The first of two International Docking Adapters (designated IDA-2 since IDA-1 was lost in the one and only Falcon 9 launch mishap to date) has, by now, been extracted from the trunk of the CRS-9 Dragon spacecraft and should be hovering about three feet away from the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA-2) on the forward end of the ISS, secure in the grip of the SSRMS. It will stay there until Friday, when astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins will exit the Quest airlock and work to get the adapter properly installed. NASA has released this wonderful informative CGI video outlining the plan for Friday’s spacewalk.
If you want to watch it live, tune in to NASA TV (via cable, satellite, YouTube, the NASA TV website, or wherever else you can find a feed) on Friday. Live coverage starts at 6:30 AM EDT (10:30 UTC), and the actual spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 8:05 AM EDT.
Both of the cargo ships launched in the last week have now arrived at the ISS — Progress first, followed by Dragon. The crews at the station now have a lot of unpacking to do. Dragon carries some particularly important cargo: the first DNA sequencing system for the ISS, to facilitate more detailed study of DNA in space, allowing specimens to be studied without having to send them back to Earth first, and of course the first of two International Docking Adapters. Currently stowed in Dragon’s trunk, this will be attached to one of the two free Pressurized Mating Adapters, converting them from the old APAS system to a modernized system that will require less human interaction during docking.
SpaceX had a successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket in the middle of the night last night, and a successful landing back at the Cape:
The landing is awesome, of course, but this flight is extra important because it carries a second docking adapter after the first one was lost on the CRS-7 launch accident. Dragon is the only spacecraft capable of delivering the International Docking Adapters, in its roomy unpressurized trunk. This is a necessary step before the crewed missions can begin, currently likely to happen sometime next year.
Spacewalkers Terry Virts and Butch Wilmore completed the third of three spacewalks to prepare the ISS for the arrival of the International Docking Adapters, to be delivered on the next Dragon cargo vessel. The highlight of today’s activity was installation of the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) system, which will support the two-way voice communications that visiting crew vehicles will require, and installation of retroreflectors used to guide docking vehicles. The system will also be available for cargo vehicles to transition to, rather that the hodgepodge of systems currently used, but there’s no timeline for when that might happen.
Two big events just started toward the Commercial Crew effort. First, aboard the ISS, crewmembers completed the first of three spacewalks in preparation for the upcoming International Docking Adapters that will be attached to the two Pressurized Mating Adapters attached to the Harmony node of the ISS to allow docking by Dragon and CST-100. Like the PMAs, both adapters are furnished by Boeing, and they will be available at the forward and zenith ports, allowing for up to two commercial crew vehicles at a time while not obstructing the ports required for the commercial cargo vehicles.
Yesterday’s work was mostly rewiring, and took six hours and 41 minutes. This was the 29th US spacewalk from the ISS. Here’s a planning animation with detailed explanation followed by a time-lapse of the whole thing:
And Friday, back on Earth, ground was broken for the new crew access structure at LC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Station. LC-41 serves the Atlas V rocket, and this will support the CST-100 spacecraft.
SpaceX is also making preparations, although as a private company they are playing their cards a little more closely to their chests. We know, however, that they are getting very close to their flyback booster concept, and have made arrangements for a set of landing pads at Cape Canaveral.
Commercial Crew will not likely fly before 2017, but that’s getting closer every day. 😉