U.S. Cargo Mission Nears Launch; More Leak Checks and Research

Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy is at work inside the Kibo laboratory module from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).
Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy is at work inside the Kibo laboratory module from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).

The Expedition 63 crew continues preparing for Sunday’s scheduled space delivery of nearly 8,000 pounds of supplies and gear aboard Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter. As usual, advanced space science rounded out the day’s activities inside the International Space Station. The crew also continues work to try and isolate the precise location of an air leak that was recently isolated to the Zvezda Service Module.

An Antares rocket stands at its launch pad in Virginia ready to carry the Cygnus resupply ship to space when it launches on Thursday at 9:38 p.m. EDT. About nine minutes later, Cygnus will reach Earth orbit heading towards the space station for a Sunday arrival and robotic capture at 6:10 a.m.

Commander Chris Cassidy and Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner continued practicing their robotics skills Wednesday afternoon on a computer. The duo will be on deck inside the cupola Sunday morning ready to command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and grapple Cygnus. Ground controllers will take over the Canadarm2 afterward and remotely install Cygnus to the Unity module about two hours later.

Cassidy started the day working inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module setting up experiment hardware that enables science to take place outside the orbiting lab. The veteran astronaut also spent a few moments on light plumbing duty as he serviced the urine processing assembly located in the Tranquility module.

The two Russian cosmonauts, including three-time station resident Anatoly Ivanishin, focused on their complement of space research and lab maintenance throughout the day. The duo joined each other first for a space communications study utilizing a variety of photography and audio hardware. Next, Ivanishin moved to narrow the source of an air leak utilizing an ultrasonic leak detector. Vagner checked radiation measurements then swapped camera lenses and activated hardware for a pair of Earth observation studies.

UPDATE: Roscosmos has released new information, further isolating the leak location to the transfer chamber in the Zvezda Service Module. Additional leak detection operations will continue using the ultrasonic leak detector.

In terms of design, the Zvezda Service Module consists of four sections: three pressurized (Transfer Compartment, Working Compartment and Transfer Chamber) as well as the unpressurized Assembly Compartment housing the integrated propulsion unit.

The leak, which has been investigated for several weeks, poses no immediate danger to the crew at the current leak rate and only a slight deviation to the crew’s schedule.

Weather Delays U.S. Cargo Mission; Crew Back to Work After Leak Test

The three-member Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station
The Expedition 63 crew with (from left) Commander Chris Cassidy and Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

A U.S. cargo mission will wait a couple of extra days for weather to clear before launching to resupply the International Space Station this week. Meanwhile, the Expedition 63 crew has resumed standard operations following a leak test over the weekend.

Scattered thunderstorms and rain are predicted at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia where Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship was originally targeted for liftoff Tuesday night. Mission managers rescheduled Cygnus’ launch for Thursday at 9:38 p.m. EDT setting its arrival and robotic capture at the station for Sunday at 5:20 a.m.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonaut Ivan Vagner practiced their robotics skills on a computer today to get ready to capture Cygnus with the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Sunday morning. Cassidy will lead the capture activities while Vagner monitors the U.S. spacecraft’s approach and rendezvous.

NASA TV will broadcast live the launch and capture activities of the Cygnus space freighter. It will arrive at the station packed with nearly 8,000 pounds supplies and gear including an advanced space toilet and brand-new science experiments.

Veteran cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin once again opened up the Combustion Integrated Rack and replaced fuel bottles to support fuel and flames studies inside the research device. He then spent the rest of the day servicing laptop computers and life support systems.

The three-member crew exited their isolation in the Russian segment on Monday morning after a weekend of leak tests and resumed normal operations. Ground teams will analyze the leak test data in their ongoing work to determine the source of the increased leak rate at the station.

Crew Readies for New Space Toilet and Continues Eye Exams

NASA astronaut and Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy poses for a portrait in front of the Microgravity Science Glovebox.
NASA astronaut and Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy poses for a portrait in front of the Microgravity Science Glovebox.

The International Space Station is gearing up for an advanced bathroom set to arrive on a U.S. resupply ship early next month. Meanwhile, the Expedition 63 crew continued this week’s eye checks and more space research and life support maintenance.

The orbital lab will get a new space toilet scheduled to be delivered inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft on Oct. 3. The upgraded restroom facility will be smaller, more comfortable and support a larger crew as NASA’s Commercial Crew Program sends more astronauts to the station.

Station crewmates Chris Cassidy and Ivan Vagner will be at the robotics workstation commanding the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Cygnus next Saturday. The duo began reviewing Cygnus’ mission profile today and are getting up to speed with the tasks necessary to support the upcoming space delivery.

The two crewmates then joined their colleague cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin for regularly scheduled eye checks in the afternoon. Wednesday’s tests looked at the retina using non-invasive light wave technology, or optical coherence tomography. The weeklong exams also consist of reading vision charts with one eye covered, as well as self-administered ultrasound eye scans with real-time support from ground doctors.

Cassidy’s science work today saw him activate the Astrobee robotic helpers and check out hardware for a perception and orientation in space study. The NASA astronaut then collected samples of the station’s U.S. segment drinking water for microbial analysis.

Working from the Russian side of the station, Ivanishin spent the morning replacing smoke detectors in the Zarya module. Vagner also gathered drinking water samples for later analysis both on the orbiting lab and back on Earth.

Crew Studies Space Agriculture and Spacecraft Technology

Sunrise casts long shadows over a cloudy Philippine Sea
Sunrise casts long shadows over a cloudy Philippine Sea as the International Space Station orbited off the coast of the Philippines.

The Expedition 63 crew kicked off the work week exploring space agriculture and spacecraft technologies. The trio also split the day on upcoming mission preparations and International Space Station maintenance.

Ongoing botany studies on the station have been teaching scientists, engineers and astronauts how to grow crops in space, so crews can feed themselves farther away from Earth. Future astronauts on long-term missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond will need to be self-sufficient with less support from mission controllers and resupply missions.

Commander Chris Cassidy set up the Advanced Plant Habitat during the afternoon for upcoming grow operations in the research facility. The controlled plant growth chamber automates the delivery of nutrients and light to support a variety edible plants for harvesting, analysis and tasting.

Cassidy is also gearing up for a U.S. resupply mission due to replenish the orbiting lab in early October. The NASA astronaut is sharpening his robotics skills on a computer to get ready to capture Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft with the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

A Russian technology experiment is using acoustics to locate micrometeoroid impacts on the space station. The two flight engineers, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, partnered during the morning checking hardware and downloading data that may pinpoint the location of high-speed particle hits on the outside of the space lab.

The cosmonaut duo then spent the rest of Monday servicing life support gear and updating computer systems.

Crew Spending Another Day in Russian Segment

The three-member Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station
The three-member Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station with (from left) NASA astronaut and Commander Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts and Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

The three Expedition 63 crew members will spend another day inside the Russian segment of the International Space Station. Mission controllers are continuing their leak detection work today to collect more data.

All of the orbiting lab’s hatches will remain closed until Tuesday morning to give ground specialists additional time to collect data and monitor pressure readings in each module. The rate is still well within segment specifications and presents no danger to the crew or the space station.

The station’s atmosphere is maintained at pressure comfortable for the crew members, and a tiny bit of that air leaks over time, requiring routine repressurization from nitrogen tanks delivered on cargo resupply missions. In September 2019, NASA and its international partners first saw indications of a slight increase above the standard cabin air leak rate. Because of routine station operations like spacewalks and spacecraft arrivals and departures, it took time to gather enough data to characterize those measurements. That rate has slightly increased, so the teams are working a plan to isolate, identify and potentially repair the source.

Meanwhile, the station trio is staying comfortable in the Zvezda service module with access to the Poisk mini-research module,  the Progress 76 cargo craft and their Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA and Roscosmos Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner mainly focused on Earth photography Monday. The station’s Russian segment has a variety of windows the crew can look out with advanced camera gear for their Earth observation activities.

Japanese Cargo Craft Completes Station Mission

Japan's HTV-9 resupply ship is on its own after being released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm completing a three-month cargo mission at the station.
Japan’s HTV-9 resupply ship is on its own after being released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm completing a three-month cargo mission at the station.

Eleven years after the launch of the first H-II Transfer cargo vehicle (HTV) to the International Space Station, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) HTV-9 departed the orbital laboratory today at 1:36 p.m. EDT.

Earlier today, flight controllers operating from NASA’s Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston used the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach the cargo spacecraft from the station’s Harmony module, then moved the spacecraft into its release position. Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA used the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the spacecraft from the station ending its three-month stay.

This was the final station departure of JAXA’s first-generation Kounotori, or “white stork,” cargo craft, nine of which have delivered more than 40 tons of supplies to space station crews.  JAXA is developing a new fleet of HTV cargo craft, the HTV-X, which is targeted for its first launch in 2022.

The spacecraft launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan on May 20, arriving May 25 to deliver about four tons of supplies and experiments to the orbital complex, including new lithium-ion batteries that were used to upgrade the station’s power systems. The new-technology batteries were installed through a series of spacewalks along the far port truss “backbone” of the station.

HTV-9 will be commanded by JAXA flight controllers at its HTV control center in Tsukuba, Japan, to move away from the station and, on Aug. 20, to fire its deorbit engine in a burn that will send it back into Earth’s atmosphere. Loaded with trash from the space station, the spacecraft will burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

For nearly 20 years, astronauts have continuously lived and work on the space station, testing technologies, performing science and developing the skills needed to explore farther from Earth. As a global endeavor, 240 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.

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

International, Commercial Partners Gear Up for Cargo and Crew Missions

The Canadarm2 robotic arm is poised to grapple and remove Japan's HTV-9 resupply ship from the Harmony module.
The Canadarm2 robotic arm is poised to grapple and remove Japan’s HTV-9 resupply ship from the Harmony module.

Canada’s robotic arm is poised to remove Japan’s ninth and final H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-9) from the International Space Station on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russia are preparing for the launch of their respective crew ships to the orbiting lab in October.

Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA will be at the robotics workstation on Tuesday and direct the 57.7-foot-long Canadarm2 to release the HTV-9 from its grip at 1:35 p.m. EDT. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner will back up Cassidy and monitor the release of the HTV-9 as it completes its 85-day cargo mission. NASA TV will cover the activities live starting at 1:15 p.m.

The HTV-9 will spend two more days orbiting Earth before a fiery, atmospheric demise over the South Pacific. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) is developing an upgraded fleet of HTV-X space station suppliers, replacing the HTV series of spaceships, targeted for their first launch in 2022.

The Expedition 63 and 64 crews are due to trade places at the orbiting lab beginning in mid-October. The Soyuz MS-17 crew ship is slated to blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 14 and dock to the station’s Rassvet module. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov will then begin a six-month space research mission.

One week later on Oct. 21, Cassidy will wrap up his mission with crewmates Vagner and Russian Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin. The trio will enter the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship, undock from the Poisk module and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan ending a 195-day expedition in space.

NASA and SpaceX have announced the launch of the SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the station for no earlier than Oct. 23. Mike Hopkins of NASA will command the first operational flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft piloted by first-time NASA astronaut Victor Glover. They will be joined by Mission Specialists Shannon Walker of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of JAXA, both previous station residents.

Japan’s Ship Nears Departure Before October Cargo, Crew Missions

The SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Japan's HTV-9 resupply ship figure prominently in this photograph taken during the July 1 spacewalk.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Japan’s HTV-9 resupply ship figure prominently in this photograph taken during the July 1 spacewalk.

Canada’s versatile robotic arm, the 57.7-foot-long Canadarm2, is in place and ready to grapple and release Japan’s resupply ship from the International Space Station next week. The Expedition 63 crew is continuing to pack the cargo craft while training for its robotic release.

Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA will command the Canadarm2 to release the H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) on Tuesday at 1:35 p.m. EDT. Roscosmos cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner will support Cassidy at the robotics workstation in the station’s “window to the world,” the cupola.

Both crewmates will be practicing the robotic maneuvers on a computer Friday and Monday to prepare for the HTV-9’s release. Cassidy finalized packing the HTV-9 with discarded gear and will close the hatch to the Japanese resupply ship on Monday. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of the release activities on Tuesday at 1:15 p.m.

Space traffic will pick up again in October with a U.S. cargo ship slated to arrive and a crew exchange planned at the orbiting lab. Northrop Grumman is targeting early October for the rendezvous and robotic capture of its Cygnus cargo craft at the station.

On Oct. 14, three Expedition 64 crew members will launch aboard the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship toward the orbital lab. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov will take a six-hour ride that day and dock to the Rassvet module beginning a six-month station mission.

One week later, Cassidy will end his mission along with Expedition 63 crewmates Vagner and Russian Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin. The trio will undock from the Poisk module in the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship on Oct. 21 and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan ending a 195-day research mission aboard the station.

Diverse Space Research and Station Robotics Fill Crew Day

Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy collects trash for disposal during weekend housekeeping activities aboard the space station.
Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy collects trash for disposal during weekend housekeeping activities aboard the space station.

The Expedition 63 crew trio continued ongoing space research and orbital housekeeping aboard the International Space Station today. Mission controllers are also preparing the Canadarm2 robotics arm for departure operations with Japan’s ninth resupply ship.

Commander Chris Cassidy split his Thursday shift with physics research in the morning and plumbing and electronics maintenance in the afternoon. The veteran NASA astronaut first checked samples inside the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace that levitates, melts and solidifies materials exposed to extreme temperatures. After lunch, he connected water recovery system cables then checked emergency communications gear.

Astrobee, a set of cube-shaped robotic free-flyers, was turned on today inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. The devices were autonomously maneuvering throughout Kibo and live-streaming video during the afternoon so engineers could monitor the operations.

Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner tackled their portion of research and maintenance today  in the Russian segment of the orbiting lab. Ivanishin once again continued his space biology and Earth studies. Vagner worked on another Earth observation experiment and also organized the Pirs docking compartment.

Attached to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module since May 25, Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) is nearing the end of its mission. Robotics controllers will maneuver the Canadarm2 in position on Friday before grappling and removing the HTV-9 from Harmony on Tuesday.

Cassidy will take over afterward and command the 57.7-foot-long robotic arm to release the HTV-9 into Earth orbit the same day. Nicknamed Kounotori, or “white stork” for its delivery mission, the Japanese resupply ship will end its mission two days later for a fiery, but safe demise over the South Pacific.

Crew Packs Japanese Ship, Studies Space Physics and Earth

Flying over southern Argentina, this photograph from the space station looks northward with the Sun's glint beaming on the Atlantic Ocean.
Flying over southern Argentina, this photograph from the space station looks northward with the Sun’s glint beaming on the Atlantic Ocean.

The Expedition 63 crew members are getting a Japanese spaceship ready for departure next week. In the meantime, the International Space Station trio was busy today with science, video communications and orbital plumbing.

Commander Chris Cassidy and Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin partnered up today loading Japan’s resupply ship with trash and old station gear. Cassidy will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Aug. 18 to release the H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) into Earth orbit for a fiery, but safe reentry into the atmosphere above the South Pacific. The HTV-9 arrived at the orbiting lab on May 25 delivering four tons of new science experiments, station hardware, crew supplies and fuel.

Cassidy started the morning setting up the Space Frontier Studio that live-streams science activities from inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module to audiences on the ground. The station commander from NASA then spent the afternoon installing new science hardware that will study gas-liquid flows in porous media in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Results from the Packed Bed Reactor Experiment could benefit life support systems on the space station and future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Earth observations have been ongoing this week in the Russian segment of the space station. One long-running study has been monitoring natural and man-made conditions around the globe to forecast potential catastrophes. Ivanishin of Roscosmos was servicing photo equipment this morning for that experiment which measures radiation reflected from the Earth in a variety of wavelengths.

Cosmonaut Ivan Vagner worked during the morning servicing Russian plumbing hardware. The first-time space flyer then spent the rest of the day inventorying common office supplies such as printer cartridges, pens and tape.