International Space Station

Watch What Happens to Astronauts When the International Space Station Gets an Orbital Reboost

This is reminiscent of going down slide on the playground – and then immediately getting back in line to go down again. Except in space.

Here’s what it looks like on board the International Space Station when thrusters fire for an orbital reboost. While it seems like the astronauts are moving inside the station, in in reality it is the Space Station that is moving around them. And in actuality, the acceleration doesn’t happen this fast – the video is sped up eight times. But it still looks like fun!

The data for the acceleration rate/change for this particular burn was not available, but for a previous burn with a duration of 12 minutes, 17 seconds had a Delta-V of 1.34 meters/second.

The crew seen here is Expedition 66, which includes NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn Kayla Barron and Mark Vande Hei ; ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer; Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.  

The official portrait of the seven-member Expedition 66 crew. From left are, NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn; ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer; Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov; and NASA astronauts Kayla Barron and Mark Vande Hei. Credit: NASA/ESA.

The astronauts are obviously enjoying the experience. It must feel somewhat similar to when a car or airplane accelerates – it feels like you are being pushed back into the seat, when in reality, the seat is being pushed into you by the acceleration of the vehicle.

The ISS usually orbits about 400 km (250 miles) above the Earth. But the effects of atmospheric drag can cause the station to lose as much as 100 meters a day in altitude. Therefore, regular reboosts are required, usually about once a month. There’s no real schedule of when a reboost is done, as the density of Earth’s atmosphere at those altitudes constantly changes, depending on how much energy is being fed into it by the Sun. Therefore, the orbital decay rate is not a constant.  But the ISS orbits decays faster than other satellites at a similar altitude due to its massive size and surface area.

The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on Nov. 8, 2021. Credit: NASA/ESA

Reboosts are also done to optimize the ISS’s orbital position for future visiting vehicles arriving at the station. This particular reboost was performed in March 2022 using Russia’s ISS Progress 79 cargo craft. By firing its engines for several minutes, the station was put at the proper altitude for an arriving Soyuz for the new crew members that arrived in March.  crew ship orbit rendezvous and landing operations.

NASA says that all ISS propulsion is provided by the Russian Segment and Russian cargo spacecraft.  Propulsion is used for station reboost, attitude control, debris avoidance maneuvers (as well as eventual deorbit operations) are handled by the Russian Segment and Progress cargo craft. The U.S. gyroscopes provide day-to-day attitude control or controlling the orientation of the station. Russian thrusters are used for attitude control during dynamic events like spacecraft dockings and provide attitude control recovery when the gyroscopes reach their control limits.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus is the only U.S. commercial spacecraft currently available to provide reboosts, although it is still currently in testing mode. The first Cygnus capable to performing reboosts arrived at the ISS in February 2022.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

Recent Posts

Earthlike Worlds With Oceans and Continents Could be Orbiting red Dwarfs, Detectable by James Webb

"Go then, there are other worlds than these." Or so Stephen King said in his…

13 hours ago

Construction Begins on the World’s Largest Steerable Radio Telescope

Radio astronomy has been in flux lately. With the permanent loss of the Arecibo telescope…

14 hours ago

How Does NASA Plan to Keep Samples From Mars Safe From Contamination (and Contaminating) Earth?

NASA's Mars Sample Return Mission is inching closer and closer. The overall mission architecture just…

14 hours ago

NASA's Dragonfly Helicopter Will be Exploring This Region of Titan

A research team led by Cornell recently created a map of the Dragonfly's future landing…

19 hours ago

SpaceX To Fix Hubble, DART Success, Exciting Enceladus Discoveries

Humanity moved an asteroid on purpose for the first time in history. Juno flies past…

1 day ago

Astronomers Simulate the Cat’s Eye Nebula in 3D

In a recent study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, an international…

1 day ago