Astronauts Release U.S. Spacecraft from Station

Cygnus Released from Canadarm2
The Cygnus is pictured moments after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft was released from the Canadarm2 at 11:16 a.m. EST and has departed the International Space Station. After an extended mission to deploy several CubeSats in multiple orbits, Cygnus is scheduled to be deorbited on Feb. 25 to enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

Expedition 58 Flight Engineers Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency used the station’s robotic arm to release the craft, dubbed the “SS John Young”, after ground controllers unbolted the cargo vehicle from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module earlier this morning.

This Commercial Resupply Services contract mission delivered dozens of new and existing investigations as Expedition 58 contributes to some hundreds of science and research studies. Highlights from the new experiments include a demonstration of 3D printing and recycling technology and simulating the creation of celestial bodies from stardust.

The Refabricator is the first-ever 3D printer and recycler integrated into one user-friendly machine. Once it’s installed in the space station, it will demonstrate recycling of waste plastic and previously 3D printed parts already on-board into high-quality filament, or 3D printer “ink.” This recycled filament will be fed into the printer as stock to make new tools and parts on-demand in space. This technology could enable closed-loop, sustainable fabrication, repair and recycling on long-duration space missions, and greatly reduce the need to continually launch large supplies of new material and parts for repairs and maintenance. The demonstration, which NASA’s Space Technology Mission and Human Exploration and Operations Directorates co-sponsored, is considered a key enabling technology for in-space manufacturing. NASA awarded a Small Business Innovation Research contract valued to Tethers Unlimited Inc. to build the recycling system.

The Experimental Chondrule Formation at the International Space Station (EXCISS) investigation will explore how planets, moons and other objects in space formed by simulating the high-energy, low-gravity conditions that were present during formation of the early solar system. Scientists plan to zap a specially formulated dust with an electrical current, and then study the shape and texture of the resulting pellets.

The Crystallization of LRRK2 Under Microgravity Conditions-2 (PCG-16) investigation grows large crystals of an important protein, leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), in microgravity for analysis back on Earth. This protein is implicated in development of Parkinson’s disease, and improving our knowledge of its structure may help scientists better understand the pathology of the disease and develop therapies to treat it. LRRK2 crystals grown in gravity are too small and too compact to study, making microgravity an essential part of this research.  This investigation is sponsored by the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, which Congress designated in 2005 to maximize its use for improving quality of life on Earth.

Cygnus launched Nov. 17, 2018, on an Antares 230 rocket from Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A at Wallops, and arrived at the station Nov. 19 for the company’s 10th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station.

This was the seventh flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and the fourth using Northrop Grumman’s upgraded Antares 230 launch vehicle featuring new RD-181 engines that provide increased performance and flexibility.

Cygnus Ready for Friday Departure and CubeSat Deployments

The Cygnus space freighter
The Cygnus space freighter is maneuvered by the Canadarm2 robotic arm shortly after its arrival and capture at the International Space Station on Nov. 19, 2018.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is just a day away from completing its tenth mission to the International Space Station. The Expedition 58 crew is training today for Cygnus’ robotic release on Friday and preparing it for one more mission afterward.

Cygnus is in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm today still attached to the Unity module. Robotics controllers will uninstall Cygnus from Unity early Friday and remotely maneuver the space freighter to its release position.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain will take over the robotics controls as David Saint-Jacques from the Canadian Space Agency backs her up inside the cupola. She will command the Canadarm2 to release Cygnus back into space at 11:10 a.m. EST Friday. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of Cygnus’ release starting at 10:45 a.m.

The two astronauts practiced the release of Cygnus today and finished the installation of the Slingshot small satellite deployer inside the spacecraft. Slingshot will eject a set of CubeSats from Cygnus once the cargo vessel reaches a safe distance from the station about eight hours after its release.

Friday’s Cygnus departure will leave a pair of Russian spacecraft docked to the station including the Progress 71 cargo craft and the Soyuz MS-11 crew ship. Two more spaceships are due to visit in March including a demonstration version of SpaceX’s first crew Dragon and the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft with three new Expedition 59-60 crew members.

Mind and Body Studies as Crew Finalizes Cygnus Packing

Astronaut Anne McClain of NASA
Astronaut Anne McClain of NASA peers into a microscope and takes photographs for the Protein Crystal Growth-16 experiment that is exploring therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

The astronauts onboard the International Space Station continued exploring today how living in space affects their minds and bodies. The Expedition 58 crew also researched fluid physics and prepared a resupply ship for its departure.

Anne McClain of NASA collected blood and urine samples this morning for the Repository physiology study. She spun the samples in a centrifuge then stowed them in a science freezer. She later took a cognition test in support of the Lighting Effects experiment that seeks to improve health and wellness.

Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques along with McClain answered a pair of questionnaires in support of the Standard Measures and Behavioral Core Measures psychology studies. He also wrapped up a physics study observing the mechanics of fluids in hardware that represents a spacecraft fuel tank.

McClain will be in the cupola Friday at 11:10 a.m. EST and release the U.S. Cygnus resupply ship from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Saint-Jacques will back her up Friday and monitor the cargo vessel’s departure. The duo is finalizing packing, will install a small satellite deployer in Cygnus then close the hatches on Thursday.

Over in the station’s Russian segment, Commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos worked on power supply and battery maintenance in the Zarya module. The long-serving cosmonaut also researched crew psychology and studied radiation exposure.

Dragon Released to Return Science and Supplies Back to Earth

SpaceX Dragon Release
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured moments after being released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft was released from the International Space Station today at 6:33 p.m. EST. Robotics controllers remotely commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to let go of the U.S. space freighter sending it on a solo trajectory back to Earth.

Astronaut Anne McClain monitored the activities from the cupola and watched Dragon perform a series of departure burns as it separated itself to a safe distance from the orbital lab. Integrated operations between mission controllers in Houston and SpaceX controllers in California stop when Dragon reaches a point about one kilometer away from the station.

SpaceX personnel will retrieve Dragon after it parachutes to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean Monday at 12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m. Sunday Pacific time) then tow it to port in southern California. This will be the first nighttime splashdown and recovery for the Dragon with plenty of moonlight to track its entry.

The commercial cargo vessel is taking home a variety of critical space research that will immediately be picked up by NASA engineers and distributed to scientists across the nation. Station hardware will also be extracted for analysis, refurbishment or discarding.

Dragon completes a 36-day mission attached to the station’s Harmony module after delivering more than 5,600 pounds of science and supplies on Dec. 8. Today’s departure leaves four spacecraft, including Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft, attached to the space station.

The next Dragon mission to the space station will be its first uncrewed demonstration mission designated SpaceX DM-1. The Commercial Crew Program’s first launch is currently targeted for February and will demonstrate ground systems, orbit to docking activities and landing operations.

Station, SpaceX Managers Set Dragon Release For Sunday Afternoon

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured attached to the International Space Station's Harmony module
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module as the orbital complex flew 258 miles above the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of South Africa.

To take advantage of calmer sea states in a different location in the Pacific Ocean, SpaceX and the International Space Station Program agreed to move the departure of the SpaceX-CRS-16 Dragon cargo craft from the station from early Sunday morning to late Sunday afternoon, setting up the first night splashdown and recovery of a Dragon vehicle.

Dragon’s hatch will be closed Sunday morning, and the spacecraft will be detached from the Harmony module around 3 p.m. EST Sunday.

Ground controllers will now release Dragon from the Canadarm2 robotic arm at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. NASA TV coverage of the operation without commentary will begin at 6:15 p.m. NASA Flight Engineer Anne McClain will monitor the release from the station’s cupola.

Dragon’s deorbit burn to begin its descent back to Earth is now scheduled at approximately 11:19 p.m. with splashdown scheduled at around 12:10 a.m. Monday (9:10 p.m. Pacific time) just west of Baja California.

Dragon Attached to Station, Returns to Earth in January

Dec. 8, 2018: International Space Station Configuration
Dec. 8, 2018: International Space Station Configuration. Six spaceships are attached at the space station including the U.S. resupply ships Northrop Grumman Cygnus and the SpaceX Dragon; and Russia’s Progress 70 and 71 resupply ships and the Soyuz MS-09 and MS-10 crew ships all from Roscosmos.

Three days after its launch from Florida, the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was installed on the Earth-facing side of the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 10:36 a.m. EST.

The 16th contracted commercial resupply mission from SpaceX delivers more than 5,600 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory. Among the research it will bring to station, science investigations and technology demonstrations aboard Dragon include:

The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) will provide high-quality laser ranging observations of the Earth’s forests and topography required to advance the understanding of important carbon and water cycling processes, biodiversity, and habitat. GEDI will be mounted on the Japanese Experiment Module’s Exposed Facility and provide the first high-resolution observations of forest vertical structure at a global scale. These observations will quantify the aboveground carbon stored in vegetation and changes that result from vegetation disturbance and recovery, the potential for forests to sequester carbon in the future, and habitat structure and its influence on habitat quality and biodiversity.

A small satellite deployment mechanism, called SlingShot, will be ride up in Dragon and then be installed in a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft prior to its departure from the space station. SlingShot can accommodate as many as 18 CubeSats of any format. After the Cygnus cargo ship departs from station, the spacecraft navigates to an altitude of 280 to 310 miles (an orbit higher than that of the space station) to deploy the satellites.

Robotic Refueling Mission-3 (RRM3) will demonstrate the first transfer and long-term storage of liquid methane, a cryogenic fluid, in microgravity. The ability to replenish and store cryogenic fluids, which can function as a fuel or coolant, will help enable long duration journeys to destinations, such as the Moon and Mars.

Growth of Large, Perfect Protein Crystals for Neutron Crystallography (Perfect Crystals) crystallizes an antioxidant protein found inside the human body to analyze its shape. This research may shed light on how the protein helps protect the human body from ionizing radiation and oxidants created as a byproduct of metabolism. For best results, analysis requires large crystals with minimal imperfections, which are more easily produced in the microgravity environment of the space station.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the station in January 2019 and return to Earth with more than 4,000 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.

Keep up to date with the latest news from the crew living in space by following https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/, @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, and the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Dragon in the Grips of Robotic Arm, Installation Occurs Next

SpaceX Dragon Capture
The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is moments way from being captured with the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

While the International Space Station was traveling about 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean north of Papua New Guinea, Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) and Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor, captured the Dragon spacecraft at 7:21 a.m. EST using the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Ground controllers will now send commands to begin the robotic installation of the spacecraft on bottom of the station’s Harmony module. NASA Television coverage of installation is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Watch online at www.nasa.gov/live.

The Dragon lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Wednesday, Dec 5 with more than 5,600 pounds of research, equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of investigations aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The International Space Station is an accessible space laboratory with unparalleled capability that is increasing knowledge of engineering and physical sciences, biology, the Earth, and the universe through research and technology demonstrations and providing the foundation for continuing human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA’s human research is closing the gaps in current scientific understanding of how best to predict, assess, and solve the problems that humans encounter while living and working in space, and extend that knowledge to protect the women and men who will go forward to the Moon and Mars.

Keep up to date with the latest news from the crew living in space by following https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/, @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, and the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Dragon Launch Slips One Day as New Crew Moves In

Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst
Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) peers out the International Space Station’s “window to the world,” the seven-windowed cupola. Just outside the cupola are two spacecraft including the Soyuz MS-09 crew craft and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft with one of its cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays featuring prominently in the frame.

The launch of the SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel slipped one day to Wednesday at 1:16 p.m. EST with meteorologists forecasting 90% favorable weather for launch. Meanwhile, the newest crew members aboard the International Space Station are getting used to their new home in space.

Dragon’s 16th mission to the orbital lab will deliver almost 5,700 pounds of science, crew supplies and hardware. The commercial space freighter is due to arrive at the station Saturday when astronauts Alexander Gerst and Serena Auñón-Chancellor will command the Canadarm2 to grapple Dragon around 6 a.m.

New station crew members Oleg Kononenko, Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques are in their second day aboard the station. The trio are familiarizing themselves with station systems and safety procedures today. They began their mission Monday when they launched aboard the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft at 6:31 a.m. and docked just six hours and two minutes later to the Poisk module. The new crew will stay in space until June.

Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst is getting for his return to Earth on Dec. 20 and began packing his personal items today. He’ll wrap up his mission with Flight Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Sergey Prokopyev and land in Kazakhstan inside the Soyuz MS-09 crew ship after six-and-a-half months in space.

Canadian Robotic Arm Installs U.S. Cygnus Cargo Ship to Station

The International Space Station heads into an orbital sunset
The International Space Station heads into an orbital sunset as the Canadarm2 robotic arm guides the Cygnus space freighter to its installation point on the Unity module. Credit: NASA TV

The Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 7:31 a.m. EST. The spacecraft will spend about three months attached to the space station before departing in February 2019. After it leaves the station, the uncrewed spacecraft will deploy several CubeSats before its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere as it disposes of several tons of trash.

The spacecraft’s arrival brings close to 7,400 pounds of research and supplies to space station. Highlights of NASA-sponsored research to advance exploration goals and enable future missions to the Moon and Mars include:

Sensory input in microgravity

Changes in sensory input in microgravity may be misinterpreted and cause a person to make errors in estimation of velocity, distance or orientation. VECTION examines this effect as well as whether people adapt to altered sensory input on long-duration missions and how that adaptation changes upon return to Earth. Using a virtual reality display, astronauts estimate the distance to an object, length of an object and orientation of their bodies in space. Tests are conducted before, during and after flight. The investigation is named for a visual illusion of self-movement, called vection, which occurs when an individual is still but sees the world moving past, according to principal investigator Laurence Harris. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) sponsors the investigation.

Solidifying cement in space

The MVP-Cell 05 investigation uses a centrifuge to provide a variable gravity environment to study the complex process of cement solidification, a step toward eventually making and using concrete on extraterrestrial bodies. These tests are a follow-on to the previous studies known as Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS), which studied cement solidification in microgravity.  Together, these tests will help engineers better understand the microstructure and material properties of cement, leading to design of safer, lightweight space habitats and improving cement processing techniques on Earth. This investigation is sponsored by NASA.

Investigations sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory on the space station, which Congress designated in 2005 to maximize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, include:

From stardust to solar systems

Much of the universe was created when dust from star-based processes clumped into intermediate-sized particles and eventually became planets, moons and other objects. Many questions remain as to just how this worked, though. The EXCISS investigation seeks answers by simulating the high-energy, low gravity conditions that were present during formation of the early solar system. Scientists plan to zap a specially formulated dust with an electrical current, then study the shape and texture of pellets formed.

Principal investigator Tamara Koch explains that the dust is made up of particles of forsterite (Mg2SiO4), the main mineral in many meteorites and related to olivine, also known as the gemstone peridot. The particles are about the diameter of a human hair.

Growing crystals to fight Parkinson’s disease

The CASIS PCG-16 investigation grows large crystals of an important protein, Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2, or LRRK2, in microgravity for analysis back on Earth. This protein is implicated in development of Parkinson’s disease, and improving our knowledge of its structure may help scientists better understand the pathology of the disease and develop therapies to treat it. Crystals of LRRK2 grown in gravity are too small and too compact to study, making microgravity an essential part of this research.

Better gas separation membranes

Membranes represent one of the most energy-efficient and cost-effective technologies for separating and removing carbon dioxide from waste gases, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. CEMSICA tests membranes made from particles of calcium-silicate (C-S) with pores 100 nanometers or smaller. Producing these membranes in microgravity may resolve some of the challenges of their manufacture on Earth and lead to development of lower-cost, more durable membranes that use less energy. The technology ultimately may help reduce the harmful effects of CO2 emissions on the planet.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit www.nasa.gov/station.

US Cargo Mission Slips a Day; Station Tests Free-Flying AI Assistant

Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor
Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor practices on a computer the maneuvers she will use with Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture the U.S. Cygnus space freighter on Monday.

The launch of the Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman has slipped another day due to inclement weather at the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Atlantic coast. Cygnus is now scheduled to launch atop the Antares rocket Saturday at 4:01 a.m. EST with a much improved weather forecast.

The U.S. resupply ship will deliver approximately 7,400 pounds of food, fuel and supplies to the station two days later. Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Cygnus Monday at 5:20 a.m. Commander Alexander Gerst will back her up and monitor telemetry from the vehicle during its approach and rendezvous.

The Progress 71 (71P) cargo craft from Russia is at the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad in Kazakhstan ready to blast off Friday at 1:14 p.m. EST. Prokopyev will be monitoring the Russian resupply ship when it arrives Sunday for an automated docking to the rear port of the Zvezda service module at 2:30 p.m.

The International Space Station Program is testing the use of artificial intelligence today to contribute to mission success aboard the orbital laboratory. Meanwhile, the space residents from the U.S., Germany and Russia continued more human research and prepared for the upcoming U.S. and Russian space deliveries.

CIMON, or Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN, is a free-flying robotic assistant based on artificial intelligence currently being tested on the station. The astronaut support device from ESA (European Space Agency) was powered up and commissioned today by the station commander inside the Columbus lab module. The CIMON technology seeks to demonstrate astronaut-robot interaction by answering crew questions, assisting with science experiments and navigating autonomously in the lab.

Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev and fellow crewmates Gerst and Auñón-Chancellor started Thursday with ongoing eye checks. Gerst and Serena swapped roles as Crew Medical Officer scanning each other’s eyes including Prokopyev’s using an ultrasound device with guidance from a doctor on the ground. The data is downlinked to Earth real-time and helps scientists understand how microgravity affects astronaut vision as well as the components and shape of the eye.