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.

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.

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.

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.

Spacesuits and High-Temp, Fire Science Focus of Crew Today

The three-member Expedition 57 crew
Official crew portrait of Expedition 57 crew members (from left) Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA, Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos.

U.S. spacesuits and hot, fiery research kept the Expedition 57 crew busy Friday. The three-member crew from around the world also continued the ongoing upkeep of the International Space Station’s systems.

A pair of spacesuits inside the Quest airlock had their cooling loops scrubbed today by station Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency). The suit maintenance comes ahead of a pair of spacewalks being planned to connect new lithium-ion batteries on the space station’s port truss structure.

Fellow flight engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos worked on advanced science hardware. The two devices, the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) and the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR), enable the safe research of high temperatures, flames and gases.

Auñón-Chancellor cleaned up the ELF inside the Kibo lab module after removing samples exposed to extremely high temperatures. Scientists are observing how microgravity affects the thermophysical properties of a variety materials at different temperatures.

Prokopyev worked in the Destiny lab module replacing fuel bottles for experiments inside the CIR researching how fuels and flames burn in space. Results may guide the development of rocket engines and fire safety aboard spacecraft.

Plant Science and Solar Array Photos as Station Nears Milestone

The Aurora and the Starry Night
The aurora and the night sky above Earth’s atmosphere are pictured from the space station. A portion of the station’s solar arrays and a pair of nitrogen/oxygen recharge system tanks are pictured in the foreground.

Botany science and solar array photography were on the Expedition 57 crew’s schedule today including ongoing maintenance of the orbital lab. The research and photo surveys help scientists and engineers understand how life and International Space Station systems adapt to microgravity.

Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor is helping NASA and its international partners understand how plants grow in microgravity to promote humans living longer and farther in space. She set up the Veggie plant growth facility today to grow a variety of edible plants such as kale and lettuce inside Europe’s Columbus lab module. Botanists are also exploring how cultivating plants to provide a fresh food supply affects crew morale.

Commander Alexander Gerst started his day familiarizing himself with the botany experiment. The German astronaut from of ESA (European Space Agency) then worked throughout the day photo-documenting the station’s port side solar arrays. The photos will be downloaded so ground specialists can inspect the condition of the arrays for damage sites.

On the Russian side of the space lab, cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev checked on power supply systems inside the Zarya cargo module before moving on to science and life support work. Zarya was the first station module launched into space and will reach its 20th anniversary on Nov. 20.

Station Preps for Japan, US Ship Operations Next Month

The H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7) from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
The H-II Transfer Vehicle-7 (HTV-7) from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is viewed from one of seven windows inside the cupola, the International Space Station’s “window to the world.” The orbital complex was flying at an altitude of about 257 miles off the coast of Canada above the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The International Space Station is getting ready for Japanese and U.S. cargo ship operations next month. In the meantime, the three residents onboard the orbital lab today configured science hardware and checked out safety gear.

Serena Auñón-Chancellor from NASA worked in the Japanese Kibo laboratory today replacing gear inside a Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR). The MSPR provides a workspace that supplies power and video enabling research into a variety of smaller experiments. She spent the majority of the day working on video cable connections and swapping out a computer in the MSPR.

She and Commander Commander Alexander Gerst started Tuesday practicing wearing and using breathing gear connected to an oxygen port in the event of a space emergency. Gerst then helped out with the MSPR work before the duo moved on to packing Japan’s HTV-7 resupply ship.

Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos worked out on a treadmill today to help Russian scientists understand how the human body is impacted by exercise in microgravity. He then spent the afternoon on computer and life support maintenance.

The HTV-7 is being packed before its removal from the Harmony module with the Canadarm2 and released back into Earth. However, the vehicle has one more mission before its fiery destruction over the Pacific Ocean. The HTV-7 will also release a small reentry capsule for recovery in the Pacific Ocean by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The recovery mission is a test of the Japanese space agency’s ability to retrieve experiment samples safely and quickly from the station.

An American cargo ship is due to replenish the Expedition 57 crew a few days after the HTV-7 leaves. Northrup Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter will take a three-day trip in space before it is captured with the Canadarm2 and berthed to the Unity module. Cygnus will stay attached to the station for 86 days of cargo operations.

Genetics, Vision and Earth Studies Aboard Station Today

The Northern European countries of Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Poland
The International Space Station was orbiting 257 miles above the English Channel when this photograph was taken of the Northern European countries of Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Poland. Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle-7, or HTV-7 resupply ship, is pictured at right attached the Harmony module.

Three Expedition 57 crew members are orbiting Earth today researching RNA sequencing and eye health aboard the International Space Station. The trio from the U.S., Germany and Russia also replaced combustion research hardware and activated Earth observation gear.

Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor from NASA is helping scientists identify microbes and understand how their genetics change in space. She extracted and processed microbial samples today from swabbed station surfaces for later genetic sequencing using specialized hardware. Results will also help researchers observe how life adapts to the weightlessness of microgravity.

Auñón-Chancellor then observed and photographed samples for a protein crystal study to help doctors improve the development of disease-treating drugs. She then joined Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) for eye scans with an ultrasound device to learn how long-term missions affect vision.

Gerst started his day in the U.S. Destiny lab module replacing hardware inside the Combustion Integrated Rack that enables gas and flame studies. He later wrapped up the workday photographing how quartz and clay particles sediment in space.

Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos worked inside the Unity module setting up Earth photography gear for the long-running EarthKAM experiment. The study enables school students to remotely operate the station digital camera to photograph and download imagery of Earth landmarks such as coastlines and mountains.