Cygnus Spaceship at Launch Pad as Crew Trains for Delivery Mission

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket
Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket is seen as it rolls out to Pad-0A, Monday, April 15, 2019 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The next U.S. spaceship to deliver goods to the International Space Station rolled out to its launch pad in Virginia today. The Expedition 59 crew is training to capture the U.S. space freighter while also filming a virtual reality experience aboard the orbital lab.

Northrop Grumman is poised to launch its Cygnus resupply ship atop an Antares rocket Wednesday at 4:46 p.m. EDT. It will blast off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on a day-and-a-half long delivery trip to the station’s Unity module.

Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques will be waiting for Cygnus’ arrival Friday morning from inside the cupola. McClain will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and capture Cygnus about 5:30 a.m. as Saint-Jacques backs her up. Robotics controllers will take over shortly after and remotely install the Cygnus to Unity’s Earth-facing point about two hours later.

The duo, supported by NASA astronaut Nick Hague, continued reviewing procedures and practicing robotics maneuvers today as Cygnus counts down to its Wednesday launch. NASA TV will broadcast the launch and capture activities live.

More virtual reality filming continued today and has been ongoing for several months now inside the orbital complex. The crew has been filming a 360° experience depicting life on the station for future viewing by audiences on Earth.

Crew Trains to Capture U.S. Spaceship and Studies the Brain and Breathing

NASA astronaut Anne McClain
NASA astronaut Anne McClain is suited up in the U.S. Quest airlock preparing to begin what would be a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk on April 8, 2019.

The Expedition 59 crew is now training to capture a U.S. cargo ship when it arrives at the International Space Station next week. The orbital lab residents are also busy researching how living in space affects the human mind and body.

Fresh off their spacewalk Monday, astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques are now practicing to capture Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter with the Canadarm2 robotic arm. McClain will be at the robotics workstation in the cupola April 19 and command the Canadarm2 to capture Cygnus around 5:30 a.m. EDT. Saint-Jacques will back her up while Flight Engineer Nick Hague monitors Cygnus’ systems during its approach and rendezvous. The commercial cargo craft is due to launch April 17 at 4:46 p.m. from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Hague started his day with more brain research in the Japanese Kibo lab module. The NASA astronaut used a Doppler device to record his arterial blood flow waveforms. The data will help doctors understand how the brain regulates blood flow in microgravity.

The astronauts also researched how the station’s atmosphere affects breathing. The experiment studies how dust, particles and exhaled breath inflames a crewmember’s airways. Observations may reveal conditions that exacerbate or alleviate airway inflammation influencing future space missions.

SpaceX has announced April 26 as the launch date for its next Dragon cargo mission. The private space freighter will blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida arriving at the station April 28. This time Saint-Jacques will lead the robotics capture activities while Hague backs him up.

Post-Spacewalk Checkups and Space Research Before U.S. Cargo Deliveries

Expedition 59 Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency
Expedition 59 Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency takes a quick self portrait during a spacewalk while working outside the International Space Station.

The Expedition 59 crew has switched focus from Monday’s spacewalk to microgravity science aboard the International Space Station. Soon, the orbital residents will be unpacking a pair of U.S. space freighters.

Astronauts Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency are conducting their post-spacewalk medical checkups today. The astronauts measured their temperature, blood pressure, respiration and ear condition. After the checkups, the spacewalkers had their eyes scanned with an ultrasound device by Flight Engineer Nick Hague.

The spacewalking duo along with NASA astronaut Christina Koch also had an hour-long video debrief session with specialists on the ground. The crew and mission controllers discussed lessons they learned that could inform the planning of future spacewalks.

Koch spent most of her day on maintenance replacing science hardware inside the Combustion Integrated Rack. The research device enables safe investigations of microgravity’s impacts on solid and gaseous fuel combustion aboard the orbital lab. Hague explored how blood flows to the brain for the Cerebral Autoregulation study. The brain research uses Doppler technology that measures blood flow waveforms to help doctors understand and treat space-caused lightheadedness.

With the recent series of spacewalks now complete, the crew will soon be turning its attention to the arrival of two resupply ships. Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft and the SpaceX Dragon will each deliver science and supplies before the end of the month to replenish the space station crew. Cygnus is due to blast off for a three-month mission attached to the station’s Unity module April 17. Dragon is targeted to liftoff at the end of April for a month-long stay at the Harmony module.

Spacewalk This Monday Ahead of Two U.S. Cargo Missions This Month

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency
Astronaut David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency works on a pair of U.S. spacesuits inside the Quest airlock ahead of a trio of spacewalks to upgrade power systems on the International Space Station.

The Expedition 59 crew is going into the weekend preparing for another spacewalk on Monday. The International Space Station residents also continue microgravity research as they wait for two U.S. cargo ships to arrive before the end of the month.

Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques are getting their tools ready for another power upgrades spacewalk and will wrap up their final procedures review on Sunday. The spacewalkers will set their spacesuits to battery power around 8:05 a.m. EDT Monday signifying the start of their spacewalk and exit the space station’s Quest airlock.

The duo will work outside for about six-and-a-half hours installing truss jumpers to provide a redundant power source to the Canadarm2 robotic arm. McClain and Saint-Jacques will also install cables to update the station’s External Wireless Communications system. NASA TV starts its live coverage at 6:30 a.m. Monday.

Russia’s Progress 72 (72P) resupply ship delivered over 3.7 tons of food, fuel and supplies after docking to the Pirs docking compartment Thursday morning. Next up is Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter when it launches from Virginia on April 17 on a two-day ride to the station’s Unity module. SpaceX follows in late April when its Dragon cargo craft blasts off from Florida on a two-day trip to the orbital lab’s Harmony module.

Virtual reality filming and space research continued full pace inside the orbital lab today. Flight Engineer Christina Koch first strapped herself into an exercise bike to measure her aerobic capacity then set up a virtual reality camera inside the Unity module today. Nick Hague of NASA then recorded himself describing his space experiences for a short immersive, cinematic film.

Cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin unloaded the new 72P and worked on an array of life science experiments in the orbital lab’s Russian segment. The duo photographed red blood samples and microbes to help doctors keep long-term crews healthy in space.

April Brings Three New Spaceships and a Third Spacewalk at the Station

NASA astronaut Christina Koch participates in her first spacewalk
NASA astronaut Christina Koch participates in her first spacewalk to upgrade the International Space Station’s power storage capacity. She and fellow spacewalker Nick Hague (out of frame) of NASA worked outside in the vacuum of space for six hours and 45 minutes to continue swapping batteries and install adapter plates on the station’s Port-4 truss structure.

April is shaping up to be a busy month bringing three new spaceships and another spacewalk to the International Space Station. The Expedition 59 crew has already wrapped up two spacewalks this year and welcomed the first SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and the latest Soyuz MS-12 crew ship in March.

Roscosmos, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman are all readying their resupply ships to blast off this month and replenish the six orbital residents. A pair of astronauts will also go on another spacewalk, this time to provide secondary power for the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Russia’s Progress 72 cargo ship, loaded with more than 3 ½ tons of food, fuel and supplies, rolled to its launch pad Monday for final preparations for launch Thursday, April 4 at 7:01 a.m. EDT. The launch will send the unpiloted Progress on a 2-orbit rendezvous trajectory — the second ever — for an automated docking to the Pirs docking compartment three hours later. NASA TV will broadcast live the express cargo delivery to the orbital complex.

On Monday April 8, two astronauts will go on the third spacewalk of 2019. Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques will set their spacesuits to battery power around 8:05 a.m. and exit the Quest airlock. The duo will install truss jumpers on the Unity module and the Starboard truss structure to ensure the Canadarm2 stays powered in the event one of its other power units fail.

Finally, two U.S. spaceships will blast off toward the station this month from two different launch pads on the U.S. east coast. The orbital lab will be host to six different spacecraft, including two Russian Progress space freighters and two Russian Soyuz crew ships, by April 28.

Northrop Grumman will launch its 11th Cygnus cargo craft atop an Antares rocket April 17 from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and take a two-day trip to the station. SpaceX is readying its 17th Dragon cargo mission for an April lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida and a three-day ride to the orbital lab.

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.

Human, Physics Research as U.S. Spaceship Preps for Departure

Anne McClain of NASA
Anne McClain of NASA looks at a laptop computer screen inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module during ground conference operations.

The Expedition 58 crew participated in a suite of psychological, biomedical and physics experiments today. The orbital residents are also getting ready to send off a U.S. cargo craft on Friday.

Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques collaborated today on an experiment that observes how living in a spacecraft for long periods impacts crew behavior. The duo typed personal impressions about working in space in a private journal then took a robotics test to measure cognition. The astronauts also answered a questionnaire to gather more cognitive data before going to sleep.

McClain also collected and stored biological samples for a pair of human research studies looking at physiological changes and negative effects on bone marrow and blood cells. Saint-Jacques looked at how fluid mechanics affects fuel tanks in spaceships and ocean systems on Earth.

Commander Oleg Kononenko focused his day inside the station’s Russian segment. The veteran cosmonaut worked on computers, maintained life support systems and photographed Earth landmarks today.

Friday at 11:10 a.m. EST, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter will depart the station after 81 days attached to the Unity module. Robotics controllers will remotely guide the Canadarm2 robotic arm to grapple Cygnus overnight. McClain will then command the Canadarm2 on Friday to release Cygnus back into Earth orbit as Saint-Jacques backs her up and monitors the activities.

Cygnus has more to do after its release. It will begin to deploy several sets of CubeSats after it reaches a safe distance from the space station. The U.S. resupply ship will then reenter Earth’s atmosphere in late February over a remote portion of the Pacific Ocean for a fiery but safe destruction.

Station Crew Helping Future Orion Explorers

The International Space Station
The International Space Station photographed by departing Expedition 56 crew members aboard a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking on Oct. 4, 2018.

The International Space Station is providing a research platform today to help future astronauts navigate deep space in the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The Expedition 58 crew is also testing new lights and setting up the orbital lab for CubeSat deployments.

NASA is planning deep space missions with its new Orion spacecraft that will rely on NASA’s Deep Space Network for communications and navigation. Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques took photographs of the moon from the cupola today to calibrate Orion’s navigation software. The lunar data will provide additional navigation capability for Orion in the event of a loss of communication with the Deep Space Network.

Another experiment geared towards future exploration taking place aboard the station is the Sextant study. As its name suggests, astronauts are testing a hand-held sextant to focus on stability and star-sighting opportunities while in microgravity. Results may aid future Orion explorers and provide a backup navigation source for missions far beyond Earth orbit.

Astronaut Anne McClain worked throughout the day inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. She is setting up the Kibo airlock with hardware to deploy a set of CubeSats on Thursday. The CubeSats have a variety of educational and technical mission objectives including studying the ionosphere and satellite communications.

McClain later tested and photographed new lights that scientists are researching for their ability to improve crew sleep and performance. She also continued loading the Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft with disposable gear before it departs from the Unity module Feb. 8.

Both McClain and Saint-Jacques joined Commander Oleg Kononenko early Tuesday for body mass measurements. Kononenko then moved on to life support maintenance, crew culture studies and radiation measurements aboard the orbital lab.