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.

Crew Ends Week Researching Space Physics, Biology and Time

Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor checks on plants being grown for botany research aboard the International Space Station. NASA is exploring ways to keep astronauts self-sufficient as humans learn to live longer and farther out into space and beyond low-Earth orbit.
Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor checks on plants being grown for botany research aboard the International Space Station. NASA is exploring ways to keep astronauts self-sufficient as humans learn to live longer and farther out into space and beyond low-Earth orbit.
A crew of three from around the world are heading into the weekend aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 57 trio from the United States, Russia and Germany studied a variety of space phenomena today including physics, biology and time perception.

Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor joined Commander Alexander Gerst for eye checks first thing Friday morning. The duo then split up for a science-filled day and preparations for the next U.S. cargo mission.

Serena spent most of the day in the Japanese Kibo lab module mixing protein crystal samples and stowing them in an incubator for later analysis. She moved on to a little space gardening for the VEG-03 study before stowing gear that sequences ribonucleic acid, or RNA, from unknown microbes living in the station.

Serena also found time to set up a command panel for communications with a Cygnus cargo craft when it arrives to resupply the station Nov. 18. The resupply ship from U.S. company Northrop Grumman is being packed and readied for launch atop an Antares rocket Nov. 15 at 4:49 a.m. EST. from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Gerst spent over an hour in the European Columbus lab module today researching how astronauts perceive time in space including its physical and mental impacts. The German astronaut from ESA (European Space Agency) also configured a specialized microscope for more protein crystal observations.

Flight Engineer Sergey Prokopyev from Roscosmos continued his week-long research exploring complex plasmas, or ionized gases produced by high temperatures. The Russian experiment may benefit space physics research and improve spacecraft designs. The cosmonaut also swapped fuel bottles inside the Combustion Integrated Rack to maintain ongoing flame and gas research aboard the station.

U.S., Russian Spaceships Line Up for Launch After Japanese Vessel Departs

Japanese Resupply Ship Released
Japan’s HTV-7 resupply ship is pictured after it was released from the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Both the HTV-7 and the International Space Station were orbiting about 254 miles above the Pacific Ocean and about 311 miles west of Baja California.

The Expedition 57 crew said farewell to a Japanese resupply ship Wednesday and is getting ready to welcome U.S. and Russian space freighters in less than two weeks. The trio practiced International Space Station emergency procedures this week then went on to space research and robotics training.

The U.S. company Northrop Grumman is getting its 10th Cygnus cargo craft packed and ready for launch atop an Antares rocket Nov. 15 at 4:49 a.m. EST. Russia will launch its 71st station resupply mission aboard a Progress spaceship the next day at 1:14 p.m.

Both resupply ships are due to arrive at the station Sunday Nov. 18 just 10 hours apart. The Cygnus will get there first following its head start. Commander Alexander Gerst assisted by Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor will capture the American vessel with the Canadarm2 robotic arm at 4:35 a.m. A few hours later, cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev will monitor the approach and automated docking of the Russian Progress 71 cargo craft to the Zvezda service module at 2:30 p.m.

All three crew members called down to mission controls centers in Houston and Moscow for a coordinated emergency drill. The orbital residents practiced communication and decision-making skills while maneuvering along evacuation paths and locating safety gear.

Afterward, Gerst and Serena partnered up and reviewed next Sunday’s Cygnus approach and rendezvous procedures. Gerst will command the Canadarm2 to reach out and grapple Cygnus as Serena monitors the spaceship’s telemetry and data.

Prokopyev continued his science and maintenance duties in the orbital lab’s Russian segment. The cosmonaut explored the physics of plasma-dust crystals then conducted an eye exam in conjunction with doctors on Earth. Prokopyev also photographed the inside of the Zvezda and stowed radiation detectors.

Astronauts Release Japanese Spaceship

Japanese Cargo Ship Released
Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7) is pictured moments after it was released from the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency), with back-up support from NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, used the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to release a Japanese cargo spacecraft at 11:51 a.m. EST. At the time of release, the space station was flying 254 miles over the northern Pacific Ocean. Earlier, ground controllers used the robotic arm to unberth the cargo craft.

After release, a new, small reentry capsule will be deployed from the unpiloted H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Designed by JAXA and assembled by the station crew, the conically shaped capsule measures 2 feet in height and 2.7 feet in width. The project is a technology demonstration designed to test JAXA’s ability to return small payloads from the station for expedited delivery to researchers.

HTV-7 will be a safe distance away from the space station after the last of several deorbit maneuvers. The return capsule will be ejected from a hatchway after the deorbit burn. The experimental capsule will perform a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Japan, where a JAXA ship will be standing by for its recovery.

The HTV-7 spacecraft is scheduled to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up harmlessly over the South Pacific Ocean Nov. 10.

Learn more about station activities by following @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Astronauts Ready Japanese Ship as Cosmonaut Works Russian Space Science

View of Japan from the International Space Station
This view of Japan from the International Space Station looks from north to south and encompasses the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.

Japan’s seventh resupply ship to the International Space Station is packed and readied for departure Wednesday morning. However, the Japanese cargo ship, H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7), has one more delivery mission before it burns up safely over the Pacific Ocean.

Station skipper Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the HTV-7 at 11:50 a.m. EST Wednesday. It will spend about an hour maneuvering safely away from the station on a trajectory to begin its next mission. Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor will monitor the vehicle until it reaches a point about 200 meters from the space station. NASA TV begins its live coverage of the departure Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.

The HTV-7 will fire its deorbit engines Saturday for a fiery but safe ending to its mission after 41 days attached to the station’s Harmony module. Before the HTV-7 self-destructs in Earth’s atmosphere it will release a small reentry capsule loaded with test cargo for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean near the Japanese islands. The capsule will be retrieved by personnel from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to test the space partner’s ability to safely return precious space cargo for analysis on Earth.

As the two Expedition 57 astronauts packed the cargo ship, cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev continued his space physics research, photo inspections and inventory updates. The cosmonaut explored how microgravity and the Sun impact plasma-dust crystals. Prokopyev also photographed the condition of the station’s Russian segment then updated the station’s inventory system.

Astronauts Prepare for Japanese Cargo Ship Departure

Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA monitors the arrival of the H-II Transfer Vehicle-7
Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA monitors the arrival of the H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7) before it was captured during Expedition 56 by Commander Drew Feustel operating the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

A pair of Expedition 57 astronauts trained for the release of a Japanese resupply ship Wednesday after a 41-day mission at the International Space Station. Japan’s seventh cargo ship, H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7), has one more mission though after it departs the orbital lab.

If all goes as planned, astronaut Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the HTV-7, also called the Kounotori, Wednesday at 11:50 a.m. EST. Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor will back up Gerst in the cupola monitoring the vehicle and its telemetry as it slowly backs away from the space station. The two astronauts reviewed departure procedures and practiced robotics controls on a computer today. NASA TV will broadcast live the space freighter’s departure beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Kounotori was captured Sept. 27 and delivered external station batteries and hardware to be configured during a pair of upcoming spacewalks. The resupply ship also replenished the station with advanced science experiments and equipment to benefit humans on Earth and in space.

However, it has one more payload to deliver for splashdown on Earth before the vehicle burns up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean. The HTV-7 will release a small reentry capsule packed with test cargo for retrieval by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The splashdown mission is a test of JAXA’s ability to return small payloads from space for quick delivery to researchers on Earth.

Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev worked on science and maintenance tasks throughout Monday in the orbital lab’s Russian segment. He started out researching how the space environment and solar radiation affects plasma-dust crystals. Prokopyev finished up his day photographing the condition of the Zvezda service module interior panels before disposing of obsolete hardware in the Progress 70 resupply ship.

Rocket Investigation Complete; Russia, Japan Announce Mission Updates

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched Oct. 11, 2018
The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched Oct. 11, 2018, with Expedition 57 crew members Nick Hague of NASA and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos. During the Soyuz spacecraft’s climb to orbit, an anomaly occurred, resulting in an abort downrange. The crew was quickly recovered in good condition.

NASA is working closely with its International Space Station partner Roscosmos to move forward on crew launch plans. Roscosmos plans to launch the Progress 71 resupply mission on Nov. 16, and is targeting the launch of the Expedition 58 crew including NASA astronaut Anne McClain for Dec. 3, pending the outcome of the flight readiness review.

Roscosmos completed an investigation into the loss of a Soyuz rocket last month that led to a suspension of Russian rocket launches to the station. One of four first stage rocket engines abnormally separated and hit the second stage rocket that led to the loss of stabilization of the Soyuz on Oct. 11. A statement from Roscosmos describes the cause…

“The reason for the abnormal separation is the non-opening of the nozzle cap of the “D” block oxidizer tank because of the deformation of the stem of the separation contact sensor (bending on 6 ˚ 45 ‘), which was admitted when assembling the “package” at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The cause of the LV accident is of operational nature and extends to the backlog of the “Soyuz” type LV “package”.”

Japan also announced today the release of its H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7) resupply ship, also called the Kounotori, from the station’s Harmony module. Commander Alexander Gerst will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Kounotori Nov. 7 at 10:50 a.m. EDT as Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor supports him.

Physics, Combustion and Biology Science Ahead of Station’s 20th Anniversary

The International Space Station
The International Space Station was pictured Oct. 4, 2018, from the departing Expedition 56 crew during a flyaround aboard the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft. Credit: Roscosmos/NASA

The three Expedition 57 crew members from the United States, Germany and Russia will soon be observing the 20th anniversary of the launch of the International Space Station’s first module. On Nov. 20, 1998, the Zarya cargo module was launched aboard a Russian rocket and placed into orbit beginning the era of station assembly.

In the meantime, the crew orbiting Earth since June worked on a variety of advanced science hardware today. The trio ensured the safe and ongoing research into combustion, physics and biology in microgravity to benefit humans on Earth and in space.

NASA Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor swapped cartridge holders inside the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) that explores what happens to materials exposed to extremely high temperatures. The device located in Japan’s Kibo lab module measures the thermo-physical properties of samples that are melted and solidified and difficult to observe on the ground.

Commander Alexander Gerst from ESA (European Space Agency) worked on the new Life Sciences Glovebox launched to the space station aboard a Japanese cargo ship at the end of September. He is configuring the biology research facility for service inside the Kibo lab.

Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev worked inside the U.S. Destiny lab module replacing the Combustion Integrated Rack’s (CIR) fuel bottles.  The CIR has been enabling research and observations into how fuels and flames burn in space on the orbital lab for over ten years. Results may guide the development of rocket engines and fire safety aboard spacecraft.