplesk, installed in 2008 to measure seismic effects using high-energy particle streams in the near-Earth environment was also jettisoned.

Because of the camera problems, some tasks that were outlined for today's EVA could not be completed. As a result, the spacewalk lasted 8 hours and 7 minutes, which is now the longest Russian EVA ever to be completed.

Today's spacewalk was the third EVA to take place outside the space station this week. However, it was in no way related to the two spacewalks completed by NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio to replace a faulty coolant pump on the station's starboard truss.

It is unclear as to when the Urthecast cameras will eventually be installed on Zvezda.

More to follow..


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