Station Gets New Software and Life Science Gear

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet
Astronauts Peggy Whitson (left) and Thomas Pesquet talk to ground controllers about an upcoming SpaceX Dragon cargo mission to resupply the crew.

The International Space Station is continuing to receive software updates to improve its spacecraft communications and navigation systems. Meanwhile, the astronauts today are setting up new life science gear and testing the docking ability of tiny internal satellites.

New software is being uplinked and installed on the station this week to increase the communications and control of approaching spacecraft. The crew will also replace portable computer hard drives with new ones after the software transition.

SpaceX is looking to launch its Dragon cargo craft no earlier than Feb. 18 on a two-day trip to deliver crew supplies and new science experiments to the Expedition 50 crew. One study being shipped on Dragon will explore healing and tissue regeneration to fight bone and tissue loss in space. Habitats with telemetry and video were installed for the study and will house rodents being launched aboard Dragon.

A pair of bowling ball-sized satellites, known as SPHERES, were deployed inside the Kibo lab module to test new algorithms and docking techniques. The SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) are used for numerous experiments including today’s study to demonstrate the ability for future spacecraft to autonomously dock and undock.

 

Life Science Preps and Software Updates at Station

Progress Resupply Ship Departs
The Progress 64 resupply ship is pictured departing the station Jan. 31, 2017, shortly after undocking from the Pirs Docking Compartment.

The Expedition 50 crew is getting the International Space Station ready for new experiments that will be delivered on the next SpaceX Dragon resupply mission. The station is also receiving a software update for its navigation and control systems.

Dragon is set to deliver new research gear for a variety of experiments exploring the benefits and risks of living in space. The crew began setting up the station today for a pair of those studies that will explore life science.

Cosmonaut Andrey Borisenko began installing habitats to house rodents for an exploration into bone and tissue loss caused by microgravity. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set up new gear in the Microgravity Science Glovebox to cultivate human stem cells for evaluating their use in treating disease.

New software has been uplinked to the station to update its Guidance, Navigation and Control systems and its Command and Control systems. The updates will improve communications with spacecraft approaching the station and add new computer connectivity with docked vehicles.

Three Spaceships Targeting February and March Launches

Aurora
Stars, the aurora and the International Space Station’s solar arrays are seen in this picture taken Jan. 18, 2017.

The Expedition 50 crew is gearing up for three different spaceships in two months to resupply the International Space Station. The crew also worked today on a variety of research hardware and practiced an emergency drill.

Two U.S. companies are getting their rockets ready to deliver food, fuel, supplies and new science gear to the crew. SpaceX is first in line with a plan to launch their Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than Feb. 18. Next, Orbital ATK is targeting March 19 to launch their Cygnus spacecraft on its seventh resupply mission to the station. Both spaceships will be captured by the Canadarm2 robotic. The Dragon will be installed to the Harmony module and the Cygnus will be attached to the Unity module.

Russia is preparing its Progress 66 (66P) cargo craft for a Feb. 22 launch from Kazakhstan. The 66P will take a two-day trip to the orbital laboratory before automatically docking to the Pirs Docking Compartment.

Onboard the station, Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet spent the day in Japan’s Kibo lab module working on science gear maintenance. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson installed a leak locator in Kibo’s airlock that will be used to locate the source of an ammonia leak outside the Japanese lab.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and his Soyuz crewmates cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov got together in the afternoon an emergency descent drill. The trio practiced the procedures necessary to evacuate the station quickly in the unlikely event of an emergency and return to Earth inside their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft.

Next Dragon Launch Set, Crew Tests Tiny Satellites

Astronaut Shane Kimbrough
Astronaut Shane Kimbrough works with a pair of tiny bowling-ball sized satellites known as SPHERES, or Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites.

SpaceX has announced no earlier than Feb. 18 for the launch of its tenth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. Dragon will be loaded with advanced space science and will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet will command the Canadarm2 to capture Dragon when it arrives about two days later. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will assist the duo and monitor Dragon as it approaches the station for a month-long stay.

The crew took a break from SpaceX preparations today and focused on a wide variety of science work. Kimbrough set up a pair of tiny internal satellites known as SPHERES and tested their ability to perform automated docking maneuvers. The tests will assist in the development of computer vision tracking algorithms possibly helping in the recovery of space debris.

Pesquet and Whitson worked in the afternoon to swap a gas bottle inside the Combustion Integrated Rack. The rack, located in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module, enables safe research into how fuels and other materials burn in space.


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Dragon Training and Brain Imaging for Astronauts

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet
Astronaut Thomas Pesquet, from the European Space Agency, works to load gear inside the Kibo laboratory module’s airlock.

The Expedition 50 crew trained today for the robotic capture of the SpaceX Dragon and studied how the brain adapts to living in space. Three crew members also conducted an emergency drill aboard the International Space Station.

Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet joined Commander Shane Kimbrough to study the robotics maneuvers they will use when the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship arrives later this month. Dragon is targeted to liftoff mid-February atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The tenth commercial resupply mission from SpaceX will deliver advanced space research to improve disease-fighting drugs, observe Earth’s climate and automate spacecraft navigation.

Whitson also set up magnetic resonance brain imaging hardware for the NeuroMapping experiment. The study, which has been ongoing since 2014, is exploring changes in the brain and how an astronaut’s cognition, perception and motion are affected by long-term space missions.

Veteran station residents Oleg Novitskiy and Whitson along with first-time space flyer Pesquet practiced an emergency Soyuz descent today. The trio entered their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft and simulated a scenario in the unlikely event the crew would have to evacuate the station quickly and return to Earth.


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Station Prepped for Science Gear from Japan and SpaceX

Solar Array's and Earth's Limb
The space station’s solar arrays and the Earth’s limb were pictured Feb. 2, 2017,as the Expedition 50 crew orbited over the southern Pacific Ocean. Credit: Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth

A new high-definition Earth observation video camera will be installed on the outside of Japan’s Kibo lab module later this week. The Expedition 50 crew is also getting the International Space Station ready for the next SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.

An HDTV camera delivered aboard Japan’s HTV-6 cargo craft in December is being readied for its deployment outside Kibo. The video camera will be staged inside the Kibo airlock today before depressurization and leak checks begin. The HDTV camera will then be robotically installed on a platform outside Kibo called the Exposed Facility where it will be used for Earth observations.

The astronauts are also getting communications gear ready to assist with the rendezvous and approach of the tenth SpaceX Dragon commercial resupply mission. Dragon is planned to launch later this month from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA is hosting a media teleconference Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST highlighting new experiments being delivered aboard Dragon. The advanced space research will include studies to fight a wide range of diseases, observe Earth’s climate and test autonomous rendezvous capabilities.


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White Stork Burns over Pacific and Crew Preps for Dragon

Japan's HTV-6 Resupply Ship
Japan’s HTV-6 resupply ship begins its separation after it’s release from the International Space Station.

Japan’s Kounotori, or “White Stork,” HTV-6 resupply ship completed its mission Sunday morning just over a week after its release from the International Space Station. The HTV-6 fired its engines for the last time sending it into Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery demise over the southern Pacific Ocean.

The Expedition 50 crew is now planning for the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft later in February. The astronauts, including Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet, talked to ground specialists Monday. The trio then began reviewing the mission profile, training materials and rendezvous procedures.

Kimbrough started his day working on life support systems maintenance before activating a combustion experiment laptop computer at the end of his shift. Pesquet wrapped up his day in the Japanese Kibo lab module preparing the airlock for the external installation of a high-definition video camera for Earth observations. Whitson began preparing communications and science gear ahead of the SpaceX CRS-10 resupply mission.


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Astronauts Study New SkinSuit and New Lights

Aurora
The aurora is pictured as the International Space Station orbits Earth during a nighttime pass.

NASA is planning human spaceflight missions further out into space and is learning how astronauts adapt to life off Earth for months and years at a time. The International Space Station provides the laboratory environment for numerous studies into how the human body reacts when exposed to microgravity.

Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet, from the European Space Agency, is wearing the new SkinSuit to study its ability to offset the effects of living in space including back pain and spine-stretching. The unique, tailor-made suit squeezes the body from the shoulder to the feet mimicking the force felt on Earth. Pesquet is evaluating the SkinSuit’s comfort, range of motion and its functionality while exercising.

Lighting is also very important when living in space since the daily sunrise and sunset cycle that guides life on Earth no longer applies. The crew is participating in tests helping researchers understand how new station lights that can be adjusted for intensity and wavelength are affecting crew sleep patterns and cognitive performance.

The cosmonauts, Oleg Novitskiy, Andrey Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov, were conducting their own set of human research experiments today. The trio collected blood and saliva samples to explore how the immune system and bone mass is affected in outer space. The samples were stowed in a U.S. science freezer for later analysis on Earth.


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NASA, Orbital ATK Target March 19 Launch to Station

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is moved to its launch pad prior to its launch on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission in 2016. Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are now targeting launch of Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station on March 19 during a 30-minute window that opens at approximately 10:56 p.m. EDT. This date takes into account space station operations, payload processing, and range availability. Orbital ATK has contracted with ULA for an Atlas V rocket for the mission, which will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA has opened media accreditation for the launch. All media accreditation requests should be submitted online.


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BEAM Opens for Tests, Crew Checks Body Shape

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet
Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet are pictured inside BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Pesquet is also wearing the experimental SkinSuit.

BEAM was opened for a short time Thursday so the crew could install sensors inside the expandable module. The Expedition 50 space residents also explored how the body changes shape and how to prevent back pain during long-term missions.

BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, had its hatches opened temporarily so astronaut Peggy Whitson could install temporary sensors and perform a modal test, which has the astronaut use their fist to impart loads on the module. The sensors are measuring the resulting vibrations and how the module holds up to impacts. BEAM is an expandable habitat technology demonstration, which is a lower-mass and lower-volume system than metal habitats and can increase the efficiency of cargo shipments, possibly reducing the number of launches needed and overall mission costs.

Whitson also joined Commander Shane Kimbrough for body measurements to help NASA understand how living in space changes an astronaut’s physical characteristics. The duo collected video and imagery and measured chest, waist, hip arms and legs to help researchers learn how physical changes impact suit sizing.

An experimental suit called the SkinSuit is being studied for its ability to offset the effects of microgravity and prevent lower back pain and the stretching of the spine. Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet wore the SkinSuit today and documented his comfort, range of motion and other aspects of the suit.


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