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.

Crew Tests Time Perception in Space and Real-Time Vital Signs Monitoring

NASA astronaut Anne McClain
NASA astronaut Anne McClain is pictured exercising aboard the International Space Station inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module.

The Expedition 58 astronauts explored time perception and tested a wearable body monitor aboard the International Space Station today. The orbital residents also packed a U.S. space freighter and set up tiny satellites controlled by students on Earth.

Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques started Monday in the Columbus lab module learning how microgravity affects time perception. During the experiment the crew judges time length with results compared to ground tests. Scientists hypothesize that astronauts experience time passing at a faster rate than those of us here on Earth.

McClain then spent the rest of the day with Commander Oleg Kononenko setting up and monitoring SPHERES satellites in the Kibo lab module. High school students compete to design the best algorithms that control the basketball-sized satellites to mimic spacecraft maneuvers and formation flying.

Saint-Jacques set up a wearable device called the Bio-Monitor to test its ability to measure vital signs with minimum interference during a normal day in space. The Canadian astronaut also continued packing the Cygnus cargo craft from Northrop Grumman ahead of its Feb. 8 departure from the Unity module.

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.