Thursday, July 31, 2014

ISS Monthly Recap for July 2014


The six person Expedition 40 crew aboard the International Space Station have wrapped up a very busy month conducting various robotics operations, and a record amount of science and research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Humans have been living on the ISS for over 5,000 consecutive days
The month began with astronauts in the US segment of the station carrying out maintenance on the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly(CDRA). CDRA is responsible for taking unwanted carbon dioxide in the station's atmosphere out of air circulation. This is important in developing systems for removing CO2 from astronauts' breathing air on missions to Mars and beyond in future spacecraft like NASA's Orion Capsule, which will make its first test flight later this year.

July 12 marked the historic milestone of 5,000 days of humans living aboard the International Space Station. Since the first launch of the Expedition 1 crew back in November 2000, over 24,000 hours of science have been conducted aboard the orbiting lab over 40 expeditions. Coincidentally, the current crew aboard the station set a record in July for the amount of science conducted during a week. The six astronauts and cosmonauts completed 82 hours worth of science and research, which will benefit people back on Earth, as well astronauts living in space.

July was a busy month also for the arrival and departures of cargo spacecraft.
On July 16, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft arrived at the International Space Station. After launching from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on July 13. Expedition 40 commander Steve Swanson and Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst supervised the rendezvous and docking procedures three days later on the 16th. Hatches between the ISS and Cygnus were opened on the following morning.

The arrival of Cygnus was followed up by the departure of the Russian Progress 55 resupply ship, which undocked from the station's Pirs Docking Compartment on July 21. 
Cygnus is captured by the station's robotic arm on July 16.


And we all know that things just wouldn't be the same at the ISS if there wasn't a Progress attached. So that's why just a couple of days later the Progress 56 resupply ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, arriving at station on July 24- just six hours after launch.

Finally, in the wee hours of the morning of July 30, the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle launched from the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana on the final mission of the ATV programme. 

ATV-5, which is named after Belgian astronomer George Lemaitre, will spend the next two weeks making its way to the station before it's automated docking to the Zvezda Service Module on August 12.

In summary, July was a very eventful, busy and successful month aboard the International Space Station. With all this new cargo aboard, August has all the makings of being yet another very busy and exciting month aboard the ISS with a series of spacewalks planned for mid-August, along with the arrival of George Lemaitre to the International Space Station.




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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