First off, India’s PSLV made another successful flight, racking up its quota of successful low-cost launches to Earth orbit! In fact, it set a domestic record, carrying 20 satellites to orbit on this mission, easily a record for India, for customers in Indonesia, Canada, Germany, and the United States, including a Google payload.
Secondly, the Cygnus spacecraft from Orbital Sciences has completed its mission at the ISS and its post-ISS mission to conduct a fire experiment called SAFIRE. There will be more SAFIRE tests on future Cygnus flights, to better understand how fire propagates (or doesn’t) in weightlessness at scales not possible inside of crewed spacecraft for safety reasons.
Here’s raw video of the actual flames observed inside of Cygnus’ SAFIRE experiment module:
Then, yesterday, Cygnus fired its engines one last time to auger itself in over the South Pacific, carrying one last experiment: REBR, a Re-Entry Breakup Recorder, a device that has been flown on a few other returning disposable spacecraft such as ATV and HTV, to better understand how the breakup happens during reentry, with an eye to improving safety for the vehicles we want to actually survive the process. Waste not, want not. 😉
This particular Cygnus was named the SS Rick Husband, in honor of the late commander of STS-107, the final flight of Columbia.
The CRS-8 Dragon capsule that launched from Florida a month ago (setting into motion the historic first controlled sea landing of a rocket) has now returned to Earth. I haven’t found any video of the splashdown, but here’s its departure from Station:
It carried a lot of critical experiments up, and on the way down it’s carrying things like biological specimens, but the big deal for this flight was the BEAM it carried in its (now-discarded) unpressurized trunk compartment. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is currently mated to the aft port of the Tranquility node, but is not scheduled to be inflated until later this month. It isn’t really meant as a fully operational module, and for the start at least, crews are only planning to make brief excursions into the module, sealing it up when not in use. But if all goes well, Bigelow Aerospace plans for it to become the first of a whole family of orbiting space habitats.
The next Dragon capsule is scheduled to fly in late June. Its primary payload will replace what was lost on the CRS-7 launch failure: a docking adapter stored in the trunk section. Boeing is contracted to deliver two of those, and NASA is exercising an option to have them build a third out of flight spares to replace the one that was lost. NASA needs two docking adapters at Station so as to be able to host two commercial crew vehicles simultaneously, so the upcoming flight will be absolutely critical to the return of human spaceflight from US soil.
It was just too windy at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX fueled anyway, just in case, but the winds never settled down and they are now draining the tanks. Tomorrow the forecast is better for their second attempt to land the first stage.
But SpaceX will still be landing something today: the CRS-5 Dragon separated from the ISS this morning, and will splash down west of California this afternoon (Pacific time). Here’s the unberthing video:
Cygnus has returned to Earth . . . technically. Yesterday, the spacecraft made a firey reentry, burning up in the atmosphere over the south Pacific. The ISS crew had a lovely view of the destructive reentry, as it was night over that part of the Earth as they went overhead. SpaceflightNow has a lovely image gallery. 😉
Today, the Russians conducted a spacewalk outside the ISS, installing a European experiment package, performing maintenance activities on the Russian segment, collecting samples off of Zvezda’s exterior to evaluate deposition of combustion products from its propulsion system over the past fourteen years in orbit, and also hand-launching a tiny nanosatellite for Peru. Here, cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev has just released the Chasqui 1 imaging nanosatellite, which is floating away at top right.
It’s a rather complicated process, since Soyuz is the only expendable spacecraft with three sections. And it’s amazingly rugged, able to make the return with its crew alive even with quite a lot of things wrong. So how does a Soyuz return happen? ESA explains in this excellent video.
The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) has fallen back to Earth. The impact location is unknown, but given the time of its final contact with ground tracking stations, it probably came down over the Arctic or possibly the Pacific Ocean. Ground stations are no longer able to track it, so it’s gone. The spacecraft was still active and providing good data during the last contact with ESA’s Troll tracking station, but without propellant it was helpless to prevent its fall. During the last contact, it was only 122 km high, barely above the Karman Line. This completes its highly successful gravity-mapping mission.
On a more positive note, Soyuz TMA-09M is also returning to Earth. The crew are Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg, and Luca Parmitano. They’re carrying with them the Olympic torch carried up by Soyuz TMA-11M and brought outside the station. They departed the station just before 5:30PM CST, and will return to Earth in Kazakhstan in a little over an hour from now.
Watch the return live on NASA TV!