Cygnus In Space, Next Stop Station

Cygnus Spacecraft
The Cygnus spacecraft with its cymbal-like UltraFlex solar arrays deployed was pictured departing the space station Dec. 5, 2017 during Expedition 53.

The Cygnus spacecraft’s solar arrays have deployed.

See the launch of Cygnus on Instagram

The cargo ship will rendezvous with the International Space Station on Thursday, May 24. Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Scott Tingle will grapple the spacecraft at approximately 5:20 a.m. EDT, backed by Ricky Arnold, and Drew Feustel will monitor Cygnus systems during its approach. They will use the space station’s robotic Canadarm2 to take hold of the Cygnus, dubbed the S.S. James “J.R.” Thompson. After Cygnus’ capture, ground controllers will command the robotic arm to rotate and install Cygnus onto the station’s Unity module. It is scheduled depart the space station in mid-July.

Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 3:45 a.m. Thursday, May 24. Installation coverage is set to begin at 7:30 a.m.

Science investigations aboard Cygnus on their way to the space station also include commercial and academic payloads in myriad disciplines, including:

  • The Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST), an investigation to identify unknown microbial organisms on the space station and understand how humans, plants and microbes adapt to living on the station
  • The Cold Atom Laboratory, a physics research facility used by scientists to explore how atoms interact when they have almost no motion due to extreme cold temperatures
  • A unique liquid separation system from Zaiput Flow Technologies that relies on surface forces, rather than gravity, to extract one liquid from another
  • The Ice Cubes Facility, the first commercial European opportunity to conduct research in space, made possible through an agreement with ESA (European Space Agency) and Space Applications Services.
  • The Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS) experiment is to investigate and understand the complex process of cement solidification in microgravity with the intent of improving Earth-based cement and concrete processing and as the first steps toward making and using concrete on extraterrestrial bodies.
  • Three Earth science CubeSats
    • RainCube (Radar in a CubeSat) will be NASA’s first active sensing instrument on a CubeSat that could enable future rainfall profiling missions on low-cost, quick-turnaround platforms.
    • TEMPEST-D (Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration) is mission to validate technology that could improve our understanding of cloud processes.
    • CubeRRT (CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology) will seek to demonstrate a new technology that can identify and filter radio frequency interference, which is a growing problem that negatively affects the data quality collected by radiometers, instruments used in space for critical weather data and climate studies.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus Blasts off to Resupply the Station

Cygnus Blasts Off
The Cygnus spacecraft from Orbital ATK blasts off atop the Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus cargo spacecraft lifted off at 4:44 a.m. EDT and is on its way to the International Space Station. At the time of launch, the space station was traveling at an altitude of about 250 miles, over the central south Atlantic.

See the launch on Instagram

An hour and half after launch, commands will be given to deploy the spacecraft’s UltraFlex solar arrays. Launch coverage will resume on NASA TV at http://www.nasa.gov/live at about 5:45 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 7:00 a.m.

Cygnus Rolls Out to Pad Targeting Monday Launch

The Antares rocket from Orbital ATK
The Antares rocket from Orbital ATK makes its way to the launch pad at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The Antares will launch the Cygnus spacecraft on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft that will resupply the Expedition 55 crew on the International Space Station rolled out to its launch pad Thursday night. Cygnus is now targeted to blast off atop the Antares rocket Monday at 4:39 a.m. EDT from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA TV will begin its live broadcast of the launch Monday at 4 a.m.

Orbital ATK and NASA managers moved Cygnus’ launch to no earlier than Monday to support further pre-launch inspections and more favorable weather conditions. Monday shows an 80% probability of acceptable weather for launch.

Cygnus is packed with 7,400 pounds of new science experiments, crew supplies and space station hardware. It is scheduled to arrive Thursday at the space station for its robotic capture at 5:20 a.m. NASA TV will cover the approach and rendezvous activities starting at 3:30 a.m.

Three NASA astronauts, Scott Tingle, Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel, have trained for weeks to get ready for Cygnus’ arrival on Thursday. Tingle will be operating the Canadarm2 from inside the Cupola and command the robotic arm to grapple Cygnus. Arnold will back him up on the robotics controls and Feustel will monitor Cygnus and it systems during its approach. Robotics engineers on the ground will then remotely install the commercial space freighter on the Earth-facing port of the Unity module later Thursday morning.

One of the new experiments being delivered aboard Cygnus to the orbital laboratory will study atoms frozen to a temperature 10 billion times colder than deep space. The Cold Atom Lab will observe the quantum phenomena possibly leading to advanced spacecraft navigation techniques and quantum sensors that can detect gravitational and magnetic fields.

What Does It Take To Prepare for a Spacewalk?

Astronaut Drew Feustel
NASA astronaut Drew Feustel is pictured inside a U.S. spacesuit for a fit check verification ahead of a pair of spacewalks.

The Expedition 55 crew on board the International Space Station has been working hard to prepare for Wednesday’s spacewalk, and they’ll still have a lot of difficult work ahead of them when Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel head outside the airlock. If you’ve ever wondered what makes spacewalks such a big deal, check out chapter 17 of the new NASA ebook, The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier. The book, which was written by space station flight directors, is now available to download for free at… https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.


Chapter 17: Extravehicular Activities – Building a Space Station
Planning and Training Extravehicular Activity Tasks

On paper, the tasks needed for International Space Station assembly—e.g., driving a bolt, carrying something from one place to another, taking off a cover, plugging in an electrical cord—might not seem too complex. However, conducting such tasks while wearing a spacesuit with pressurized gloves (possibly with one’s feet planted on the end of a long robotic arm), working in microgravity, maneuvering around huge structures while moving massive objects, having time constraints based on spacesuit consumables, and using specialized equipment and tools made these tasks and EVAs challenging.

Tasks such as working with cables or fluid hoses are hand-intensive work—fingers and forearms get quite a workout in pressurized gloves that feel like stiff balloons and resemble oversized garden gloves. Added to these complexities, space “walking” is mostly done with the hands. The astronaut grasps handholds and maneuvers the combination of the Extravehicular Mobility Unity, Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue, tools, and himself or herself around the structure.

The team on the ground has to come up with a choreography and order of events for the EVA, in advance. The flight control team creates the EVA timelines based on a high-level prioritized list of tasks determined by ISS management (e.g., move a specific antenna, install a particular avionics box). The flight controllers start with the top ISS priority task and assesses the other tasks that can fit into the EVA based on multiple factors such as how long the tasks will take based on past experiences, whether both crew members need to work together, task location on the ISS, how much equipment will fit into the airlock, the tools required, crew experience level, and the level of crew effort to complete the task. A task that might fit (but only if the team is efficient) is put on the list as a “get-ahead” task.

Real-time discussions in Mission Control of EVA time remaining, crew fatigue, and suit consumables could allow the get-ahead task to be accomplished in addition to the planned tasks. Some tasks are performed on a “clock”; i.e., if power is removed from an item, it might get cold and need heater power in a matter of hours or sometimes within minutes to prevent damage. While a timeline is still in a draft version, the team conducts testing as required to prove out the operations. The team then trains the crew and refines and/or changes the timeline, sometimes up to the day of the EVA.

Keep reading at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.

Cygnus Checks and Final Preps Before Wednesday’s Spacewalk

The Rio de la Plata and the Atlantic coasts of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil
The Rio de la Plata and the Atlantic coasts of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are pictured from the International Space Station.

Two NASA astronauts are finalizing their preparations ahead of Wednesday morning’s spacewalk to swap thermal control gear outside the International Space Station. The Expedition 55 crew also worked on biomedical operations, radiation checks and Cygnus communications gear.

Flight Engineers Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel checked their tools and reviewed their procedures one last time today before tomorrow’s spacewalk. The pair will work for about 6.5 hours swapping a pair of thermal control devices, known as Pump Flow Control Subassemblies, which control the circulation of ammonia keeping external station systems cool.

The veteran spacewalkers will set their spacesuit batteries to internal power Wednesday at about 8:10 a.m. EDT signaling the official start of the 210th spacewalk in space station history. NASA TV will begin its live broadcast of the activities beginning at 6:30 a.m.

Science and maintenance are always ongoing aboard the orbital lab even despite the spacewalk and cargo mission readiness activities. Feustel and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai collected their biological samples this morning and stowed them in a science freezer for later analysis. Cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev explored cardiac bioelectric activity at rest. Commander Anton Shkaplerov collected radiation measurements from dosimeters he retrieved from the orbital lab’s U.S. segment.

Orbital ATK is getting its Cygnus space freighter ready for launch Sunday at 5:04 a.m. to deliver science, supplies and hardware to the Expedition 55 crew. Astronaut Scott Tingle checked out command and communications gear that will be used when Cygnus arrives four days later on Thursday for capture at 5:20 a.m.

Captain’s Log – Week 3 on Station

Flight Engineers Scott Tingle and Joe Acaba monitor the departure of the SpaceX Dragon
Flight Engineers Scott Tingle and Joe Acaba monitor the departure of the SpaceX Dragon Commercial Resupply Services-13 (CRS-13) spacecraft through windows in the Cupola module.

  • Crew:  Captain Scott ”Maker” Tingle, USN
  • ISS Location:  Low Earth Orbit
  • Earth Date: 7 January 2018
  • Earth Time (GMT):  17:29

Week three. The time is flying by. The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is 80% loaded. This has been a big effort for the crew as well as our specialists on the ground. Tracking a large matrix of storage locations, special requirements and loading locations is a nightmare, but our team on the ground made it look easy. Our crew is becoming more versatile and now flexes between operations and science tasking with what is seemingly just a flick of a switch. I had the opportunity to set up our Microgravity Science Glovebox for the Trans-Alloy experiment. Unfortunately, the team had to abort the science run due to high temperatures in the glovebox. Tomorrow morning, we will remove the science hardware, remove the cooling plugs, and set it all back up again. Reworks like this don’t bother me, and I am happy to do what is needed to reach success. We are on, and sometimes beyond, the frontline of science where lines between science, engineering and operations become very blurry and complex. We have to be flexible!  The International Space Station (ISS) has now entered its 20th year of operations. What an engineering marvel. As with any aging program, we have accumulated an expanse of experience operating in space. As an engineering community, we are much smarter about operating in space than we were 30 years ago when we designed ISS. I will be very encouraged to see our community apply lessons learned as we create new systems to require less training, less maintenance and less logistics.

NASA astronaut Scott Tingle captures a photo of the Bahamas.
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle captures a photo of the Bahamas.

I’ve managed to take a few moments over the last week to take some pictures of Earth. Sunrises are the most beautiful part of the day. Out of total darkness, a thin blue ring begins to form that highlights the Earth’s circumference. At this moment, you can really see how thin our atmosphere is. Within a few minutes, the sun rises on station and highlights the docked vehicles while Earth just below is still in night’s shadow. A few minutes later, ISS is over brightly-lighted ground and water, providing a fresh view of the features below. The promise of a new day is real!

NASA astronaut Scott Tingle works with the Microgravity Science Glovebox
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle works with the Microgravity Science Glovebox aboard the International Space Station.

The crew managed to have a movie night last night, which provided some good fun and camaraderie. This was a welcome break from the busy routine we endure. Unfortunately, today, I woke to hear that astronaut and moonwalker John Young had passed away. And I also learned that a good friend from the Navy had passed away after a challenging battle with cancer. When he learned he had cancer two years ago, he decided to ignite the afterburners and live every day like there was no tomorrow…he was just as successful in his final days as he was in his previous 50 years. To two remarkable American heroes, thank you for all you have sacrificed and thank you for a lifetime of inspiration. Fair winds and following seas.

Busy Astronauts Ramp Up for Spacewalk and Cygnus Cargo Mission

Four Expedition 55 Astronauts
The four astronauts who comprise the six-member Expedition 55 crew pose for a portrait inside the International Space Station. They are (clockwise from bottom right) NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold, Scott Tingle and Drew Feustel and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai.

Veteran astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will embark on the 210th spacewalk Wednesday at the International Space Station to swap out thermal control gear. The experienced spacewalkers have a combined 10 spacewalks between them with Feustel having conducted seven and Arnold with a total of three.

Flight Engineer Scott Tingle assisted the duo today getting spacewalk tools ready and recharging the U.S. spacesuits inside the U.S. Quest airlock. Tingle and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai will assist the spacewalkers in and out of the airlock Wednesday and guide the duo during their tasks.

Orbital ATK will launch their Cygnus space freighter on Sunday at 5:04 a.m. EDT to resupply the Expedition 55 crew just four days after Feustel and Arnold complete their fourth spacewalk together. After a four-day trip in space, Cygnus will deliver crew supplies, station hardware and experiments exploring a variety of subjects including life science and space physics.

Arnold and Tingle practiced the robotics maneuvers today on a computer they will use to capture Cygnus after its approach and rendezvous with the station on May 24 at 5:20 a.m. NASA TV will broadcast the Cygnus launch and capture activities live at the orbital laboratory.

Captain’s Log – First Days on the Station

NASA astronaut Scott Tingle captures the view of a sunrise from the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle captures the view of a sunrise from the International Space Station.

  • Crew:  Captain Scott ”Maker” Tingle, USN
  • ISS Location:  Low Earth Orbit
  • Earth Date: 25 December 2017
  • Earth Time (GMT):  21:00

At 22:00, after initial “safing” and unpacking of Soyuz, we finally retired to our quarters. It was very hard to sleep, and I think the busy days leading us to the International Space Station (ISS) were beginning to take their toll. We were scheduled for a full day of work to include familiarization of safety equipment as well as beginning to prepare several science experiments for action. The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrived to ISS a couple days before we did, and its cargo included several experiments that needed to be conducted promptly upon arrival. I was doing a great job of floating from one module to another. Since I was a little behind schedule due to having to learn where everything is, I decided I could speed up my floating to be more expeditious. Well, we know how that usually goes and this time was no exception. I gathered a “bag of knots” (aviator slang for “going really fast”) and began a healthy transition from Node 2 into the Columbus module – where I predictably hit the top of my head. Ouch. The following three days (Tuesday-Saturday) were challenging as we worked to integrate all of our new knowledge and increase our efficiencies. The senior crew was very helpful and understanding. I was very grateful of how they managed our arrival and how they slowly passed down the information we needed to get started. Everything was different from life on Earth. Everything. We quickly figured out that we needed to think differently as we began to adapt to life in space. Drinking water, preparing food, eating food, using the toilet, working, physical training, etc., all different. I had a good handle on the differences and what to expect before I got there. But I didn’t expect that when operations got very busy that my reflexes would respond naturally as they did on Earth. The light bulb came on. I was going to have to move slower and think about everything before I took action. This is why space fliers new to this environment appear to be less efficient than most managers and/or operations planners would like. Adaptation to life in space takes time, and you can’t rush it.

Astronaut Scott Tingle watches the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrive
Astronaut Scott Tingle watches the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrive from inside the seven-windowed Cupola moments before capturing it with the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

On day three, I finally had the opportunity to look out the Cupola (window facing Earth). My Lord, what a beautiful sight. I could see the sun rising in front of us, darkness below and behind us, and a bright blue ring highlighting the curvature of the Earth as the sun began to rise. Absolutely amazing!

We wrapped up our busy week and celebrated Saturday night by enjoying some rehydrated meats and instant juices! Christmas Eve, we had a few tasks that kept us busy, and the same on Christmas Day.   Fortunately, we were able to have video conferences with our families over the holiday, and it was really nice to talk with them. We also had a very short celebration for Christmas after work was done. Our wonderful Behavioral Health Professionals at NASA had sent us Christmas stockings in the SpaceX cargo delivery. I added the small gifts that I brought for the crew – superhero socks! Mark got Hulk socks, Nemo (Norishige Kanai) got Spiderman socks, Joe got Deadpool socks, Anton got Superman socks, and Sasha and I got Batman socks. NOW, we are ready to conquer space!

Station to Orbit Higher Before Spacewalk and Crew Landing

The six-member Expedition 55 crew poses inside the Harmony module
The six-member Expedition 55 crew poses inside the Harmony module which links both the Japanese Kibo and the European Columbus laboratory modules. In the bottom row from left, are Soyuz MS-08 crew members Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold and Oleg Artemyev. In the top row from left, are Soyuz MS-07 crew members Anton Shkaplerov, Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai.

The International Space Station will be orbiting a little higher this weekend to prepare for the departure of three Expedition 55 crew members and the arrival of a new Russian cargo craft. The docked Russian Progress 69 resupply ship will fire its engines Saturday at 6:07 p.m. EDT for two minutes and 52 seconds slightly boosting the orbital lab’s altitude.

This orbital reboost sets up the proper phasing trajectory for the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft when it undocks June 3.  The Soyuz will carry Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineers Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai back to Earth after six-and-a-half month mission in space. The reboost will also enable a two-orbit launch to docking opportunity for Russia’s next resupply ship the Progress 70 in July.

Overnight and early Friday morning robotics controllers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency supported the deployment of small satellites from outside the Kibo laboratory module. The Japanese robotic arm attached to Kibo ejected several small satellites to support a series of technology demonstrations.

Two spacewalkers and a pair of Flight Engineers continued more computer training and procedure reviews today ahead of next week’s spacewalk. NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will go outside in their U.S. spacesuits Wednesday for about 6.5 hours to swap out thermal control gear that cools external station systems. Tingle and Kanai will assist the duo in and out of the Quest airlock and help choreograph the spacewalk tasks.

Captain’s Log – Launch and Docking

The Soyuz rocket is launched with Expedition 54-55 crew members
The Soyuz rocket is launched with Expedition 54 Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Scott Tingle of NASA, and flight engineer Norishige Kanai of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Shkaplerov, Tingle, and Kanai will spend the next five months living and working aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

  • Crew:  Captain Scott “Maker” Tingle, USN
  • ISS Location:  Low Earth Orbit
  • Earth Date: 19 December 2017
  • Earth Time (GMT):  21:00

The launch went as planned. Our Soyuz spacecraft did a great job getting the three of us to the International Space Station (ISS).

A week later, it all seems like a blur. The bus driver played me a video of my family and friends delivering their good luck messages. After exiting the bus at the launch pad, I was fortunate to have the Soyuz chief designer (Roman) and NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier) walk me to the stairs and elevator that would take us to the top of the rocket for boarding. The temperature at the pad was approximately -17 degrees centigrade, and we were wearing the Russian Polar Bear suits over our spacesuits in order to stay warm. Walking in these suits is a little hard, and I was happy to have Roman and Bill helping me. We walked into the fog created by the systems around the rocket, climbed the ladder, and waved goodbye. My last words before launch were to Bill, “Boiler Up!”. Bill is a fellow and very well-known Boilermaker. We strapped in, and the launch and docking were nominal. But I will add that the second stage cutoff and separation, and ignition of the third stage was very exciting. We were under approximately 4 Gs when the engine cutoff, which gave us a good jolt forward during the deceleration and then a good jolt back into the seat after the third stage ignited. I looked at Anton and we both began to giggle like school children.

Commander Alexander Misurkin welcomes Flight Engineer Scott Tingle
International Space Station Commander Alexander Misurkin welcomes newly arrived Flight Engineer Scott Tingle following Soyuz spacecraft hatch opening.

We spent two days in orbit as our phase angle aligned with ISS. Surprisingly, I did not feel sick. I even got 4 hours of sleep the first night and nearly 6 hours the second night. Having not been able to use my diaper while sitting in the fetal position during launch, it was nice to get out of our seats and use the ACY (Russian toilet). Docking was amazing. I compared it to rendezvousing on a tanker in a fighter jet, except the rendezvous with ISS happened over a much larger distance. As a test pilot, it was very interesting to watch the vehicle capture and maintain the centerline of ISS’s MRM-1 docking port as well as capturing and maintaining the required speed profile. Just like landing at the ship, I could feel the vehicle’s control system (thrusters) making smaller and faster corrections and recorrections. In the flight test world, this is where the “gains” increase rapidly and where any weaknesses in the control system will be exposed. It was amazing to see the huge solar arrays and tons of equipment go by my window during final approach. What an engineering marvel the ISS is. Smooth sailing right into the docking port we went!

About an hour later, after equalizing pressures between the station and Soyuz, we opened the hatch and greeted our friends already onboard. My first view of the inside of the space station looked pretty close to the simulators we have been training in for the last several years. My first words were, “Hey, what are you guys doing at Building 9?”. Then we tackled each other with celebratory hugs!