The Expedition 56 crew is ramping for a busy traffic period at the International Space Station during the next couple of weeks. This all comes as the orbital residents ensure BEAM’s operational life and continue ongoing microgravity science.
Japan’s seventh “Kounotori” resupply ship is nearing the orbital complex and closing in for a Thursday morning capture. Commander Drew Feustel practiced on a computer today the procedures he will use when he commands the Canadarm2 to grapple Kounotori around 8 a.m. NASA TV is broadcasting the live coverage of the HTV-7 arrival and capture starting at 6:30 a.m.
Feustel is also getting ready to return to Earth on Oct. 4 with crewmates Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos and Ricky Arnold. During the morning, the three crewmates checked the Sokol launch and entry suits they will wear when they reenter Earth’s atmosphere inside the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft.
The commander also joined Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor opening up the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for maintenance and stowage work.The duo reinforced and stiffened struts inside BEAM to increase its safety margin and extend its operational life. They also stowed a variety of hardware inside the station’s newest module.
DNA sequencing from microbe samples is taking place onboard the station today to help scientists understand the impacts of living in space. The atomization of fluids continues to being studied potentially improving fuel efficiency on Earth and in spacecraft. A variety of space gear housing experiments and research samples was checked out today as part regularly scheduled maintenance.
Ever wanted a deeper dive into the life of the International Space Station? The flight directors in charge of the teams that oversee its systems have written a 400-page book that offers an inside look at the time and energy the flight control team at the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston devote to the development, planning and integration of a mission.
The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.
Here’s an excerpt from the book to give you a taste of what to expect:
Chapter 10: Preparing for the Unexpected
At 2:49 a.m. Central Standard Time, a red alarm illuminated the giant front wall display in Mission Control in Houston. The alert read: TOXIC ATMOSPHERE Node 2 LTL IFHX NH3 Leak Detected.
The meaning was clear. Ammonia was apparently leaking into the Interface Heat Exchanger (IFHX) of the Low Temperature cooling Loop (LTL) in the Node 2 module.
“Flight, ETHOS, I expect the crew to be pressing in emergency response while I confirm,” said the flight controller from Environmental and Thermal Operating Systems (ETHOS). In other words, the crew needed to don oxygen masks to protect themselves from ammonia while ETHOS looked more closely at these data.
This was not a drill. When the red alarm appeared, the flight director turned her full attention to ETHOS. The words—unwelcome at any time from ETHOS—were especially jarring at an hour when the crew and the ground were humming along on a busy day of running experiments. Of the many failures for which the flight control team prepares, especially in simulations, this failure presents one of the most life-threatening situations, and one the team never wants to encounter on the actual vehicle.
On January 14, 2015, this scenario happened on the International Space Station (ISS). Data on the ETHOS console indicated toxic ammonia could be bleeding in from the external loops, through the waterbased IFHX, and into the cabin (see Chapter 11). Software on the ISS immediately turned off the fans and closed the vents between all modules to prevent the spread of ammonia. At the sound of the alarm, crew members immediately began their memorized response of getting to the Russian Segment (considered a safe haven, since that segment does not have ammonia systems) and closed the hatch that connected to the United States On-orbit Segment (USOS). They took readings with a sensitive sensor to determine the level of ammonia in the cabin. The flight control team—especially the flight director, ETHOS, and the capsule communicator (CAPCOM [a holdover term from the early days of the space program])—waited anxiously for the results while they looked for clues in the data to see how much, if any, ammonia was entering the cabin. Already, the flight director anticipated multiple paths that the crew and ground would take, depending on the information received.
No ammonia was detected in the cabin of the Russian Segment. At the same time, flight control team members looked at multiple indications in their data and did not see the expected confirming cues of a real leak. In fact, it was starting to look as if an unusual computer problem was providing incorrect readings, resulting in a false alarm. After looking carefully at the various indications and starting up an internal thermal loop pump, the team verified that no ammonia had leaked into the space station. The crew was not in danger. After 9 hours, the flight control team allowed the crew back inside the USOS. However, during the “false ammonia event,” as it came to be called, the team’s vigilance, discipline, and confidence came through. No panicking. Only measured responses to quickly exchange information and instructions.
Hearts were pumping rapidly, yet onlookers would have noticed little difference from any other day.
A key to the success of the ISS Program is that it is operated by thoroughly trained, well-prepared, competent flight controllers. The above example is just one of many where the team is unexpectedly thrust into a dangerous situation that can put the crew at risk or jeopardize the success of the mission. Both the flight controllers and the crews, often together, take part in simulations. Intense scenarios are rehearsed over and over again so that when a real failure occurs, the appropriate reaction has become second nature.
After these types of simulations, team members might figure out a better way to do something, and then tuck that additional knowledge into their “back pocket” in the event of a future failure. Perhaps the most famous example of this occurred following a simulation in the Apollo Program. After the instructor team disabled the main spacecraft, the flight controllers began thinking about using the lunar module as a lifeboat. When the Apollo 13 spacecraft was damaged significantly by an exploding oxygen tank, the flight control team already had some rough ideas as to what they might do. Since the scenario was not considered likely owing to all the safety precautions, the team had not developed detailed procedures. However, the ideas were there.
NASA and SpaceX are now targeting no earlier than 10:35 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 15th, for the company’s 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. SpaceX is taking additional time for the team to conduct full inspections and cleanings due to detection of particles in 2nd stage fuel system. Next launch opportunity would be no earlier than late December.
A Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Dragon is now scheduled to arrive at the space station on Sunday, Dec. 17th.
On Sunday, Scott Tingle of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are also scheduled to launch at 2:21 a.m. (1:21 p.m. Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station.
NASA Television coverage for launch and arrival activities are as follows:
Friday, Dec. 15
10 a.m. – Launch commentary coverage begins
12 p.m. – Post-launch news conference with representatives from NASA’s International Space Station Program and SpaceX
Sunday, Dec. 17
1:15 a.m. – Soyuz MS-07 launch coverage begins
4:30 a.m. – Dragon rendezvous at the space station and capture coverage begins
SpaceX has delayed the launch of its next Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station to no earlier than Dec. 12. Back on orbit, the Cygnus cargo craft is getting ready to leave the orbital lab and an experimental module has its stay in space extended for at least another three years.
NASA and our commercial cargo provider SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Dec. 12 at 11:46 a.m. EST for their 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. This new launch date takes into account pad readiness, requirements for science payloads, space station crew availability, and orbital mechanics. Carrying about 4,800 pounds of cargo including critical science and research, the Dragon spacecraft will spend a month attached to the space station.
Ground controllers uninstalled Cygnus from the Unity module Tuesday morning with the Canadarm2 and are conducting a series of communications tests to assist NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Next, Vande Hei and Acaba will command the Canadarm2 to release Cygnus back into Earth orbit tomorrow at 8:10 a.m. EST where it will stay until Dec. 18.
BEAM, formally known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, is staying attached to the station for another three years with a potential to stay an extra year after that. While BEAM transitions to its new role as a cargo hold, engineers will continue studying its ability to resist radiation, space debris and microbes. Bigelow Aerospace and NASA signed the contract extension in November to continue demonstrating the reliability of expandable habitat technologies in space.
More CubeSats were ejected from the International Space Station today to demonstrate and validate new technologies. Back inside the orbital lab, the Expedition 53 crew continued outfitting an experimental module and studying life science.
Two more tiny satellites were deployed from the Kibo laboratory module into Earth orbit today to research a variety of new technologies and space weather. One of the nanosatellites, known as TechEdSat, seeks to develop and demonstrate spacecraft and payload deorbit techniques. The OSIRIS-3U CubeSat will measure the Earth’s ionosphere in coordination with the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
Eye exams are on the schedule this week as two cosmonauts and two astronauts took turns playing eye doctor and patient today. Alex Misurkin and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos started first with the optical coherence tomography hardware using a laptop computer. Next, Nespoli and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei took their turn to help doctors on the ground understand the vision changes that take place in space.
An experimental module attached to the International Space Station is being prepared for upcoming cargo operations. Tiny research satellites were also ejected from the orbital lab while a pair of Expedition 53 crew members scanned their leg muscles today.
BEAM, officially called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, is being outfitted this week for future stowage operations. Excess gear, including inflation tanks and dynamic sensors, used during its initial expansion back in May of 2016 is being removed to make room for new cargo. BEAM’s old gear and trash will now be stowed in the Cygnus resupply craft for disposal early next month.
Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli and Sergey Ryazanskiy spent Monday exploring how the lack of gravity affects leg muscles. Nespoli strapped himself into a specialized exercise chair and attached electrodes to his leg with assistance from Ryazanskiy. The Sarcolab-3 experiment uses measurements from an ultrasound device and magnetic resonance imaging to observe impacts to the muscles and tendons of a crew member.
The Expedition 52 crew is loading the SpaceX Dragon with cargo for return back to Earth in less than two weeks. BEAM, the experimental habitat, also received a new radiation shield today that was 3D printed aboard the International Space Station.
Dragon is due to leave the International Space Station July 2 after cargo transfers with the resupply ship are complete. The crew offloaded new science experiments, spacewalking gear and station hardware shortly after it arrived on June 5. Dragon will now be packed with used station gear and research samples for analysis by NASA engineers and scientists after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.
Flight Engineer Jack Fischer opened up BEAM today and entered the expandable activity module for a regular checkup. He replaced an older radiation shield with a thicker shield that covers a radiation sensor inside BEAM. Fischer also sampled BEAM’s air and surfaces for microbes.
Veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson of NASA spent Tuesday sampling the air and surfaces for microbes in the station’s U.S. segment. Whitson also spent some time stowing synthetic DNA samples exposed to radiation in a science freezer and began readying rodent research gear for return next month aboard Dragon.
The astronauts took a break from spacewalk preparations today and checked out an expandable module and worked on science freezers. The crew also continued its human research program exploring space nutrition and the effects of microgravity on metabolism and the immune system.
Thomas Pesquet opened the hatches to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) today for a status check. The European Space Agency astronaut sampled BEAM’s air and surfaces for microbes and installed impact sensors. He also used a digital camera with a fish-eye lens to capture 360-degree imagery of the inside of BEAM.
Veteran NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson serviced three science freezers ensuring biological samples can be preserved for return on an upcoming SpaceX Dragon mission. She also brushed up on robotics skills necessary for Friday’s spacewalk.
Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy logged his meals again today before collecting saliva samples for an immunity study. Flight Engineer Andrey Borisenko researched how living in space long term affects metabolism and a crew member’s psychophysiological state.
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.
September was a busy month on the International Space Station filled with a wide variety of space research, a spacewalk, a crew departure and a test of the new BEAM module. One science highlight this month includes a new experiment that may improve how medicine works.
A new fuel burning study is about to start soon after Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi completes the installation of the Group Combustion experiment. Results from the fire research could help engineers design advanced rocket engines and industrial furnaces. Onishi is also documenting his meals over the next few days for the ENERGY study. Onishi’s meal data in conjunction with his water and breath samples will help scientists understand the nutritional requirements necessary for long-term space missions.
Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, who took command of Expedition 49 on Sept. 6, has been working on the continuous upkeep of the Russian segment of the space station. The veteran cosmonaut has been preparing a Progress resupply ship for its Oct. 14 undocking. Some of the numerous Russian science experiments Ivanishin has been conducting have been observing the condition of the Earth and exploring human research.