Spacewalkers To Give Cargo Spacecraft A Helping Hand

Spacewalkers will replace a faulty navigational aid Friday to ensure that a cargo spacecraft in June docks safely with the  International Space Station.

Expedition 35 cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Roman Romanenko will venture into space to remove and replace a broken retroreflector on the Russian Zvezda station module.  The first spacecraft to use the new retroreflector will be the European Space Agency’s automated transfer vehicle (ATV) Albert Einstein, which is scheduled to dock with the station in June.

The ATV has a videometer on board that shoots laser beams at retroreflectors on the outside of the station. Then, the videometer analyzes the pattern of light that is returned. Based on this pattern, it navigates towards the station and in for a docking.

Albert Einstein will carry about two tons of cargo to the station, including water, oxygen, and extra fuel to boost the space station’s orbit. Tipping the scales at 44,611 pounds (20,235 kg), this ATV will be the heaviest ever lifted by an Ariane rocket.

Replacing the retroreflector won’t be the cosmonauts’ only task. They’ll retrieve an experiment, called Biorisk, that is supposed to evaluate how much microbes affect spacecraft structures. They may also take the Vinoslivost experiment (which looks at how exposed materials behave in space) back inside, depending on how much time they have.

Pavel Vinogradov during a 2006 spacewalk. Friday will mark the seventh spacewalk for the veteran Russian cosmonaut. Credit: NASA
Pavel Vinogradov during a 2006 spacewalk. Friday will mark the seventh spacewalk for the veteran Russian cosmonaut. Credit: NASA

These experiments are part of the long-term mandate of the station’s activities to study how well people and structures survive after years in space. Based on the results, engineers back on Earth can make adjustments for spacecraft under development, making them more robust for long-term missions.

Additionally, the cosmonauts plan to install the Obstanovka experiment, which will look at “space weather” in the Earth’s ionosphere. This region of the atmosphere is where auroras arise after the Sun’s particles strike the area.

Besides producing these pretty patterns, space weather has a darker side: it can cause communications shortouts or hurt satellites. That’s why NASA has the Solar Dynamics Observatory and other spacecraft keeping a close eye on the sun. The agency wants to improve space weather predictions to protect infrastructure on Earth.

You can watch Expedition 35’s first spacewalk on NASA Television at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1:30 p.m. UTC) on Friday. The cosmonauts should head outside around 10:06 a.m. EDT (2:06 p.m. UTC). This could change depending on how quickly the cosmonauts depressurize the Pirs airlock and complete their pre-spacewalk checklist.

This spacewalk will be the seventh for Vinogradov and the first for Romanenko. Including this upcoming spacewalk, there have been 167 spacewalks performed to construct the space station and do maintenance.

June 21 ATV Re-Entry: A Man-Made Fireball In The Sky

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The Johannes Kepler ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) has undocked from the International Space station and will re- enter Earth’s atmosphere on June 21st ending its mission in fiery destruction.

The ATV has been docked with the ISS since February, where it delivered supplies, acted as a giant waste disposal and boosted the orbit of the International Space Station with its engines.

The X-wing ATV delivered approximately 7 tonnes of supplies to the station and will be leaving with 1,200kg of waste bags, including unwanted hardware.

The Johannes Kepler ATV-2 approaches the International Space Station. Docking of the two spacecraft occurred on Feb. 24, 2011. Credit: NASA

On June 21st at 17:07 GMT the craft will fire its engines and begin its suicide mission, tumbling and burning up as a bright manmade fireball over the Pacific Ocean. Any leftover debris will strike the surface of the Pacific ocean at 20:50 GMT.

During the ATV’s re-entry and destruction there will be a prototype onboard flight recorder (Black Box) transmitting data to Iridium satellites, as some aspects of a controlled destructive entry are still not well known.

ESA says that this area is used for controlled reentries of spacecraft because it is uninhabited and outside shipping lanes and airplane routes. Extensive analysis by ESA specialists will ensure that the trajectory stays within safe limits.

There still are some chances to see the ISS and Johannes Kepler ATV passing over tonight, but if you in a location where you can see the south Pacific skies starting at about 20:00 GMT, keep an eye out for a glorious manmade fireball.

A shower of debris results as the ATV continues its plunge through the atmosphere. Credit: ESA

Read more about the re-entry at ESA.

No-go for ‘Fly About’ Photo-Op at Space Station

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The international partners have decided against an historic ‘fly-about’ of the International Space Station, which would have provided one-of-a-kind images of the nearly completed ISS with space shuttle Discovery and an assortment of vehicles from the different participating space agencies docked to the station.

“This morning, our Russian colleagues, after doing their own independent review processes … have determined that they are not in position to recommend doing the fly about, because this particular vehicle is what they consider a new vehicle, the Series 700 vehicle, which is in its maiden flight,” said Kenneth Todd, a manager for Mission Integration and Operations at NASA, speaking at a mission briefing this morning.

The Russians felt they didn’t have the time or opportunity to fully understand, review and work through all the risks of the request of flying the Soyuz around the ISS, an idea which was presented only recently, and after the new Soyuz had already launched to orbit.

“From a MMT perspective, we knew it was critical for all partners to go through their processes,” Todd said. “It wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping to get back, but at the same point I applaud the Russians for doing the right thing, for not disregarding their own processes and making sure they do their own due diligence the way they should. I accepted the recommendation.”

Mission Control in Houston radioed up to ISS commander Scott Kelly and STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey that the possible Soyuz fly about was a no-go, even though mission managers had already approved an extra day extension of the shuttle mission.

“We’ll now use that extra day for transfer work between the PMM (Permanent Multipurpose Module) and the ISS, to leave the station and crew in the best possible shape when Discovery undocks.” said Capcom Stan Love. “The fly about will not happen during this flight.”

The fly-about –- only proposed about two weeks ago — would have had cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka along with Kelly to undock from the Russian Poisk module in the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft, back away from the ISS so they could show the ISS in its nearly completed configuration, with the shuttle attached, along with the Russian Progress and Soyuz, the European ATV and the Japanese HTV-1.
Todd said the images would not only be historic from an aesthetic perspective, but also provide valuable engineering views and data.

“There are multiple reasons this was going to be a good thing, to do this photo documentation,” he said. “Everytime we do one of these things we learn a lot, and we get a lot of good data about our ability to do this type of function, not just on our side but on the Russian side. I don’t see our review of this as wasted time or effort, and if we ever need to do this in the future, we will have to assess that at the time.”

Todd added that they should be able to get most of the images and data they were hoping for when the shuttle undocks and departs from the ISS next week – save for the historic aspect of having a shuttle docked to the station, along with all the other visiting vehicles.

Image above: In between the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft and the space shuttle Discovery, the Permanent Multipurpose Module, attached to the station's robotic arm, is installed to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module. Image credit: NASA TV

Earlier today, the crews of STS-133 and the space station successfully installed the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, essentially storage space (a “float-in” closet – which has also been referred to as a potential Man-cave) which includes supplies. Also tucked inside is Robonaut-2, the first human-like robot to serve on board the space station.

Discovery’s landing is currently set for 11:36 am EST on Tuesday, March 8, 2011.

45 Years of Rendezvous and Docking in Space

On Thursday, the European ATV Johannes Kepler will dock with the International Space Station. Rendezvous and docking in space has been taking place for 45 years, and happened first when Gemini 8 hooked up with the Agena Target Vehicle in 1966. Most of us take for granted how two spacecraft rendezvous while in orbit, but it is a complicated procedure involving orbital mechanics, coordination between the two spacecraft, and strict timelines. Here’s a 90-second whirlwind tour of the history of docking in space – past, present and future from ESA. If you want to read more about the history rendezvous and docking, ESA’s ATV blog has a detailed look. Below is a video that describes how the ATV docks at the ISS.

Continue reading “45 Years of Rendezvous and Docking in Space”

Spectacular ATV Kepler Launch Photo Captured from Orbiting ISS

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Have you ever seen a space launch from orbit ?

Check out the spectacular launch photo (above) of the Johannes Kepler ATV streaking skyward atop an Ariane 5 rocket as captured by astronaut Paolo Nespoli from his unparalleled vantage point looking out the windows aboard the International Space Station (ISS), in orbit some 350 km above Earth.

The launch photo shows the rising exhaust trail from the rocket just minutes after blast off of the Ariane booster on Feb. 16 from the ESA rocket base in Kourou, French Guiana, South America. The rocket was still on a vertical ascent trajectory to orbit. Additional launch photos below from space and Earth.

Photo captured on 16 February 2011 from the real-time video from the Ariane 5 launcher during the flight V200 during the time of jettisoning the boosters.

The photo vividly illustrates the maturity of the European space effort since the launch base, Ariane booster rocket, Kepler payload and astronaut Nespoli all stem from Europe and are crucial to the future life of the ISS.

Ariane 5 rocket at the Launch pad at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana with Johannes Kepler ATV bolted on top prior to Feb. 16 blast off.

Kepler is set to dock at the ISS on Feb. 24 and an on time arrival is essential because of an impending orbital traffic jam.

Space Shuttle Discovery is due to link up with the ISS just six hous after Kepler if the orbiter launches according to schedule on Feb. 22.

Everything is nominal with Kepler’s spacecraft systems and orbital performance at this time say European Space Agency (ESA) officials, including the deployment of ATV’s four large solar wings.

Ariane 5 liftoff with Johannes Kepler ATV

The ATV, or Automated Transfer Vehicle, is a European built resupply vessel designed to transport essential cargo and provisions to the ISS. It is Europe’s contribution to stocking up the ISS.

Kepler is carrying carries more than seven metric tons of supplies and cargo for the ISS and will be used to reboost the outpost to a higher orbit during its planned four month mission.

“ATV is a truly European spacecraft. Flying it requires experts from ESA, partner agencies and industry across half a dozen countries,” said ESA’s Bob Chesson, Head of the Human Spaceflight Operations Department.

“Getting it built, into orbit and operating it in flight to docking requires a lot of hard work and dedication from hundreds of people.”

The ATV is named after Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the German astronomer and mathematician who is best known for discovering the laws of planetary motion. NASA also named its powerful new planet hunting space telescope after Kepler, which recently discovered the first earth sized planets orbiting inside the habitable zone.

After the shuttle is forcibly retired later this year in 2011, the very survival and continued use of the ISS will be completely dependent on a steady train of cargo and payloads lofted by unmanned resupply vessels including the ATV from Europe, HTV from Japan, Progress from Russia and commercial carriers such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences.

Photos of Ariane rockets rising exhaust trail from Feb. 16 ATV launch photographed from the ISS. Credits: ESA/ NASA

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Expedition 26 flight engineer, conducts a test run with the French/CNES neuroscientific research experiment 3D-Space (SAP) in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station.

NASA Weighs Risks of Unique Photo-Op at Space Station

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If all goes well and space shuttle Discovery arrives at the International Space Station the end of February, there will be a distinctive configuration: all the international partners will have a vehicle docked to the completed ISS. With the shuttle program about to retire, this configuration will be unique enough – this is the only time it will happen during the shuttle program — that NASA is considering putting three cosmonauts/astronauts in one of the Soyuz capsules that are docked to the station, have them undock and fly around to take pictures of the entire complex.

The Soyuz could photograph the station, showing the ISS in its final, completed configuration, with the shuttle attached, along with the Russian Progress and Soyuz, the European ATV and the Japanese HTV-1.


NASA managers, engineers and contractors are meeting today, Feb. 18 in a Flight Readiness Review to discuss the photo op. Of course, the Russian space agency would have to go along with the idea, as the task would not be insignificant.

Anytime a spacecraft undocks, there is the possibility of a problem or malfunction, and with people involved, the problems multiply fairly quickly. If for some reason the crew could not re-dock, they would have to deorbit and return to Earth, and the ISS crew would all of a sudden be reduced from six to three. Of course, the shuttle crew would be there, but their stay would be limited.

If the plans gets the OK, the crew doing the photo-op mission would ber Alexander Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka and Expedition 26 commander Scott Kelly.

Atlantis undocks after its first visit at Mir. Credit: Roscosmos/NASA

But you have to admit, the pictures and videos would be spectacular, and as things stand now, this would be the one and only chance to get a picture like this, a sort of family photo of the station and all the vehicles that support it.

The feat is not without precedence, however. The Russians took a similar photo on July 4, 1995, when the shuttle Atlantis was docked to the Mir space station, the first time a shuttle visited the Russian space station. Just before Atlantis undocked to return home, cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Nikolai Budarin undocked in a Soyuz spacecraft and photographed the shuttle’s departure from a distance of about 300 feet.
There was a computer problem during the maneuver, however, and the cosmonauts had to dock manually and everything turned out just fine. And the picture was great, too.

The NASA Twitter feed reporting from today’s FRR meeting said the decision to do the photo op will probably not be made until during the STS-133 mission. NASA management is also deciding today when the Discovery mission will actually launch – right now it is scheduled for February 24, 2011 but they are weighing waiting until February 25, as the ATV Johnnes Kepler will arrive at the ISS on the 24th about 6 hours before the shuttle is scheduled to launch. If there were any problems with the ATV, the shuttle might have to stand down.

ATV Successfully Launches to Space Station

Here’s a chance to practice your French countdown skills: watch today’s successful launch of the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle “Johannes” on a Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket blasted off on Feb. 16, 2011, carrying the “Johannes Kepler” cargo-carrying vehicle to the International Space Station. It will take eight days for the ATV to arrive and dock to the aft end of the International Space Station’s Zvezda Service Module. This is the second of ESA’s resupply vehicles, and is loaded with about seven tons of supplies and propellant for use by the six crew members on the ISS.

After yesterday’s scrub of Johannes Kepler, NASA had said that a launch of the ATV today (Wednesday) might delay the launch of space shuttle Discovery for STS-133. However, today, NASA said that might not be the case. Officials will decide Discovery’s launch date at the Flight Readiness Review on February 18. Currently, STS-133’s launch is scheduled for Feb. 24.

ATV ‘Johannes Kepler’ Launch to Space Station Delayed to Wednesday

The European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (ATV-2) “Johannes Kepler” launch that was scheduled for Tuesday Feb. 15 was scrubbed due to a technical issue on the launch pad, and the slip could affect which day space shuttle Discovery launches for STS-133. Technicians at Launch Complex 3 in Kourou, French Guiana are looking at the problem, but preliminary details indicate some erroneous data on the status of the tank levels for fuel on the Ariane 5 rocket. They will go over the data carefully and if everything looks good they try again on Wednesday, Feb. 16.

This launch slip could change the launch date for STS-133, which is now scheduled for Feb. 24. If the ATV does launch on Wednesday (or on Thursday or Friday of this week), the launch of STS-133 will move to Feb. 25. But if the ATV launch slips beyond Friday means that the STS-133 launch stays on Feb. 24.

You can watch the launch attempt on Wednesday on NASA TV, and coverage will begin at 4:15 EST (21:15 GMT), with launch time at 4:50 pm EST (21:50 GMT). This is second launch of an ATV, and the 200th Ariane 5 launch.

In the meantime, find out more about the building of the ATV in this great video from ESA.
Continue reading “ATV ‘Johannes Kepler’ Launch to Space Station Delayed to Wednesday”

A New Supply Ship for the ISS

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The International Space Station (ISS) depends on regular deliveries of food, air and water, as well as equipment and spare parts to keep the station and its occupants happy and in peak operating condition. Of course, the space shuttle brings supplies on its visits for construction and crew exchange missions, and the Russian Progress spacecraft faithfully brings supplies and equipment to the station approximately every six months. But beginning in February 2008 the ISS will have a new supply ship: Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). The first of seven planned ships, known as the “Jules Verne,” is currently undergoing fueling to ready the craft for its journey to the space station. Launch is tentatively scheduled for February 22.

The ATV pressurized cargo carrier is based on the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), (aka Leonardo, Donatello and Raffaello) which has already been carried to the station via the space shuttle as a “space barge,” transporting equipment to and from the station. The ATV, which is equipped with its own propulsion and navigation systems combines full automatic capabilities of an unmanned vehicle with human spacecraft safety requirements. Its mission in space will resemble the combination of a tugboat and a river barge.

Every 12 months or so, the ATV will haul 7.5 tons of cargo to the Station 400 km above the Earth. The ATV will launch on board a Arianne 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. An automatic navigation system will guide the ATV on a rendezvous trajectory towards ISS, to automatically dock with the station’s Russian service module. The ATV will remain docked to the station as a pressurized “waste basket” for up to six months until its final mission: a fiery one-way trip into the Earth’s atmosphere to dispose of up to 6.5 tons of station waste.

The ATV is a cylinder 10.3 meters long and 4.5 meters in diameter. The exterior is covered with an insulating foil layer on top of anti-meteorite Whipple Shields. The X-shaped extended solar arrays look like a metallic blue wings. Inside, the ATV consists of two modules, the propulsion spacecraft and the integrated cargo carrier which docks with the ISS.

The ATV’s will become especially important during the time period between after the shuttles are retired and before the next generation of US space craft, can bring supplies and crew to the station. The ESA also sees the ATVs as a way for Europe to pay its share in ISS running costs. Depending on the operational lifetime of the Space Station, ESA will build at least 7 ATVs.

Original News Source: ESA Press Release