Ultra-Cold Science, CubeSats and Spaceship Departures Coming Up

Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano
Astronauts Andrew Morgan (left) and Luca Parmitano are pictured shortly after they began their mission aboard the International Space Station in July of 2019.

Ultra-cold science and nanosatellites kept the Expedition 61 crew busy on Tuesday while the International Space Station is getting ready for the departure of a cargo craft and crew ship.

The Cold Atom Lab (CAL) enables research into the quantum effects of gases chilled to nearly absolute zero, which is colder than the average temperature of the universe. NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch opened up the CAL today to swap and clean hardware inside the quantum research device.

Meir first joined NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan in the Kibo laboratory module to help him set up the Cyclops small satellite deployer. Morgan installed Cyclops, loaded with a Department of Defense experimental satellite, inside Kibo’s airlock for depressurization.

Mission controllers will then remotely command the Japanese robotic arm to grapple and deploy Cyclops outside Kibo overnight. The tiny satellite, packed with a variety of space weather and star tracker experiments, will be deployed into Earth orbit Wednesday morning.

Meir then installed a different small satellite deployer, this one called SlingShot, on the Cygnus space freighter attached to the Unity module. The SlingShot, attached to Cygnus’ hatch, will release a variety of small satellites after the U.S. cargo craft departs the space station on Friday at 9:35 a.m. EST. The suite of eight CubeSats will study different optical and communication technologies as well as atmospheric and natural phenomena.

Koch is getting ready to come home on Feb. 6 with fellow crewmates Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos. The trio performed leak checks today on the Sokol launch and entry suits they will wear aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship when they parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan.

Upon landing, Koch will have lived in space continuously for 328 days on her first mission. She will be second only to former astronaut Scott Kelly who lived in space 340 days for the single longest spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut.

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