Tag Archives: ISS

EVA-3 of Expedition 50 is complete

Today, Shane Kimbrough (USA) and Thomas Pesquet (France) ventured outside the ISS to complete the 40th spacewalk from the US segment of the International Space Station, and the 198th overall.  (Note: most of the ISS spacewalks were conducted not from Station at all but from Shuttle, which is why the total spacewalk number appears so inflated by comparison.)  Today’s activities revolved mostly around prepping PMA-3 for its upcoming move to the Harmony node, where it will become available for future commercial crew operations.  This mostly consisted of unplugging things.  They also installed a new multiplexer/demultiplexer (MDM), did some work on the external cameras, lubricated the SSRMS, and completed some inspection work.  This video covers the entire spacewalk, not just the highlights, so maybe flip around through it to find interesting bits.  😉  This includes egress; you have to go up to about 45 minutes before they’re even emerging from the airlock.  (Spacewalks are complex; it’s not like going for a casual stroll.)

 

 

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Progress MS-05 arrives

The Progress MS-05 spacecraft (flying the ISS-66P mission) has arrived uneventfully at the Pirs module of the ISS.  It’s the second cargo vehicle to arrive this week, but it is no doubt welcome after the loss of Progress MS-04 to a launch vehicle mishap.  It’s refreshing to see such a smooth docking!

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Dragon arrives at ISS, and Progress begins its climb

The cargo trips to the ISS continue, with the CRS-10 Dragon arriving a day late (after waving off the first rendezvous due to faulty GPS data) and Progress MS-05 blasting off and returning the Progress capsule to flight after the unfortunate launch vehicle failure that destroyed the last one.  Progress Ms-05 also capped off the venerable Soyuz-U, as it was the final flight of that rocket variant.

Dragon has been berthed at the nadir port of the Harmony node, and Progress MS-05 is en route to dock with the nadir port of the Pirs compartment.

The final Soyuz-U launch:

And a timelapse of the Dragon berthing:

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The Falcon has landed — after lifting off from the same pad as Apollo 11!

This morning, a Falcon 9 rocket roared into space from Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A, the first commercial launch to lift off from this NASA launch facility.  (Previous Florida launches of the Falcon 9 were from the neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Station, operated by the USAF.)  Fittingly, this was still a NASA mission; the payload is the CRS-10 Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station.  But the next flight won’t be; the next flight will deliver the EchoStar 23 commercial commsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

LC-39A was originally built to support launches of the gigantic Saturn V for the Apollo mission, and so everything is proportionately gigantic on this pad.  Falcon 9 is the smallest rocket ever to fly from it, but later it is planned to support the massive Falcon Heavy, a triple-core variant that will be the most powerful rocket in the world when it flies, and that is the real reason for using this pad.

Today’s mission was completely successful, including the first daylight shore landing of a Falcon 9 first stage.  That stage landed on the existing SpaceX landing pad at Cape Canaveral.  And there’s some great footage.  😉

Full newscast:

And here is spectacular drone photography of the landing:

 

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Commercial spaceflight makes another step forward: NanoRacks will send a new airlock to the ISS!

It’s been pretty exciting watching commercial spaceflight getting off the ground.  It’s gone slower than I’d like, but this is untested ground, after all.  Commercial utilization of the ISS has been frustratingly slow, hampered by the reduced crew size following the Bush-era reduction in the ISS plan and further hampered by the red tape involved in getting an experiment to the ISS via NASA.  That red tape is so slow in large part because NASA’s whole philosophy towards getting stuff on Station was developed during the Shuttle era, and heavily favors crew safety over other considerations.  This is completely understandable, of course, but it means experiments can wait years to fly, which makes it all but impossible to do follow-up experiments on the same grant as the first one, and effectively forces student projects to be simple, standalone experiments.

NanoRacks, a Texas company that works with NASA to fly experiments commercially aboard the ISS, has found a way to simplify this process.  Instead of each entity seeking to fly an experiment having to go through the whole process with NASA, NanoRacks takes care of all the paperwork and testing, and is able to greatly expedite it by offering experiment equipment that’s already approved by NASA and easily modified to suit a particular experiment’s needs without requiring a full recertification, and also designed to fit easily into an astronaut’s busy schedule.  They also provide nanosatellite deployment services, via a dispenser aboard the ISS that can be loaded via the Kibo lab’s airlock.

And now, they’re looking to expand those services they already offer.  With the ISS crew complement set to increase when Starliner and Dragon 2 enter service, having more ways to get customers for ISS is very much a good thing, and NanoRacks is keen to keep at the forefront of that.  They have just signed a deal with Boeing and NASA to build another airlock for the space station.   NanoRacks will build the Airlock Module, and Boeing will build its Passive Common Berthing Mechanism, which will allow it to be permanently installed on the Tranquility node (after PMA-3 is relocated in support of the Commercial Crew program).  Airlock will permit larger payloads to be deployed than can currently be serviced via Kibo’s airlock, and also free NanoRacks from reliance on a government operated module.

If all goes well, Airlock Module is expected to launch in 2019, although NanoRacks has not yet procured a launch vehicle or been assigned a position in the ISS launch manifest.

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HTV space debris experiment is a bust — better luck next time!

The Kuonotori-6, the latest H2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) to fly from Japan to the ISS, also carried a space debris experiment.  After completing its cargo delivering mission (including delivery of the first set of new batteries for the station’s main power system) and loading up with trash and an old set of batteries, it departed the ISS on January 27.  Not ones to waste a good opportunity, JAXA had equipped it to carry out additional experiments between undocking and its ultimate fiery demise.  For this mission, it carried an electrodynamic tether which, when fully unspooled, would stretch half a mile into space, to test the effectiveness of such a system in passively lowering a satellite’s orbit purely through interaction with the Earth’s ionosphere.

Unfortunately, they ran into problems during deployment.  First, one of the four bolts holding the tether’s counterweight failed to separate on the first try.  On a second attempt, telemetry indicated that the bolt finally separated, but the tether still would not deploy.  Possibly the bolt did not fully separate, or possibly there was some other problem with the mechanism; JAXA engineers will certainly be closely evaluating the telemetry before attempting the experiment again.  One thing is certain: they will not be attempting again with this spacecraft: after abandoning the tether deployment, Kuonotori-6 was deorbited last Sunday, making a self-destructive reentry over the South Pacific.

Still, Japanese engineers do not tend to give up easily, so I expect they will try again.  They’ll have additional opportunities: although HTV does not fly as often as many other ISS cargo ships, it is vital for delivery of the new batteries for the main power system.  New methods for disposal of space hardware is urgently needed; if successful, tethers like this could even be used on things like spent rocket stages, since it is a completely passive system and doesn’t weigh much.  Being able to dispose of spent hardware means it doesn’t stick around to contribute to the growing problem of space debris.

So here’s hoping they can get it working next time!

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Cargo to the ISS resumes, with HTV “Kounotori-6”

An H-2B rocket blasted off from Tanegashima Launch Center in Japan early this morning, carrying the sixth H-2 Transfer Vehicle on its climb to the International Space Station.  Alas, there was not much time to add cargo following the loss of the last Progress, and HTV cannot make up for the lost propellant (as with the retirement of ATV, Progress is the only means of refueling Zvezda), but it adds a lot of comfortable margin into the stores on board ISS.

The principle payload of this mission is a six new lithium-ion batteries carried in Kounotori-6’s unpressurized payload bay.  These large batteries are intended to replace the batteries in the power supply of the US segment. A s they are lighter and more efficient, one battery is able to do the job of two of the old batteries.  Later on, they will be extracted from Kounotori-6 and subsequently installed in the S4 truss via Dextre, the “Canada Hand” Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator.  Dextre will also pull nine of the old batteries and stow them aboard Kounotori-6 for disposal when the spacecraft deliberately deorbits after its mission.  Additional batteries will go up on the next three HTV flights.

The pressurized compartment will deliver food, water, clothing, tools, spare parts, research payloads, computer equipment, spacesuit components, a small amount of Russian cargo, a new radiation monitoring experiment, some new cameras to be mounted outside the Kibo module later on for JAXA, fresh CO2 scrubber components, and a dozen CubeSats, which will be deployed over the next few months via the Kibo module’s airlock and NanoRack dispenser.

After the spacecraft is finished with its ISS mission, it will continue to perform science; just like Cygnus, scientists have found ways to make use of the spacecraft after its primary mission is complete.  In this case, JAXA will be testing deployment of an electrodynamic tether to see how practical this could be for cheaply altering a spacecraft’s orbit.  If it works, such a system could be placed on future spacecraft to ensure their disposal at the end of their missions.  Right now, most dead spacecraft simply remain in orbit until they fall naturally, and this presents a debris hazard.

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