Cargo Operations and Space Research Keeping Crew Busy

Astronaut Kate Rubins checks out radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.
Astronaut Kate Rubins checks out radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.

Cargo operations are underway at the International Space Station as a U.S. resupply ship prepares for launch and another prepares for departure. Meanwhile, a host of microgravity research is keeping the Expedition 64 crew busy.

SpaceX is preparing its upgraded SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for a launch from Florida on Dec. 5 and a rendezvous with the orbiting lab about 24 hours later. This will be the first automated docking of the Cargo Dragon. Astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover will be monitoring Dragon’s arrival to the Harmony module’s space-facing port with more than 6,400 pounds of space freight, including the NanoRacks Bishop airlock.

However today, Rubins worked on science gear stowing external experiments brought in from outside the Kibo laboratory module then cleaned up the Advanced Plant Habitat after Monday’s radish harvest. Glover joined JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi for a physical fitness test on the station’s exercise bike to evaluate microgravity’s impact on their cardiopulmonary function.

The Earth-facing port of the Unity module hosts the outgoing Cygnus resupply ship from Northrop Grumman. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins worked today packing the cargo craft with trash and old gear. Cygnus will depart the space station later this month, conduct an automated space combustion experiment then reenter the atmosphere for a fiery, but safe demise above the Pacific Ocean.

Hopkins later joined fellow NASA Flight Engineer Shannon Walker for health checks Wednesday morning consisting of temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory measurements. Walker then spent the afternoon reorganizing food items making space for additional cargo aboard the station.

Commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos worked on electronics and life support maintenance tasks throughout Wednesday. Cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov primarily worked on life support gear before servicing the power supply system in the Zarya module.

Crew Packs for Landing While Studying Space Tech and Biology

The Soyuz MS-16 crew ship is pictured docked to the International Space Station's Poisk module.
The Soyuz MS-16 crew ship is pictured docked to the International Space Station’s Poisk module.

The Expedition 63 trio is packing up and getting ready for its return to Earth as the International Space Station is orbiting slightly lower today. Meanwhile, advanced space science continues full speed ahead aboard the orbiting lab.

Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA is about to wrap up a 196-day mission in space with Roscosmos Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. The Russian duo has begun gathering hardware and other items that will be packed inside the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship for return to Earth. The three-member crew will enter the Soyuz, undock from the Poisk module and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan on Oct. 21.

Cassidy spent a busy Wednesday operating a range of science experiments investigating space technology, microbiology and botany. He started the day setting up the Avatar-X camera that seeks to demonstrate remote robotics that may inform the future of telemedicine. Next, he transferred microbe samples, shipped in a Cygnus cargo craft science freezer, that will be observed to learn how to control bacterial growth in space. Finally, Cassidy set up the Spectrum-001 hardware that will enable fluorescent imaging of protein markers and stress signaling in plants grown on the space station.

As the crew counts down to departure, Ivanishin worked on Russian power supply systems and checked radiation measurements. Vagner assisted Cassidy with the Cygnus science freezer work and checked on a pair of Russian studies looking at bone loss and space piloting techniques.

The space station is orbiting slightly lower after the docked Progress 75 spacecraft fired its engines for nearly seven minutes this morning. The “deboost” puts the station in the correct phasing for the  docking on Oct. 14 of the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship carrying the Expedition 64 crew aboard.

New Experiments Installed as U.S. and Russian Crew Ships Near Launch

The tip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm which grapples hardware, science experiments and approaching spaceships, is pictured as the station soared over the South Pacific Ocean.
The tip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm which grapples hardware, science experiments and approaching spaceships is pictured as the station soared into an orbital sunrise.

Four spaceships are parked at the International Space Station today as two new crews are due to launch by the end of October. In the meantime, the Expedition 63 crew has begun unpacking the nearly four tons of science experiments, crew supplies and station hardware from the newly arrived Cygnus cargo craft.

Commander Chris Cassidy has begun configuring brand new science experiments and research gear delivered on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter. He started removing a variety of time-sensitive investigations from Cygnus’ science freezers on Monday and quickly transferred them into space station research racks. The new experiments will explore cancer treatments, space botany and life support systems among other important subjects benefitting humans living on Earth and in space.

Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner were once again testing a unique suit today designed to offset a common space symptom that sees blood pool toward a crewmember’s upper torso and head. The Lower Body Negative Pressure suit attempts to normalize blood flow to counteract some adverse effects of long-duration spaceflight and prepare the astronauts for the return to Earth’s gravity.

October will be a busy month at the orbiting lab bringing a crew swap and four new Commercial Crew members. First, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will ride alongside Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov when they lift off Oct. 14 from Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship. The Expedition 64 trio will take a three-hour trip to their new home in space where they will stay until April of next year.

Just one week later, Cassidy will hand control of the station over to Ryzhikov and return to Earth with Ivanishin and Vagner. The trio will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan inside the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft ending a 195-day research mission on the station.

Next, four more astronauts are scheduled to join Expedition 64 just one day after they launch aboard the first operational SpaceX Crew Dragon mission from Florida on Oct. 31. Commander Mike Hopkins of NASA will lead Pilot Victor Glover and Mission Specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi during the 25-hour ride to the space station. The quartet will stay in space until the Spring.

Cygnus Hatch Open as Crew Works Medical Tests

The Cygnus is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm as the space station orbited above the Mediterranean Sea near the Middle East. Credit: @Ivan_MKS63/Twitter
The Cygnus is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm as the space station orbited above north Africa. Credit: @Ivan_MKS63/Twitter

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is open for business just five hours after it was attached to the International Space Station today. The Expedition 63 crew will now begin unloading almost four tons of crew supplies, new science experiments and an advanced space toilet.

After standard depressurization and configuration activities, Commander Chris Cassidy opened the hatch to Cygnus. He entered the cargo craft wearing goggles and a mask to protect against potential dust and debris which is normal procedure when entering a docked cargo ship for the first time. The U.S. resupply ship will stay attached to the Unity module until mid-December when its cargo mission ends.

Cassidy and Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner spent Monday morning monitoring Cygnus approach and rendezvous following its Friday night launch. Cassidy gave the command for the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and capture Cygnus at 5:32 a.m. EDT today. Mission controllers then took over the Canadarm2 and remotely installed Cygnus to Unity about an hour-and-a-half later.

Vagner later joined his fellow cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin for medical tests while wearing the Lower Body Negative Pressure suit. The specialized suit prevents blood from pooling toward a crew member’s head, a common space symptom called “puffy face,” that may cause head pressure and vision issues. The duo also worked on a variety of Russian science and maintenance tasks today.

Cygnus Resupply Ship Attached to Station Unity Module

Oct. 5, 2020: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are docked to the space station including Russia’s Progress 75 and 76 resupply ships and Soyuz MS-16 crew ship and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus-14 resupply ship.

The Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 8:01 a.m. EDT while the spacecraft were flying about 261 miles above the South Pacific Ocean. Cygnus will remain at the space station until its departure in mid-December. Following departure, the Saffire-V experiment will be conducted prior to Cygnus deorbit and disposing of several tons of trash during a fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere approximately two weeks later.

The spacecraft’s arrival brings close to 8,000 pounds of scientific investigations, technology demonstrations, commercial products, and other cargo. Highlights of the items aboard Cygnus include:

Improving how we ‘go’ in space

A new toilet is headed to the space station. Its features improve on current space toilet operations and help NASA prepare for future missions, including those to the Moon and Mars. The Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) demonstrates a compact toilet and the Urine Transfer System that further automates waste management and storage. The smaller footprint of the UWMS supports a possible increase in the number of crew members aboard the space station, as well as planning for future exploration missions.

Energy and water from waste

The investigation Elucidating the Ammonia Electrochemical Oxidation Mechanism via Electrochemical Techniques at the ISS (Ammonia Electrooxidation) examines a process for ammonia oxidation in microgravity. An electrochemical ammonia removal system could serve as an innovative water recovery system on long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars and provide vital drinkable water in remote and arid areas on Earth.

Adding radishes to the space salad

A new crop of vegetables is headed to the space station. While previous experiments have grown different types of lettuces and greens aboard the orbiting laboratory, the Assessment of Nutritional Value and Growth Parameters of Space-grown Plants (Plant Habitat-02) investigation adds radishes to the mix, cultivating seeds to see how different light and soil conditions affect growth. Findings could help optimize growth of the plants in space, as well as provide an assessment of their nutrition and taste.

Identifying targeted cancer treatments

The Leveraging Microgravity to Screen Onco-selective Messenger RNAs for Cancer Immunotherapy (Onco-Selectors) investigation tests drugs based on messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNA) for treating leukemia. In normal gravity, the drugs to be tested are onco-selective, meaning they can distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones. Researchers expect any drugs that also demonstrate this trait in microgravity could make good candidates for safer, more effective, and affordable medicines to treat leukemia and other cancers. This could improve survival rates for thousands of people every year.

Spacewalks in virtual reality

The International Space Station Experience (ISS Experience) is creating an immersive virtual reality series documenting life and research aboard the space station. Partnering with the ISS National Lab and TIME, a team from Felix and Paul Studios launched a customized 360-degree camera to the space station in December 2018 that crew members have used to record a few hours inside the station every week. Felix and Paul and partner NanoRacks further modified an additional camera to withstand the extreme conditions of space and are launching for use in filming a spacewalk. The new camera will be mounted to the Canadarm2 to capture a spacewalk from start to finish as well as footage of Earth and the exterior of the space station.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars through NASA’s Artemis program.

In addition to science and research, this launch will also support commercial space endeavors. Estée Lauder’s New Advanced Night Repair serum will be photographed in the space station’s iconic cupola window as part of NASA’s efforts to enable commercial activities at the space station and develop a robust low-Earth orbit economy. The imagery will be used on the brand’s social media platforms. These opportunities can help catalyze and expand space exploration markets for many businesses.

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.

Astronaut Commands Robotic Arm to Reach Out and Capture Cygnus Cargo Craft

The Canadarm2 operated by astronaut Chris Cassidy moves toward the Cygnus resupply ship for its capture. Credit: NASA TV

At 5:32 a.m. EDT, Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA used the International Space Station’s robotic Canadarm2 to grapple the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft as Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos monitored Cygnus systems during its approach. Next, ground controllers will command the station’s arm to rotate and install Cygnus, dubbed the S.S. Kalpana Chawla, on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.

The Cygnus spacecraft for this resupply mission is named in honor of Kalpana Chawla, who made history at NASA as the first female astronaut of Indian descent. Chawla, who dedicated her life to understanding flight dynamics, lost her life during the STS-107 mission when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere

NASA Television coverage of installation will begin at 7:30 a.m., and installation of the Cygnus spacecraft to the space station is expected to be completed later this morning. Cygnus will remain at the orbiting laboratory for a three-month stay.

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.

NASA TV Coverage Begins of Cygnus Arrival at Station

The Northrop Grumman (NG)-13 Cygnus vehicle cargo craft is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm shortly before its departure from the International Space Station (ISS)

A Northrop Grumman cargo ship carrying almost 8,000 pounds of scientific investigations, technology demonstrations, commercial products, and other cargo is set to arrive to the International Space Station. The uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft launched at 9:16 p.m. EDT Friday, Oct. 2 on an Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA will capture the spacecraft assisted by Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos, who will monitor Cygnus systems during its approach for capture. They will use the space station’s robotic arm to take hold of the Cygnus, dubbed the S.S. Kalpana Chawla. After Cygnus’ capture, ground controllers will command the station’s arm to rotate and install it on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.

NASA Television coverage of capture has begun. Watch live online at www.nasa.gov/live

A timeline of remaining Cygnus and space station activities for the earliest capture attempt is below:

Time (EDT)   Event

4:09 a.m.      Cygnus within 300m of Space Station

4:14 a.m.      250m Hold Point Arrival

4:24 a.m.      250m Hold Point Departure

4:35 a.m.      Cygnus within 100m of Space Station

4:51 a.m.      30m Hold Point Arrival

4:58 a.m.      Earliest “Go” for Capture

5:10 a.m.      Capture Point Arrival

5:14 a.m.      “Go” or “No-Go” for Capture

5:20 a.m.      Capture

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.

New Space Toilet, Advanced Science Shipped for Monday Arrival

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket with the Cygnus space freighter atop blasts off from Virginia on its way to resupply the Expedition 63 aboard the space station.
Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket with the Cygnus space freighter atop blasts off from Virginia on its way to resupply the Expedition 63 aboard the space station.

The solar arrays have successfully deployed on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft that is on its way to deliver nearly 8,000 pounds of scientific investigations, technology demonstrations, commercial products, and other cargo to the International Space Station after launching at 9:16 p.m. EDT Thursday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

Coverage of the spacecraft’s approach and arrival to the orbiting laboratory will begin Monday, Oct. 5 at 3:45 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Cygnus, while Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos monitors telemetry during rendezvous, capture, and installation on the Unity module’s Earth-facing port. NASA TV coverage of the spacecraft’s installation will begin at 7:30 a.m.

This delivery – Northrop Grumman’s 14th contracted cargo flight to the space station and the third under its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract with NASA – will support dozens of new and existing investigations.

Included aboard Cygnus for delivery to the space station are:

 Improving how we ‘go’ in space

A new toilet is headed to the space station. Its features improve on current space toilet operations and help NASA prepare for future missions, including those to the Moon and Mars. The Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) demonstrates a compact toilet and the Urine Transfer System that further automates waste management and storage. The smaller footprint of the UWMS supports a possible increase in the number of crew members aboard the space station, as well as planning for future exploration missions.

 Energy and water from waste

The investigation Elucidating the Ammonia Electrochemical Oxidation Mechanism via Electrochemical Techniques at the ISS (Ammonia Electrooxidation) examines a process for ammonia oxidation in microgravity. An electrochemical ammonia removal system could serve as an innovative water recovery system on long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars and provide vital drinkable water in remote and arid areas on Earth.

 Adding radishes to the space salad

A new crop of vegetables is headed to the space station. While previous experiments have grown different types of lettuces and greens aboard the orbiting laboratory, the Assessment of Nutritional Value and Growth Parameters of Space-grown Plants (Plant Habitat-02) investigation adds radishes to the mix, cultivating seeds to see how different light and soil conditions affect growth. Findings could help optimize growth of the plants in space, as well as provide an assessment of their nutrition and taste.

 Identifying targeted cancer treatments

The Leveraging Microgravity to Screen Onco-selective Messenger RNAs for Cancer Immunotherapy (Onco-Selectors) investigation tests drugs based on messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNA) for treating leukemia. In normal gravity, the drugs to be tested are onco-selective, meaning they can distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones. Researchers expect any drugs that also demonstrate this trait in microgravity could make good candidates for safer, more effective, and affordable medicines to treat leukemia and other cancers. This could improve survival rates for thousands of people every year.

 Spacewalks in virtual reality

The International Space Station Experience (ISS Experience) is creating an immersive virtual reality series documenting life and research aboard the space station. Partnering with the ISS National Lab and TIME, a team from Felix and Paul Studios launched a customized 360-degree camera to the space station in December 2018 that crew members have used to record a few hours inside the station every week. Felix and Paul and partner NanoRacks further modified an additional camera to withstand the extreme conditions of space and are launching for use in filming a spacewalk. The new camera will be mounted to the Canadarm2 to capture a spacewalk from start to finish as well as footage of Earth and the exterior of the space station.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars through NASA’s Artemis program.

In addition to science and research, this launch will also support commercial space endeavors. Estée Lauder’s New Advanced Night Repair serum will be photographed in the space station’s iconic cupola window as part of NASA’s efforts to enable commercial activities at the space station and develop a robust low-Earth orbit economy. The imagery will be used on the brand’s social media platforms. These opportunities can help catalyze and expand space exploration markets for many businesses.

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

U.S. Cargo Poised for Launch; Robotics, Health Checks for Crew

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket, with the Cygnus space feighter atop, stands at its launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility ion Virginia.
Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, with the Cygnus space freighter atop, stands at its launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

A U.S. rocket stands at its launch pad ready to launch an advanced space toilet and new science experiments toward the International Space Station tonight. Back on orbit, the Expedition 63 trio worked on robotics, health checks and housecleaning today.

NASA and its commercial partner Northrop Grumman are counting down to tonight’s liftoff of the Cygnus space freighter atop an Antares rocket at 9:38 p.m. EDT from Virginia. Cygnus is packed with nearly 8,000 pounds of crew supplies and station gear due for a robotic capture on Sunday at 6:10 a.m.

Commander Chris Cassidy and Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner will be at the robotics workstation Sunday morning monitoring the approach and rendezvous of Cygnus. Cassidy will then command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to grapple Cygnus when it reaches a point about 10 meters from the station. Afterward, engineers on the ground will take over the Canadarm2 and remotely install Cygnus to the Unity module where it will stay until mid-December.

During Thursday morning, Cassidy installed a new robotic 4K camera that looks outside a Kibo laboratory module window at the Earth below. Called Avatar-X, the camera demonstrates how users on the ground can remotely control the camera to view Earth or practice telemedicine in remote locations.

Next, Cassidy strapped himself into an exercise bike with assistance from Vagner for a periodic health check. Vagner spent the rest of the day on photography inspections and plumbing tasks. Veteran cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin took the morning off before spending the afternoon cleaning the ventilation system and researching how multi-cultural crews communicate.

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.