Week Begins on Station with Science Hardware Work

ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer swaps samples inside the Materials Science Laboratory, a physics research device.
ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer swaps samples inside the Materials Science Laboratory, a physics research device.

The seven-member Expedition 66 crew started the last day of January working on a wide variety of research gear supporting biology, physics, and Earth science. Spacewalk tool work and vision tests were also on Monday’s schedule aboard the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Kayla Barron and Thomas Marshburn kicked off Monday servicing science components, flight hardware and life support gear. Barron started the morning inside the Kibo laboratory module installing a small satellite orbital deployer onto an experiment platform that will soon be placed into the vacuum of space. Marshburn also worked inside Kibo installing ice bricks to condition science freezers. Barron later replaced a robotic hand controller while Marshburn worked on water transfer tasks.

ESA (European Space Agency) Flight Engineer Matthias Maurer once again wore the Metabolic Space medical monitoring device measuring his heart rate and breathing function while riding the station’s exercise bike. The astronaut from Germany also worked on the Mochii electron-scanning microscope then reloaded firmware supporting an array of wireless instrumentation.

NASA Flight Engineer Raja Chari worked on pistol grip tools that spacewalkers use when removing or attaching bolts on the outside of the space station. He also joined Barron and Marshburn participating in vision tests checking for visual acuity using a standard eye chart. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei took Monday morning off before spending the afternoon checking cable connections and assisting the cosmonauts with Russian hardware.

Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos started the day studying ways to pilot future spacecraft and robots on planetary missions. He then joined Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov for a technology study exploring advanced methods to locate landmarks for Earth photography. Dubrov also swapped fuel bottles inside the Combustion Integrated Rack that supports safe research into flames and fuels in microgravity.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog@space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

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NASA, Boeing Prepare to Replace Starliner Service Modules Ahead of Upcoming Orbital Flight Test-2

Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022.
Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022.

NASA and Boeing continue making progress toward the agency’s upcoming Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Teams recently completed offloading fuel from the OFT-2 spacecraft inside Starliner’s production factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for separating and replacing the current service module (SM2) from the crew module.

“The Starliner team and successful completion of the spacecraft’s development phase are critical to sustaining International Space Station operations through 2030,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program. “The team’s dedication to developing effective remedies and corrective action after our first OFT-2 launch attempt demonstrates their continued commitment to safely flying NASA crews for years to come.”

In December, Boeing decided to move up service modules currently in production for its upcoming uncrewed and crewed flight tests. The service module originally planned for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) is now being used for OFT-2, and the service module originally planned for Starliner’s first post-certification mission, Starliner-1, now will  be used for CFT.

With fuel offload complete, the spacecraft was moved out of the hazardous processing area and into the production factory high bay.

“Because this is not an operation that we normally perform, our team took the time to fully coordinate and assess the proper spacecraft and ground support equipment configurations, and then execute to plan to ensure the safety of our team,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.

Once separated in the coming weeks from the OFT-2 crew module, SM2 will be sent to NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico for additional testing related to the issue affecting the spacecraft’s oxidizer isolation valves.

The investigation into the valve issue continues to substantiate that the most probable cause is interaction of moisture with nitrogen tetroxide that permeates through the Teflon seal in the valve, leading to corrosion. Testing continues to fully understand how this occurrence affects the valves in various environments.

Tests include environmental seal evaluation and exposing valves, in a controlled setting, to temperatures and conditions similar to those the spacecraft experienced prior to the planned launch of OFT-2. The results of these tests will help in the ongoing development of remediation efforts to prevent similar issues on future service modules.

For example, the team designed a purging system that will be integrated into the spacecraft to protect the valves from potential exposure to moisture at the factory, launch complex, and launch pad.

Progress also continues with production of the new service module (SM4) that will go onto the OFT-2 crew module. That service module was recently moved from the low bay production area to the factory’s hazardous processing area for high pressure leak testing. Remaining tasks before mating this service module with the OFT-2 crew module include acceptance testing, final wire harness mating, installation of solar array panels, and final closeouts.

NASA and Boeing continue to work toward an opening in United Launch Alliance’s launch window availability in May for OFT-2. An actual launch date will be determined closer to spacecraft readiness, and with consideration of Eastern Range and International Space Station availability. Potential launch windows for CFT are under review and will be determined after a safe and successful OFT-2.

More details about the mission and NASA’s commercial crew program can be found by following the commercial crew blog, @commercial_crew and commercial crew on Facebook.