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.

Three Humans Will Spend Thanksgiving 260 Miles Above Earth

Expedition 57 crew selfie
Serena Auñón-Chancellor (right) takes a group selfie with her Expedition 57 crew mates (from left) Sergey Prokopyev and Alexander Gerst. The three-person crew was gathered for dinner in the Zvezda Service Module, part of the International Space Station’s Russian segment.

Three humans will spend Thanksgiving orbiting about 260 miles above Earth. Another three individuals are spending the holiday in Kazakhstan preparing to launch to the International Space Station on Dec. 3.

The Expedition 57 trio from the U.S., Russia and Germany will share a traditional Thanksgiving meal together with fresh ingredients delivered over the weekend on a pair of new cargo ships. Commander Alexander Gerst from ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor will take the day off in space. Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev will work a normal day of Russian science and maintenance then join his crewmates for the holiday feast.

Gerst called down to European mission controllers today for a weekly tag up then answered a questionnaire about his experiences living in space. Afterward, he continued unpacking inventory from the new Cygnus cargo craft.

Auñón-Chancellor spent most of her day in Japan’s Kibo lab module working on life support gear. Toward the end of the day, she stowed research samples in a science freezer then debriefed ground controllers with Gerst about Cygnus cargo operations.

Prokopyev focused his attention on the Russian side of the orbital lab working on life support gear and unloading the new Progress 71 cargo craft.

Back on Earth, three Expedition 58 crew members from the U.S., Russia and Canada are in final training ahead of their six-and-a-half month mission on the orbital lab. Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko will lead the six-hour flight aboard the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft flanked by NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

This will be Kononenko’s fourth mission to the space station and his second as station commander. McClain and Saint-Jacques are both beginning their first missions to space.

Crew Unpacking New U.S., Russian Cargo Ships on Station’s 20th Anniversary

Zarya Module
The International Space Station’s first element, the Zarya module, is pictured in December 1998 as space shuttle Endeavour approached.

The International Space Station turned 20 years old today with the launch of the first element, the Zarya module, occurring on Nov. 20, 1998. The three-person Expedition 57 crew commemorated the beginning of the orbital lab’s construction during a Facebook Live event today and answered questions submitted via social media.

The crew also continues to unpack the newest U.S. and Russian cargo ships to visit the International Space Station today.

The Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman arrived Monday delivering almost 7,400 pounds of crew supplies and new science experiments. The Progress 71 (71P) resupply from Russia docked Sunday packed with almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies

Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst opened Cygnus’s hatch a few hours after it was captured and attached to the Unity module. Today they are installing new science freezers, transferring the new cargo and replenishing the orbital laboratory. Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev opened the 71P hatch after its automated docking Sunday and began unloading the new gear.

In between all the cargo work today, the three-person crew had time to conduct science and maintain station systems.

Gerst photographed samples for a physics study that is observing how quartz/clay particles interact in microgravity. Results could benefit future planetary studies and the petroleum industry. Auñón-Chancellor measured light levels in the Columbus lab module for a study researching how new station lights impact crew wellness. Prokopyev worked primarily in the station’s Russian segment maintaining life support systems.

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.

U.S. Space Freighter Captured by NASA Astronaut

Cygnus Space Freighter
The Cygnus space freighter is pictured moments after it was captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm operated by NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor. Credit: NASA TV

At 5:28 a.m. EST, Expedition 57 Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA used the International Space Station’s robotic Canadarm2 to grapple the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft as Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency), monitored Cygnus’ systems during its approach. Next, ground controllers will command the station’s arm to rotate and install Cygnus, dubbed the SS John Young, on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.

NASA Television coverage of installation will begin at 6:45 a.m., and installation of the Cygnus spacecraft to the space station is expected to be completed later this morning.

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

U.S. Spaceship Lifts Off for Station Delivery Mission

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft blasted off at 4:01 a.m. EST today
Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft blasted off at 4:01 a.m. EST today loaded with about 7,400 pounds of science, supplies and goodies for the station crew. Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus cargo spacecraft lifted off at 4:01 a.m. EST and is on its way to the International Space Station.

At about 5:45 a.m., commands will be given to deploy the spacecraft’s solar arrays. Coverage will continue on NASA TV at  http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv at 5 a.m. for solar array deployment, which is expected to last about 30 minutes.

A post-launch news conference will follow and is scheduled to begin on NASA TV at approximately 6:30 a.m.

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.

Dual Cargo Missions Set for Friday Launch and Sunday Delivery

Two rockets stand at their launch pads on opposite sides of the world
Two rockets stand at their launch pads on opposite sides of the world. Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket (left) with its Cygnus cargo craft on top stands at its launch pad in Virginia. Russia’s Progress 71 rocket is pictured at its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Dismal weather on Virginia’s Atlantic coast has pushed back the launch of a U.S. cargo craft to the International Space Station one day to Friday. Russia’s resupply ship is still on track for its launch to the orbital lab from Kazakhstan less than nine hours later on the same day.

Mission managers from NASA and Northrop Grumman are now targeting the Cygnus space freighter’s launch on Friday at 4:23 a.m. EST from Pad-0A at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Cygnus sits atop an Antares rocket packed with approximately 7,400 pounds of crew supplies, science experiments, spacesuit gear, station hardware and computer resources.

Cygnus will separate from the Antares rocket when it reaches orbit nine minutes after launch and begin a two-day journey to the station’s Unity module. Its cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays will then unfurl to power the vehicle during its flight. Expedition 57 astronauts Alexander Gerst and Serena Auñón-Chancellor will be in the cupola to greet Cygnus Sunday and capture the private cargo carrier with the Canadarm2 robotic arm at 4:35 a.m.

Russia rolled out its Progress 71 (71P) resupply ship today at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where it stands at the launch pad for final processing. The 71st flight of a Progress cargo craft to the orbital laboratory is scheduled for launch Friday at 1:14 p.m. Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev will be monitoring the arrival of 71P when it automatically docks to the rear port of the Zvezda service module Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Gerst and Prokopyev started Wednesday morning training for the arrival of 71P. The pair practiced commanding and manually docking the vehicle on a computer in the unlikely event the Russian cargo craft is unable to dock on its own. Gerst then moved on to Cygnus capture training after lunchtime with Auñón-Chancellor following up before the end of the day. NASA TV will cover live the launch, capture and docking of both Cygnus and Progress on Friday and Sunday.

U.S., Russian Rockets Preparing to Resupply Station This Weekend

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft
Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft is seen on Pad-0A after being raised into a vertical position, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

A U.S. rocket stands at its launch pad at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia counting down to a Thursday morning launch. On the other side of the world in Kazakhstan, a Russian rocket is being processed for its launch Friday afternoon. Both spaceships are hauling several tons of food, fuel, supplies and new science to resupply the Expedition 57 crew aboard the International Space Station.

First, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is set to blastoff atop the Antares rocket Thursday at 4:49 a.m. EST from Virginia’s Atlantic coast. Next, Russia will roll out its Progress 71 (71P) cargo craft for a launch Friday at 1:14 p.m. from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Cygnus will then lead the 71P on a dual journey to the orbital laboratory where the two spaceships will arrive on Sunday just hours apart. Cygnus will get there first when Commander Alexander Gerst assisted by Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor captures the private cargo carrier at 4:35 a.m. with the Canadarm2 robotic arm. After some rest, cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev will monitor the automated docking of the 71P to the Zvezda service module’s rear port at 2:30 p.m.

Gerst and Serena trained today for the robotic capture of Cygnus on Sunday reviewing approach and rendezvous procedures. Gerst first started his day reviewing details about a new free-flying robotic assistant that uses artificial intelligence before moving on to protein crystal research. Serena worked on the Life Sciences Glovebox then moved on to orbital plumbing tasks.

The duo also joined Prokopyev for ongoing eye checks in conjunction with doctors on the ground. Prokopyev primarily worked in the Russian segment throughout Tuesday on life support maintenance and science experiments.