Thursday, July 2, 2015

Progress Cargo Ship Launches to Resupply Space Station

The Russian Progress M-28M cargo vehicle has successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, marking the beginning of a two day-long commute to resupply the International Space Station.

The Progress lifted off from Pad 1A at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 5:55 a.m. Irish Time carrying 2,381kg of food, fuel and supplies for the crew of Expedition 44.
Progress M-28M launched from Baikonur at 5:55 a.m.
Credit: Roscosmos 

After a flawless ride into orbit aboard a Soyuz-U rocket, the Progress separated from the rocket's third stage after eight minutes and forty-nine seconds of powered flight, deploying its antennas and solar arrays a short time later. 

Initial views from video cameras on board the Progress confirmed that everything was nominal and that all systems were "Go" for mission controllers in Korolev in Moscow to send commands to the vehicle to perform a series of orbital manoeuvres to reach the International Space Station.

Progress is scheduled to dock with the Pirs Docking Compartment on the Russian segment of the orbiting complex at 8:13 a.m. on Sunday morning.

This morning's launch comes just two months after the Progress M-27M was lost after the vehicle went into an uncontrolled spin and burned up in the Earth's atmosphere several days later.

It also comes in the wake of the disintegration of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a SpaceX Dragon capsule to resupply the station just 139 seconds into flight on June 28.

In a NASA public affairs event yesterday, astronaut Scott Kelly was asked how the crew were feeling ahead of the launch of this latest Progress; "Third time's a charm I hope. We're hoping that we get this one obviously.. If these next two get delayed or move out beyond September or October it will cause problems but we're as confident as we can be."

Progress will spend several months docked to the International Space Station before it is loaded with waste, undocked and sent to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Today's launch will be followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight. Orbital ATK is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

SpaceX Dragon Lost Just Minutes After Launch to Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle making its seventh resupply mission to the International Space Station has been lost just minutes after launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket and vehicle have both been lost.

The Falcon 9 appeared to have exploded just after the separation of the rocket's first stage. All data with the vehicle was lost, two minutes and nineteen seconds into the flight.
The vehicle appeared to disintegrate just minutes into launch
credit: NASA TV
It is currently unclear what exactly caused today's failure. According the Pam Anderson of SpaceX there were no problems with the performance of the first stage of the Falcon 9, and telemetry with Dragon was received by teams on the ground shortly after the incident occurred.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Twitter; "There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause."

ISS programme managers have assured the public that anomalies such as the one which happened today are planned for and as a result, it is estimated that the crew currently has enough supplies to last until late October.

Some of the cargo which was being flown aboard Dragon includes a number of student experiments, plant growth experiments, a space suit as well as provisions for the crew on board the station.

Another item also lost today was the International Docking Adapter-1(IDA-1) which was due to be installed on the Pressurised Mating Adapter located on the forward facing port of the Harmony. This would allow commercial crew vehicles built by Boeing and SpaceX to dock with the station thus allowing them to transport astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station. The first flight of Commercial Crew are slated to occur no later than 2017.

This is the third space station resupply ship that has been lost in the past eight months. Today's anomaly occurred exactly two months after a Russian Progress resupply ship spun out of control and burned up in the Earth's atmosphere several days later. An Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft exploded shortly after lift-off from the Wallops Flight Facility last October.

A Russian Progress resupply ship is scheduled to launch cargo to the station this coming Friday, July 3 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This will be followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight. Orbital ATK is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Space Station Trio Return to Earth after Extended Mission

The crew of the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft have returned to Earth after completing their 199 day-long mission to the International Space Station.

Virts, Shkaplerov and Cristoforetti in their reclining chairs
shortly after landing credit: NASA
Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov and crew mates Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti landed their vehicle in the remote steppe of Kazakhtan at 14:45 UTC. under the setting Kazakh sun.

Shkaplerov, Virts and Cristoforetti said their goodbyes to their Expedition 43 crew mates early this morning before hatches between the station and the Soyuz were closed. This was followed at 11:20 by the undocking of the spacecraft, marking  the beginning of Expedition 44.

Expedition 43 commander Virts handed over the reigns of the station to Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, marking his fourth stint at the commander of the complex.

The Soyuz TMA-15M crew were originally slated to return to Earth last month, but the failure of the Russian Progress 59 resupply ship destined for the complex led to the postponement of their return home.

Shortly after landing in perfect conditions the crew were extracted one by one from the vehicle by Russian search and recovery forces at the landing site. They then sat for a short period in reclining chairs as they got a chance to come to terms with gravity once again after spending six and a half months in the microgravity environment aboard the ISS. The trio were then carried a short distance to an inflatable medical tent for brief testing and were also able to don some more comfortable clothing for a two hour helicopter ride to the staging city of Karaganda in Kazakhstan for a short welcoming ceremony. 

Altogether the crew have travelled 84.2 million miles in space since their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last November. 

"I'm going to miss these guys up here. Congrats on your safe return to Earth"
-Scott Kelly on Twitter
This afternoon's landing concludes the second long duration space flight for Shkaplerov who has now logged a total of 364 days in space. Terry Virts who has also just wrapped up his second flight to the station having previously flown there for a 13 day-long space shuttle mission in 2010 now has a total of 212 days of space flight experience under his belt. As for Cristoforetti, fresh from completing her first flight into space having been selected as an astronaut by the European Space Agency in 2009 now holds the record for the longest single space flight by a female, previously held by NASA astronaut Suni Williams.

In the meantime, Commander Padalka and his Expedition 44 crew mates Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelły will remain by themselves aboard the station for the next six weeks. They will be joined in late July by Oleg Kononenko, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui- the crew of the Soyuz TMA-17M.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

ISS Re-configuration Clears the Way for Commercial Crew Vehicles


The Permanent Mulipurpose Module(PMM) aboard the International Space Station has been successfully reconfigured to a different location aboard the orbiting complex, thus clearing the way for the future arrival of US Commercial Crew spacecraft.

Flight controllers in Mission Control in Houston detached the PMM from the Earth-facing port of the laboratory's Unity module using the station's robot arm, Canadarm2. It was then berthed a few hours later to the forward facing hatch of the Tranquility module at 2:08 p.m. Central European Time.
The relocation of the PMM from Node 1 to Node 3
Credit: NASA

Expedition 43 crew members Terry Virts and Scott Kelly of NASA were supervising proceedings from inside the station itself during the reconfiguration.

The PMM, nicknamed Leonardo, built by the Italian Space Agency was launched to the station on the final flight of space shuttle Discovery in February 2011. Since then it has been docked to the Earth-facing port of Unity serving as a supply depot for the crew living and working aboard the ISS. The PMM is 22 feet long, 14 feet in diameter and weighs almost 11 tons. It has an internal volume of more than 2,400 cubic feet.

This move was necessary to clear the Earth-facing port of Unity so that it could be used as a back up docking port for visiting cargo vehicles in the future. In the meantime, a pair of International Docking Adapters(IDA) are poised to launch aboard a SpaceX Dragon later on this year. The two IDAs will be installed on the station's Pressurised Mating Adapters to facilitate the docking of US Commercial Crew vehicles being built by SpaceX and Boeing.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Failed Russian Progress Resupply Ship Burns Up In Atmosphere



The Russian Progress M-27M cargo spacecraft which failed to dock with the International Space Station last month has re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at 02:20 UTC over the Pacific Ocean.
Having launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 28 and loaded with over three tonnes of fuel, food and cargo for the orbiting complex, Russian Mission Control declared that they were experiencing propulsion, telemetry and communications issues with the spacecraft shortly after it separated from the Soyuz rocket.
File photo of a Progress Resupply Ship
credit: NASA TV

Video cameras installed on the vehicle showed that it had entered into an uncontrolled spin of roughly one rotation every four to five seconds. All attempts by Russian ground controllers to regain control of the vehicle were unsuccessful, and the decision was made to cancel the planned docking to the station on Wednesday April 29 when it ecame apparent that rendezvous and docking would not be possible.

The crew aboard the station in the meantime are doing well and have sufficient supplies on board to last for over four months. Expedition 43 Flight Engineer and ISS One Year Crew member Scott Kelly of NASA spoke with the Associated Press recently about the problems with the Progress,
"The important thing is that hardware can be replaced.. and we'll continue to operate the space station."

The next cargo ship on the manifest to visit the station will be a SpaceX Dragon resupply ship. This will be the company's seventh resupply mission to the station, scheduled to launch from Florida on June 19.

In the meantime, the Russian Federal Space Agency(Roscosmos) will be investigating the incident in order to find athe root cause of the anomaly. The Progress M-27M was the 150th Russian space freighter launched into space, and is only the second one to have suffered a casatrophic/major malfunction during its mission to resupply the ISS. In August 2011 a system error with the Soyuz rocket prevented the vehicle from reaching orbit.



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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Book Review: "The Orbital Perspective- Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles"

"You don't need to be an astronaut to have the orbital perspective.."

I've never reviewed a book before. I've read lots of them, sure, but I've never gotten around to sharing my thoughts on something I've read. However after reading "The Orbital Perspective," the newly released book by astronaut Ron Garan, I've never felt so compelled to spread a universal message before. That is, the message of trust, hope, and global collaboration.
"The Orbital Perspective" is for sale from Feb 2nd
credit: Amazon

Having flown in space twice, including a five and a half month flight to the International Space Station in 2011, Garan has seen the beauty of planet Earth from space. He beautifully recalls the history and stories of the US-Russian space programmes, and how both nations have evolved from being the bitterest of enemies, into the friendliest of partners on board the ISS.

This is more than just a good book, nor is it just a book that only the space enthusiasts in your life should read. It appeals to everyone of all ages and nations who would like to see the Earth in a better state than it's already in. Astronauts and cosmonauts always say that if everyone could get the opportunity to see our planet from space, that the world would be a better place. The same is true for this book. If everyone could get their hands on Ron Garan's new book "The Orbital Perspective," the world and we, the citizens of "spaceship Earth" would be much better off.

After reading it, one immediately feels that all of the problems that we face on planet Earth today are able to be overcome. The only question we need to ask ourselves is how exactly do we knock down the barriers that stand in place between nations being able to trust one another, and Ron Garan certainly does a fantastic job in coming up with possible solutions.

Garan has successfully just written the textbook that will provide people from all corners of the globe with the information on how to view ourselves and our planet a little differently- by shifting our perspective to that of the orbital perspective. Immerse yourself in a journey around the world, hearing first-hand stories of successful cooperation between different nations and organisations working toward a common good, all from the comfort of your home.

"The Orbital Perspective- Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles" is available for purchase from February 2 2015 at:
Ron Garan conducting a spacewalk aboard the ISS

-Amazon
-Barnes and Noble
-iBook Store
-Google Play Store
-IndieBound
-Powell's
-Goodreads

More information about the book can be found at www.orbitalperspective.com
Also be sure to follow Ron on Twitter @Astro_Ron



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Monday, March 30, 2015

The Challenges of a One Year Mission to Space



On Friday March 27 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko launched atop a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, marking the beginning of a year-long mission to the International Space Station.

Kelly and Kornienko, known as the "One Year Crew" launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka at 19:42 GMT on Friday. The pair will live aboard the orbiting complex for one year, before returning to Earth in March 2016.
Padalka, Kelly and Kornienko prior to launch from Baikonur
credit: NASA

The one year mission will allow scientists to see how the human body will adapt to the microgravity 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(Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System) and a weights machine called ARED(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 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 his stay aboard the station.

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 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.

Kelly in the station's Cupola during Expedition 26
credit: NASA
"There was a Russian cosmonaut(Polyakov) 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 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".

The International Space Station
credit: NASA
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 over 360 days in space between them. In addition, their Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka will become the first four-time commander of the space station, and upon returning to Earth at the end of Expedition 44 will have logged a total of nearly 900 days in space- the longest time spent in space by any human being.

It is hoped that data recorded from this 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 Scott and Misha!


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