Russian-American Trio Blasts Off and Boards International Space Station After Fast Track Trajectory

The Soyuz MS-06 rocket blasts off with the Expedition 53-54 crew towards the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 (Wednesday, Sept. 13, Kazakh time). Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Barely a week and a half after the thrilling conclusion to the record breaking space endurance mission by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, a new Russian-American trio blasted off for the International Space Station (ISS) on a Russian Soyuz capsule and boarded safely early this morning Wednesday, Sept. 13, after arriving as planned on a fast track orbital trajectory.

NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos launched aboard the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan overnight at 5:17 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, (2127 GMT), or 3:17 a.m. Baikonur time Wednesday, Sept. 13, on the Expedition 53 mission.

Following the flawless launch and achieving orbit the three man crew executed a perfect four orbit, six hour rendezvous and arrived at the orbiting laboratory complex at 10:55 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Sept. 12, (or Wednesday, Sept. 13, Kazakh time) where they will carry out a jam packed schedule of scientific research in a wide array of fields.

The entire launch sequence aboard the Soyuz rocket performed flawlessly and delivered the Soyuz capsule to its targeted preliminary orbit eight minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff followed by the opening of the vehicles pair of life giving solar arrays and communications antennas.

The whole event from launch to docking was broadcast live on NASA TV.

Soyuz reached the ISS after a rapid series of orbit raising maneuvers over four orbits and six hours to successfully complete all the rendezvous and docking procedures to attach to the station at the Russian Poisk module.

“Contact! We have mechanical contact,” radioed Misurkin.

The Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos is seen on the right approaching the International Space Station on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. The spacecraft docked to the station at 10:55 p.m. EDT. Credits: NASA Television

After conducting leak and safety checks the new trio opened the hatches between the Soyuz spacecraft and station at 1:08 a.m. EDT this morning, Sept. 13 and floated into the million pound orbiting outpost.

The arrival of Vande Hei, Acaba and Misurkin restores the station’s multinational habitation to a full complement of six astronaut and cosmonaut crewmembers.

They join Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency).

The station had been temporarily reduced to a staff of three for 10 days following the departure of the Expedition 52 crew including record setting Whitson, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and veteran cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos.

This is the rookie flight for Vande Hei, the second for Misurkin and the third for Acaba. They will remain aboard the station for a planned five month long ISS expedition continuing into early 2018.

Vande Hei was selected as an astronaut in 2009. Misurkin previously flew to the station on the Expedition 35/36 increments in 2013. Acaba was selected as an astronaut in 2004. He flew on space shuttle mission STS 119 and conducted two spacewalks – as well as on the Expedition 31/32 increments in 2012 and has logged a total of 138 days in space.

Originally the Soyuz MS-06 was only to fly with a two person crew – Vande Hei and Misurkin after the Russians decided to reduce their cosmonaut crew from three to two to save money.

Acaba was added to the crew only in March of this year when NASA and Roscosmos brokered an agreement to fill the empty seat with a NASA astronaut, under an arrangement worked out for 5 astronauts seats on Soyuz through a procurement by Boeing, as compensation for an unrelated matter.

The Russian cosmonaut crew cutback enabled Whitson’s mission extension by three months and also proved to be a boon for NASA and science research. It enabled the US/partner USOS crew complement to be enlarged from three to four full time astronauts much earlier than expected.

This allowed NASA to about double the weekly time devoted to research aboard station – a feat not expected to happen until America’s commercial crew vehicles, namely Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon – finally begin inaugural launches next year from the Kennedy Space Center in mid-2018.

With Acaba and Vande Hei now on orbit joining Bresnik and Nespoli, the USOS crew stands at four and will continue.

The six crewmembers will carry out research supporting more than 250 experiments in astrophysics, biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.

“During Expedition 53, researchers will study the cosmic ray particles, demonstrate the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in microgravity, investigate targeted therapies to improve muscle atrophy and explore the abilities of a new drug to accelerate bone repair,” says NASA.

Among the key investigations involves research on cosmic ray particles reaching Earth using ISS-CREAM, examining effects on the musculoskeletal system and exploring targeted therapies for slowing or reversal of muscle atrophy with Rodent Research 6 (RR-6), demonstrating the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment with the Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity (Made in Space Fiber Optics) hardware, and working on drugs and materials for accelerating bone repair with the Synthetic Bone experiment to develop more effective treatments for patients with osteoporosis.

Expedition 53 Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Soyuz Commander Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 (Wednesday, Sept. 13, Kazakh time), and arrived at the International Space Station at 10:55 p.m. to begin their 5.5-month mission aboard the station. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Bresnik, Ryazanskiy and Nespoli are scheduled to remain aboard the station until December. Whereas Vande Hei, Acaba and Misurkin are slated to return in February 2018.

Watch this cool Roscosmos video showing rollout of the Soyuz rocket to the Baikonur launch pad and erection in advance of launch. Credit: Roscosmos

Meanwhile one of the first tasks of the new trio will be to assist with the departure of the SpaceX Dragon CRS-12 spacecraft upcoming this Sunday, Sept 17.

Dragon will be detached from the Harmony module using the stations Canadian-built robotic arm on Sunday and released for a splashdown and retrieval in the Pacific Ocean Sunday morning. It is carrying some hardware items as well as scores of science samples.

SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

NASA TV will cover the release activities beginning Sunday at 4:30 a.m. EDT.

Visiting vehicle configuration at the International Space Station (ISS) after arrival of the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft on Sept. 12, 2017. Credit: NASA

Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

The space station’s Expedition 53 crew members are (from left) Joe Acaba, Alexander Misurkin, Mark Vande Hei, Sergey Ryazanskiy, Commander Randy Bresnik and Paolo Nespoli. Credit: NASA
Expedition 53 Crew Insignia

NASA’s Peggy Whitson Safely Returns Home in Soyuz from Record Breaking Stay in Space

The Soyuz MS-04 vehicle is pictured the moment it touches down with the Expedition 52 crew inside comprising NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fisher and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos on Sept. 3, 2017, Kazakhstan time. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA’s Peggy Whitson, America’s most experienced astronaut, returned to Earth safely and smiling Sunday morning on the steppes of Kazakhstan, concluding her record-breaking stay in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) along with Soyuz crewmates Jack Fischer of NASA and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos.

The multinational trio touched down softly on Earth inside their Soyuz MS-04 descent capsule on Saturday evening, Sept. 2 at 9:21 p.m. EDT (shortly after sunrise 7:21 a.m. Kazakhstan time, Sept. 3), some 90 miles southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

Whitson wrapped up a 288-day extended mission in obviously good health that began in November 2016, spanning 122.2 million miles and 4,623 orbits of Earth – completing her third long-duration stay on the orbiting science outpost spanning Expeditions 50, 51 and 52.

“A flawless descent and landing,” said NASA commentator Rob Navias during the live NASA TV coverage of the return of the ISS Expedition 52 crew Saturday afternoon and evening US time.

“The crew is back on Earth safe and sound.”

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, and NASA astronaut Jack Fischer undergo routine initial medical checks after returning from their mission aboard the International Space Station at 9:21 p.m. EDT Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 (7:21 a.m. Kazakhstan time, Sunday, Sept. 3), landing southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. Credits: NASA TV

She has now accrued a total of 665 days in space – more than any American astronaut – over the course of her illustrious career during which she set multiple U.S. space records spanning a total of three spaceflights.

Whitson’s 665 total accumulated days in space places her eighth on the all-time space endurance list – just 8 days behind her Russian crewmate and Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin who now ranks 7th on the all-time list with 673 days in space on his five flights. She has exceeded the endurance record of her next closest NASA competitor by 131 days – namely NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.

The remarkable 57-year-old Ph.D biochemist by training has spent nearly 2 years of her entire life in space and she holds several other prestigious records as well – including more accumulated time in space than any other woman and the longest single spaceflight by a women – 288 days!

During this mission Whitson became the first woman to serve twice as space station commander. Indeed in 2008 Whitson became the first woman ever to command the space station during her prior stay on Expedition 16 a decade ago. Her second stint as station commander this mission began earlier this year on April 9.

Whitson also holds the record for the most spacewalks and the most time spent spacewalking by a female astronaut. Altogether she has accumulated 60 hours and 21 minutes of EVA time over ten spacewalks -ranking her third most experienced in the world.

Notably Soyuz Commander Yurchikhin ranks fourth in spacewalking experience. Only Russia’s Anatoly Solovyev and NASA’s Michael Lopez-Alegria have more spacewalking time to their credit.

NASA’s Jack Fischer completed his rookie spaceflight accumulating 136 days in space aboard the ISS.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson is pictured May 12, 2017, during the 200th spacewalk at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Whitson originally launched to the ISS on Nov 17, 2016 aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, as part of the three person Expedition 50 crew including flight engineers Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).

Her flight was unexpectedly extended in flight after the Russian government decided to cut back on the number of space station crew cosmonauts this year from three to two to save money. Thus a return seat became available on this Soyuz MS-04 return flight after NASA negotiated an extension with Rosmoscos in April enabling Whitson to remain on board the orbiting outpost an additional three months beyond her than planned June return home.

Whitson’s mission extension proved to be a boon for NASA and science research enabling the US/partner USOS crew complement to be enlarged from three to four full time astronauts much earlier than expected. This allowed NASA to about double the weekly time devoted to research aboard station – a feat not expected to happen until America’s commercial crew vehicles, namely Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon – finally begin inaugural launches next year from the Kennedy Space Center in mid-2018.

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson after safe return to Earth on Sept. 2, 2017 ET. Credit: NASA

Descending dramatically while hanging below a single gigantic orange-and-white parachute the scorched Russian Soyuz vehicle fired its braking rockets just moments before touchdown in Kazakhstan to cushion the crew for a gentle landing under beautifully sunny skies.

A live NASA TV video feed captured the thrilling descent for over 14 minutes after the main parachute deployed all the way to the ground under clear blue sunny Sunday morning weather conditions and comfortably local Kazakh temperatures of 77 degrees F.

“Everything today went in perfect fashion from the undocking, to the deorbit burn to landing,” said Navias. “It went by the book with no issues.”

“We saw a spectacular 14 minute long live video of the Soyuz descent and landing.”

The Soyuz MS-04 carrying NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer and Fyodor Yurchikin of Roscosmos back to Earth from the International Space Station touched down at at 9:21 p.m. EDT Saturday, Sept. 2 (7:21 a.m. Kazakhstan time, Sunday, Sept. 3), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. Credits: NASA TV

Russian search and recovery forces quickly arrived via a cluster of MI-8 helicopters after the soft landing to begin their normal procedures to extract the three Expedition 52 crew members from their cramped Soyuz descent module.

Soyuz Commander Yurchikhin in the center seat was hauled out first, followed by Fischer in the left side seat and lastly Whitson in the right seat. All 3 were placed on reclining seats sitting side by side and appeared quite well, conversing and speaking via satellite phones.

A group of Russian and US medical teams were on hand to check the astronauts and cosmonauts health and help the crewmates begin readapting to the tug of Earth’s gravity they have not experienced after many months of weightlessness in space.

Whitson’s final planned news conference from space with the media to sum up her experiences this past Wednesday had to be cancelled due to the catastrophic flooding events from Hurricane Harvey impacting Houston and elsewhere in Texas – including Mission Control which was forced to close multiple days.

The crews had bid their final farewells earlier and closed the hatches between the Soyuz and station at 2:40 p.m. EDT Saturday.

After conducting final spacecraft systems checks the trio unhooked the latches and undocked from the International Space Station at 5:58 p.m. EDT to begin their voyage home through the scorching heats of reentry in the Earth’s atmosphere that reached over 2500 degrees F (1400 degrees C) on the outside.

“While living and working aboard the world’s only orbiting laboratory, Whitson and Fischer contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science, welcomed several cargo spacecraft delivering tons of supplies and research experiments, and conducted a combined six spacewalks to perform maintenance and upgrades to the station,” said NASA.

“Among their scientific exploits, Whitson and Fischer supported research into the physical changes to astronaut’s eyes caused by prolonged exposure to a microgravity environment. They also conducted a new lung tissue study that explored how stem cells work in the unique microgravity environment of the space station, which may pave the way for future stem cell research in space.”

“Additional research included an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment, and the study of plant physiology and growth in space using an advanced plant habitat. NASA also attached the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass Investigation (ISS CREAM) on the outside of the space station in August, which is now observing cosmic rays coming from across the galaxy.”

Astronaut Peggy Whitson signs her autograph near an Expedition 50 mission patch attached to the inside the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

ISS Expedition 53 began at the moment of undocking from the space station, now under the command of veteran NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik since the official change of command ceremony on Friday.

Along with his crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), the three-person crew will operate the station for the next 10 days until the imminent arrival of three new crew members.

The station will get back to a full complement of six crewmembers after the upcoming Sept. 12 launch and fast track 4 orbit 6 hour docking of NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos aboard the next Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft departing from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile the next launch from the Kennedy Space Center is slated for this Thursday, Sept.7 is the SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the USAF X-37B OTV-5 military mini-shuttle to low Earth orbit -detailed here.

Peggy Whitson set the record on Sept. 2, 2017, for most cumulative days living and working in space by a NASA astronaut at 665 days. Credit: NASA
Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA, Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA float through the Harmony module of the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite X-37B OTV-5 and NASA mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Ken Kremer

Soyuz has split into 3 modules 139.8 km above Earth. Crew parachutes to landing inside Descent Module at 9:22 pm ET Sept. 2, 2017. Credit: NASA
Expedition 52 crew returns to Earth Sept. 2, 2017. Credit: NASA
Peggy Whitson @AstroPeggy is 3rd place all-time for cumulative spacewalk time with 10 spacewalks totaling 60 hours, 21 minutes. Credit: NASA

Veteran Multinational Trio Launches on Soyuz and Arrives at International Space Station

The Soyuz MS-05 rocket is launched with Expedition 52 flight engineer Sergei Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, flight engineer Randy Bresnik of NASA, and flight engineer Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), Friday, July 28, 2017 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

An all veteran multinational trio of astronauts and cosmonauts rocketed to orbit aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule and safely arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) after a fast track rendezvous on Friday, July 28.

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) docked at the orbiting outpost at 5:54 p.m. EDT (2154 GMT) Friday just six hours after departing our Home Planet.

The three crewmates launched aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan during a typically hot mid-summers night at 9:41 p.m. Baikonur time, or 11:41 a.m. EDT, 1541 GMT, as the booster and Baikonur moved into the plane of the space station’s orbit. They blasted to space from the same pad as Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.

The entire launch sequence aboard the Soyuz rocket performed flawlessly and delivered the Soyuz capsule to its targeted preliminary orbit flowing by the planned opening of the vehicles solar arrays and antennas.

The Russian Soyuz MS-05 carrying NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) docked to the International Space Station at 5:54 p.m. on Friday, July 28, 2017. Credits: NASA Television

Following a rapid series of orbit raising maneuvers, the Soyuz reached the ISS after 4 orbits and six hours to successfully complete all the rendezvous and docking procedures.

The Soyuz docked at the Earth-facing Russian Rassvet module as the spaceships were flying some 250 mi (400 km) over Germany.

The Soyuz MS-05 rocket is launched with Expedition 52 flight engineer Sergei Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, flight engineer Randy Bresnik of NASA, and flight engineer Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), Friday, July 28, 2017 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Following the standard pressurization and leak checks, the hatches between the spacecraft and station were opened from inside the ISS at about 9:45 p.m. EDT.

The new trio of Bresnik, Ryazanskiy and Nespoli then floated one by one from the Soyuz into the station and restored the outpost to a full strength crew of six humans.

The veteran space flyers join Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer of NASA who are already serving aboard.

Thus begins Expedition 52 aboard the million pound orbiting science complex.

The Soyuz MS-05 rocket is launched with Expedition 52 flight engineer Sergei Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, flight engineer Randy Bresnik of NASA, and flight engineer Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), Friday, July 28, 2017 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

This is the second space flight for both Bresnik and Ryazanskiy and the third for Nespoli.

Bresnik previously flew to the space station as a member of the STS-129 space shuttle Atlantis mission in November 2009. The 10 day mission delivered two Express Logistics Carriers (ELC racks) to the space station as part of approximately 30,000 pounds of replacement parts.

Bresnik performed two spacewalks for a total of 11 hours and 50 minutes during the STS-129 mission. He is slated to take command of the ISS as a member of Expedition 53.

The six person crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis walk out from crew quarters at 10:38 AM to greet the cheering crowd of media and NASA officials and then head out to pad 39 A to strap in for space launch with hours. Randy Bresnik is third from left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The new Expedition 52 crew will spend a four and a half month stint aboard the station and continue over 250 ongoing science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

Bresnik, Ryazanskiy and Nespoli are slated to stay aboard until returning to Earth in December.

Whitson, Fischer and Yurchikhin are in the home stretch of their mission and will retun to Earth in September. Shortly after their departure, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will launch on the next Soyuz from Kazakhstan to join the Expedition 53 crew.

Whitson is the most experienced US astronaut with time in space. Her record setting cumulative time in space will exceed 600 days and include a 9 month stay on this flight upon her return to Earth.

She most recently launched to the ISS last year on Nov 17, 2016 aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. This is her 3rd long duration stay aboard the station.

Whitson also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut. Altogether she has accumulated 53 hours and 23 minutes of EVA time over eight spacewalks.

The newly-expanded Expedition 52 crew expect to welcome a pair of unmanned US cargo ships carrying new research experiments and supplies, namely the SpaceX Dragon as soon as August and Orbital ATK Cygnus a month or two later, on NASA-contracted commercial resupply missions.

The SpaceX CRS-12 mission will carry investigations ”the crew will work on including a study developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation of the pathology of Parkinson’s disease to aid in the development of therapies for patients on Earth. The crew will use the special nature of microgravity in a new lung tissue study to advance understanding of how stem cells work and pave the way for further use of the microgravity environment in stem cell research. Expedition astronauts also will assemble and deploy a microsatellite investigation seeking to validate the concept of using microsatellites in low-Earth orbit to support critical operations, such as providing lower-cost Earth imagery in time-sensitive situations such as tracking severe weather and detecting natural disasters.”

Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Soyuz Launches and Fast Track Docks to ISS with Russian-American Duo

The Soyuz MS-04 rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan April 20, 2017, carrying Expedition 51 Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA into orbit to begin their four and a half month mission on the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A new Russian/American duo has arrived at the International Space Station this morning, April 20, after a six-hour flight following their successful launch aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule on a fast track trajectory to the orbiting outpost.

The two person international crew comprising NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos launched aboard a Russian Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. (1:13 p.m. Baikonur time).

After orbiting the Earth just four times on a planned accelerated trajectory they reached the station six hours later and safely docked at the station at 9:18 a.m. EDT.

“We have contact and capture confirmed at the space station at 9:18 am EDT,” said the NASA Houston mission control commentator.
The station and Soyuz vehicles were flying some 250 mi (400 km) over the northern Atlantic at the time of docking.

The dynamic duo of Yurchikhin and Fischer join three Expedition 51 crew members already onboard – Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).

Thus the overall station crew complement of astronauts and cosmonauts increases to five – from the US, Russia and France – representing their respective space agencies and countries.

Jack Fisher is a rookie space flyer whereas Yurchikhin is an accomplished veteran on this his 5th mission to orbit.

Expedition 51 Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA wave farewell prior to boarding the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft for launch April 20, 2017, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Prior to docking the crew accomplished an approximately 10 min flyaround inside the Soyuz shortly before sunrise and beautyfully backdropped by earth towards the end at a distance of roughly several hundred meters away.

All Soyuz systems performed as planned for what was an entirely automated rendezvous and docking using the Russian KURS docking system. The crew could have intervened if needed.

The new pair of Expedition 51 crew members will spend about four and a half months aboard the station during their increment.

They will be very busy conducting approximately 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

And there will be no time to rest! Because this week’s just launched unpiloted ‘SS John Glenn’ Cygnus resupply ship is eagerly awaiting its chance to join the station and deliver nearly 4 tons of science experiment, gear and crew provisions to stock the station and further enhance its research output.

Orbital ATK’s seventh Cygnus cargo delivery flight to the station – dubbed OA-7 or CRS-7 – launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station -in tribute to John Glenn- launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT April 18, 2017, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SS John Glenn is expected to arrive at the station early Saturday morning on April 22.
Expedition 51 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA and Peggy Whitson of NASA will use the space station’s Canadian-built robotic arm to grapple Cygnus, about 6:05 a.m. Saturday.

They will use the arm to maneuver and berth the unmanned vehicle to the Node-1 Earth-facing nadir port on the Unity module.

“Investigations arriving will include an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment and an advanced plant habitat for studying plant physiology and growth of fresh food in space,” says NASA.

“Another new investigation bound for the U.S. National Laboratory will look at using magnetized cells and tools to make it easier to handle cells and cultures, and improve the reproducibility of experiments. Cygnus also is carrying 38 CubeSats, including many built by university students from around the world, as part of the QB50 program. The CubeSats are scheduled to deploy from either the spacecraft or space station in the coming months.”

Cygnus will remain at the space station for about 85 days until July before its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of several thousand pounds of trash.

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Russian Progress Cargo Ship Launch Failure Deals Setback to ISS

The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA TV
The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan but failed to reach orbit minutes later. Credit: NASA TV

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – An unmanned Russian Progress resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) was lost shortly after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday when its Soyuz booster suffered a catastrophic anomaly in the third stage, and the craft and its contents were totally destroyed.

The Russian launch failure deals somewhat of a setback to the ever ongoing efforts by all the space station partners to keep the orbiting outpost well stocked with critical supplies of food and provisions for the multinational six person crew and science experiments to carry out the research activities for which the station was assembled.

The three stage Soyuz-U rocket failed in flight around six and a half minutes after what had been an otherwise flawless nighttime liftoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time), Thursday, Dec. 1.

Telemetry from the Progress 65 vehicle, also known as Progress MS-04, stopped after 382 seconds of flight while soaring about 190 km over the southern Russian Republic of Tyva.

“The Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed a Progress cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station and her six person crew has lost shortly after launch,” said NASA.

“According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva,” said Roscosmos in a statement.

The Progress vehicle burned up during the resulting and unplanned fiery plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere.

This was the second failure of a Russian Progress launch in the past two years. The last failure took place in April 2015 when the third stage separation failed – sending the vehicle spinning wildly out of control and destroying the Progress 59 freighter.

Per protocol, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has formed a state commission to investigate the accident, seek out the root cause and implement measures to prevent such failures in the future.

“The first few minutes of flight were normal, but Russian flight controllers reported telemetry data indicating a problem during third stage operation. The Russians have formed a State Commission and are the source for details on the specific failure cause,” NASA said.

Crew launches on a different version of the Soyuz rocket were delayed and put on hold several months following last year’s Progress 59 failure and accident investigation.

Despite the failure there was no immediate impact on the current Expedition 50 crew and life goes on.

“The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew,” said Roscosmos.

“The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station,” NASA reported.

Currently there is a satisfactory level of supplies.

“Six crew members living aboard the space station are safe and have been informed of the mission’s status. Both the Russian and U.S. segments of the station continue to operate normally with onboard supplies at good levels.”

However the continued useful utilization of the million pound station is totally dependent on receiving a steady train of supplies from Earth – comprising Russian, US and Japanese cargo freighters launching multiple times per year.

The Progress 65 cargo freighter was jam packed with 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew, including approximately 1,400 pounds of propellant, 112 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water, and 2,750 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware.

The Russian Progress 62 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on July 1, 2016.  Credits: NASA
The Russian Progress 62 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station on July 1, 2016. Credits: NASA

The Progress was carrying a few items from NASA but they are all replaceable, says NASA. The US items packed on board included spare parts for the station’s environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and crew clothing.

Had all gone well, Progress 65 would have docked to the rear port of the space station’s Russian Zvezda Service Module at 11:43 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3.

Japan is all set to launch the next cargo flight to the ISS on Friday, Dec. 9 when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) HTV-6 resupply ship will blast off atop the H-II rocket.

The most recent US commercial cargo launch to the ISS took place on Oct. 17 with blastoff of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket from NASA Wallops in Virginia, which delivered the Cygnus OA-5 resupply freighter to orbit. It docked to the ISS on Oct 23.

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

The next US cargo launch could be either an Orbital ATK Cygnus launch atop a ULA Atlas V in March 2017 or a SpaceX Dragon launch perhaps in Jan 2017.

The US has also suffered ISS cargo launch failures from both of the commercial resupply providers; SpaceX on the Dragon CRS-7 mission in Jun 2015 and Orbital ATK on the Cygnus Orb-3 mission in October 2014.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The cargo ships function as a railroad to space and function as the lifeline to keep the station continuously crewed and functioning. Without periodic resupply by visiting vehicles from the partner nations the ISS cannot continue to operate.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Flawless Shakedown Mission from Modified Soyuz Delivers Multinational Crew to Space Station

Three newly arrived crew of Expedition 48 in Soyuz MS-01 open the hatch and enter the International Space Station after docking on July 9, 2016.  Credit: NASA TV
Three newly arrived crew of Expedition 48 in Soyuz MS-01 open the hatch and enter the International Space Station after docking on July 9, 2016. Credit: NASA TV

A flawless shakedown mission from Russia’s newly modified Soyuz capsule successfully delivered a new multinational crew to the Space Station early Saturday, July 9 after a two day orbital chase.

The upgraded Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launching on its maiden flight successfully docked to the International Space Station at 12:06 a.m. EDT Saturday, July 9, while soaring 254 statute miles over the South Pacific.

“Docking confirmed,” said a commentator from Russian mission control at Korolev outside Moscow. “Contact and capture complete.”

The Soyuz was ferrying the new multinational trio of astronauts and cosmonauts comprising Kate Rubins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on the Expedition 48/49 mission.

The three person crew of two men and one woman had launched flawlessly into picture perfect skies two days earlier from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 6 (7:36 a.m. Baikonur time, July 7), in the brand new version of the Russian Soyuz capsule that has been significantly upgraded and modified.

NASA’s Kate Rubins was strapped into the right seat, Ivanishin in the center and Onishi on the left.

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft, carrying three Expedition 48-49 crew members, launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 6, 2016 (7:36 a.m. Baikonur time, July 7).  Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft, carrying three Expedition 48-49 crew members, launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 6, 2016 (7:36 a.m. Baikonur time, July 7). Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

It was a textbook approach on the shakedown mission that culminated in a flawless docking at the Earth-facing Russian Rassvet module on the Russian side of the massive orbiting outpost.

NASA TV carried the whole operation live with beautiful color video imagery streaming from the ISS showing the Soyuz approach and black and white video streaming from the Soyuz.

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft is viewed from the International Space Station as it approaches the Rassvet module docking port. Credit: NASA TV
The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft is viewed from the International Space Station as it approaches the Rassvet module docking port. Credit: NASA TV

The Soyuz performed magnificently. All of the upgraded and modified systems checked out perfectly on this maiden flight of the new version of Russias venerable Soyuz, said NASA commentator Rob Navias.

“All new systems functioning perfectly,” said Navias. “This has been a perfect shakedown mission for the new Soyuz crew docking at the ISS.”

The Soyuz had slowed to an approach velocity of just 0.1 m/s at docking with the forward docking probe extended.

The approach was fully automated under Russian mission control as Ivanishin carefully monitored all spacecraft systems with steady update calls back to ground control.

The fully automated approached utilized the upgraded KURS NA automated rendezvous radar system.

During final approach, the Soyuz conducted a fly around maneuver starting at a distance of 400 meters. It moved 57 degress around the station while closing in to about 250 meters.

After station keeping for about 2 minutes while ground controllers conducted a final evaluation and no issues were detected, Russian mission control at last gave the GO for final approach and the GO command for docking was given.

The Soyuz made contact and completed a perfect docking at Rassvet. The hook and latches were then closed in for a tight grasp onto the station.

The crews then conducted a series of leak and pressurization checks.

After everything checked out, the hatches were finally opened about two and a half hours later at 2:26 a.m. EDT.

The new crew members of Expedition 48 officially floated aboard the International Space Station at about 2:50 a.m. EDT, July 9 with the hatches opened between their Soyuz MS-01 and the space station and after a live video transmission link had been established to show the festivities.

The new six-member Expedition 48 crew join each other for well wishes and congratulations from family, friends and mission officials. In front, from left, are the new crew members Kate Rubins, Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi. In the back row are Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and Commander Jeff Williams. Credit: NASA TV
The new six-member Expedition 48 crew join each other for well wishes and congratulations from family, friends and mission officials. In front, from left, are the new crew members Kate Rubins, Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi. In the back row are Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and Commander Jeff Williams. Credit: NASA TV

They were welcomed aboard with hugs and joined the Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos.

With the arrival of Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi, the stations resident crew is beefed up to its normal six person crew complement.

They soon held the traditional video telecon for well wishes and congratulations from family, friends and mission officials.

The new trio will spend at least four months at the orbiting lab complex conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.

Rubins is on her rookie space mission. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a doctorate in cancer biology which will be a big focus of her space station research activities.

The new trio will join Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos.

“The approximately 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations – not possible on Earth – will advance scientific knowledge of Earth, space, physical, and biological sciences. Science conducted on the space station continues to yield benefits for humanity and will enable future long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space, including the agency’s Journey to Mars,” says NASA.
The newly upgraded Soyuz offers increased reliability and enhanced performance.

Many changes were instituted including enhanced structural performance to minimize chances of micrometeoroid penetration. Engineers also added a fifth battery for more power and storage capacity. The solar arrays are also about one square meter larger and the efficiency of the solar cells increased about 2 percent.

Also a more modern command and telemetry system to interact with a new series of new Russian communications satellites that will offer greatly increased the coverage by ground control. This was previously only about 20 minutes per orbit while over Russian ground stations and will now increase up to 45 to 90% of orbital coverage via the Russian comsat system.

A phased array antenna was also added with increased UHF radio capability in the Soyuz descent module that now also include a GPS system to improve search and rescue possibilities.

The newly upgraded KURS rendezvous radar system will weigh less, use less power and overall will be less complicated. For example it doesn’t have to be moved out of the way before docking. Weighs less and uses less power.

New approach and attitude control thrusters were installed. The new configuration uses 28 thrusters with a redundant thruster for each one – thus two fully redundant manifolds of 28 thrusters each.
All of these modification were tested out on the last two progress vehicles.

Multiple unmanned cargo ships carrying tons of essential supplies and science experiments are also scheduled to arrive from Russia, the US and Japan over the next few months.

A SpaceX Dragon is scheduled to launch as soon as July 18 and an Orbital ATK Cygnus should follow in August.
The SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 mission is slated to deliver the station’s first International docking adapter (IDA) to accommodate the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, including the Boeing built Starliner and SpaceX built Crew Dragon.

A Japanese HTV cargo craft will carry lithium ion batteries to replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used on station to store electrical energy generated by the station’s huge rotating solar arrays.

Two Russian Progress craft with many tons of supplies are also scheduled to arrive.

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with Expedition 48-49 crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) onboard, Thursday, July 7, 2016 , Kazakh time (July 6 Eastern time), Baikonur, Kazakhstan.  Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with Expedition 48-49 crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) onboard, Thursday, July 7, 2016 , Kazakh time (July 6 Eastern time), Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

International Trio from US, Russia and Japan Launches to Space Station on Newly Upgraded Soyuz

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with Expedition 48-49 crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) onboard, Thursday, July 7, 2016 , Kazakh time (July 6 Eastern time), Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Rubins, Ivanishin, and Onishi will spend approximately four months on the orbital complex, returning to Earth in October. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with Expedition 48-49 crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) onboard, Thursday, July 7, 2016 , Kazakh time (July 6 Eastern time), Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

An international trio of astronauts and cosmonauts representing the United States, Russia and Japan blasted off in the early morning Kazakh hours today, July 7, for a new mission of science and discovery on the International Space Station (ISS).

The three person crew of two men and one woman launched flawlessly into picture perfect skies from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 6 (7:36 a.m. Baikonur time, July 7), and in a brand new version of the Russian Soyuz capsule that has been significantly upgraded and modified.

The launch of the Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft was carried live on NASA TV starting approximately an hour before the usual on time liftoff from Baikonur. The three stage Soyuz booster generates 930,000 pounds of liftoff thrust.

The trio comprises Kate Rubins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on the Expedition 48/49 mission.

They safely reached orbit at about 9:46 p.m. after the eight minute climb delivered them to the preliminary orbit of 143 x 118 mi. The Soyuz separated from the third stage and the solar arrays deployed as planned. NASA’s Kate Rubins was strapped into the left seat, Ivanishin in the center and Onishi on the right.

And precisely because it’s a heavily modified Soyuz, they will take the slow road to the ISS.

The crew will spend the next two days and 34 Earth orbits inside in order to fully check out and test the upgraded Soyuz spacecraft systems.

That’s in contrast to missions in recent years that took a vastly sped up 4 orbit 6 hour route to the space station.

International Space Station Expedition 48/49 astronaut Kate Rubins of NASA, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Takuya Onishi.  Credits: NASA
International Space Station Expedition 48/49 astronaut Kate Rubins of NASA, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Takuya Onishi. Credits: NASA

Three carefully choreographed orbital adjustment burns will raise the orbit and propel the crew to the ISS over the next 2 days.

They expect to rendezvous and dock at the space station’s Russian Rassvet module at 12:12 a.m. EDT Saturday, July 9. After conducting leak and safety check they expect to open the hatch to the ISS at about 2:50 a.m. Saturday, July 9.
You can watch all the hatch opening action live on NASA TV with coverage starting at 2:30 a.m.

They will spend about four months at the orbiting lab complex conducting more than 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with Expedition 48-49 crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) onboard, Thursday, July 7, 2016 , Kazakh time (July 6 Eastern time), Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Rubins, Ivanishin, and Onishi will spend approximately four months on the orbital complex, returning to Earth in October. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with Expedition 48-49 crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) onboard, Thursday, July 7, 2016 , Kazakh time (July 6 Eastern time), Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Rubins, Ivanishin, and Onishi will spend approximately four months on the orbital complex, returning to Earth in October. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

With the arrival of Rubins, Ivanishin and Onishi, the station is beefed up to its normal six person crew complement.

Rubins is on her rookie space mission. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a doctorate in cancer biology which will be a big focus of her space station research activities.

The new trio will join Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos.

The Expedition 48 crew members will spend four months contributing to more than 250 experiments in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

“The approximately 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations – not possible on Earth – will advance scientific knowledge of Earth, space, physical, and biological sciences. Science conducted on the space station continues to yield benefits for humanity and will enable future long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space, including the agency’s Journey to Mars,” says NASA.

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft service structure is put into place after the rocket rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, July 4, 2016. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and astronaut Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan the morning of July 7, Kazakh time (July 6 Eastern time.) All three will spend approximately four months on the orbital complex, returning to Earth in October. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft service structure is put into place after the rocket rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, July 4, 2016. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and astronaut Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan the morning of July 7, Kazakh time (July 6 Eastern time.) All three will spend approximately four months on the orbital complex, returning to Earth in October. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The newly upgraded Soyuz offers increased reliability and enhanced performance. Many changes were instituted including enhanced structural performance to minimize chances of meteorite penetration. Engineers also added a fifth battery for more power and storage capacity. The solar arrays are also about one square meter larger and the efficiency of the solar cells increased about 2 percent.

Also a more modern command and telemetry system to interact with a new series of new Russian communications satellites that will offer greatly increased the coverage by ground control from only about 20 minutes per orbit up to from 45 to 90% of orbital coverage.

A phased array antenna was also added with increased UHF radio capability in the Soyuz descent module that now also include a GPS system to improve search and rescue possibilities.

The newly upgraded KURS rendezvous radar system will weigh less, use less power and overall will be less complicated. For example it doesn’t have to be moved out of the way before docking. Weighs less and uses less power.

New approach and attitude control thrusters were installed. The new configuration uses 28 thrusters with a redundant thruster for each one – thus two fully redundant manifolds of 28 thrusters each.

All of these modification were tested out on the last two progress vehicles.

Multiple unmanned cargo ships carrying tons of essential supplies and science experiments are also scheduled to arrive from Russia, the US and Japan over the next few months.

A SpaceX Dragon could launch as soon as July 18 and an Orbital ATK Cygnus could follow in August.

The Dragon CRS-9 mission is slated to deliver the station’s first International docking adapter (IDA) to accommodate the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, including the Boeing built Starliner and SpaceX built Crew Dragon.

A Japanese HTV cargo craft will carry lithium ion batteries to replace the nickel-hydrogen batteries currently used on station to store electrical energy generated by the station’s huge rotating solar arrays.

Two Russian Progress craft with many tons of supplies are also scheduled to arrive.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Russian Space Freighter Hauling Fresh Fruit Blasts Off for ISS Crew

“Fresh fruit is on the way! Here are some of the best pics taken from @Space_Station during today’s (March 31, 2016) #Progress launch.” Credit: NASA/Jeff Williams
“Fresh fruit is on the way! Here are some of the best pics taken from @Space_Station during today’s (March 31, 2016) #Progress launch.” Credit: NASA/Jeff Williams

An unmanned Russian space freighter hauling fresh fruit and over three tons of food, water, supplies and science experiments blasted off today, Thursday, March 31, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, commencing a two-day orbital trek to the six person crew living aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The successful nighttime liftoff of the Progress 63 cargo ship atop a three stage Soyuz 2.1a booster took place at 12:23 p.m. EDT (10:23 p.m. local time in Baikonur) from Site 31 at Baikonur as the orbiting outpost was flying about 251 miles (400 km) above northeast Iraq.

The Russian Progress 63 spacecraft launches on a Soyuz booster on a two-day trip to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos
The Russian Progress 63 spacecraft launches on a Soyuz booster on a two-day trip to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos

NASA astronaut and Expedition 47 crew member Jeff Williams captured several elegant views of the Progress launch from his heavenly perch on the station inside the Cupola.

“Fresh fruit is on the way! Here are some of the best pics taken from @Space_Station during today’s #Progress launch,” Williams said on his social media accounts from space.

“Today’s #Progress launch occurred about 5 minutes before we passed over the launch site in Baikonur.”

“Sunset occurred for us about a minute later and shortly after we caught site of the rocket ahead and below us from the Cupola. We continued to catch up to it until it was directly below. We saw the flash of 3rd stage ignition and the subsequent 3rd stage was spectacular. Here are some of the best shots taken from the International Space Station. (note the one taken just after the moment of engine cutoff!) Spectacular!” Williams elaborated.

The Russian Progress 63 spacecraft launch on a Soyuz booster to the International Space Station on March 31, 2016, as photographed by NASA astronaut and Expedition 47 crew member Jeff Williams from onboard the orbiting outpost.  Credit: NASA/Jeff Williams
The Russian Progress 63 spacecraft launch on a Soyuz booster to the International Space Station on March 31, 2016, as photographed by NASA astronaut and Expedition 47 crew member Jeff Williams from onboard the orbiting outpost. Credit: NASA/Jeff Williams

The Progress 63 resupply ship, also known by its Russian acronym as Progress MS-02, is due to arrive at the station on April 2 for an automated docking to the aft port of the Russian Zvezda Service Module.

After a picture perfect eight and a half minute climb to its initial orbit, the Progress MS-02 separated from the Soyuz third stage and deployed its pair of solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned.

“This was a flawless ascent to orbit for the Progress 63 cargo craft carrying just over three tons of supplies,” said NASA launch commentator Rob Navius during a live launch webcast on NASA TV. “Everything was right on the money.”

“All stages of the Soyuz booster performed to perfection.”

The planned longer two-day and 34 orbit journey rather than a faster 3 or 4 orbit rendezvous and docking is designed to help engineers test out new computer software and vehicle communications gear on this new version of the Progress.

“The two-day rendezvous for the Progress is deliberately planned to enable Russian flight controllers to test new software and communications equipment for the new vehicle configuration that will be standard for future Progress and piloted Soyuz spacecraft,” according to NASA officials.

Gantry towers surround the Progress 63 rocket at its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: RSC Energia
Gantry towers surround the Progress 63 rocket at its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: RSC Energia

Docking to the orbiting laboratory is set for approximately 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2.

NASA TV will provide live docking coverage of the Progress 63 arrival starting at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday.

Today’s Progress launch counts as the second of a constellation of three resupply ships from the US and Russia launching to the station over a three successive weeks.

The Orbital ATK ‘SS Rick Husband’ Cygnus resupply spacecraft that launched last week on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 was at the vanguard of the cargo ship trio – as I reported here from on site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Cygnus was successfully berthed at the Earth-facing port of the Unity module this past Saturday, March 26 – as I reported here.

Following Progress is the SpaceX Return To Flight (RTF) mission dubbed SpaceX CRS-8.

It is slated to launch on April 8 and arrive at the ISS on April 10 for berthing to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module – at the end of the station where NASA space shuttles formerly docked. It carries another 3.5 tons of supplies.

So altogether the trio of international cargo ships will supply over 12 tons of station supplies in rapid succession over the next 3 weeks.

This choreography will set up America’s Cygnus and Dragon resupply craft to simultaneously be present and reside attached at adjacent ports on the ISS for the first time in history.

Plans currently call for Cygnus to stay at station for approximately two months until May 20th., when it will be unbolted and unberthed for eventual deorbiting and reentry.

Progress 63 will remain at the station for six months.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about Orion, SLS, ISS, NASA Mars rovers, Orbital ATK, ULA, SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Apr 9/10: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs” and “Curiosity explores Mars” at NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club – http://rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.html

Apr 12: Hosting Dr. Jim Green, NASA, Director Planetary Science, for a Planetary sciences talk about “Ceres, Pluto and Planet X” at Princeton University; 7:30 PM, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton, Peyton Hall, Princeton, NJ – http://www.princetonastronomy.org/

Apr 17: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs”- 1:30 PM at Washington Crossing State Park, Nature Center, Titusville, NJ – http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html

First American to Live on ISS for 3 Long Missions Arrives after Soyuz Night Launch and Docking

The Soyuz TMA-20M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday, March 19, 2016 carrying Expedition 47 Soyuz Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos into orbit to begin their five and a half month mission on the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
The Soyuz TMA-20M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday, March 19, 2016 carrying Expedition 47 Soyuz Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos into orbit to begin their five and a half month mission on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The first American to become a three-time, long-term resident of the International Space Station (ISS) has just arrived at the orbiting outpost this evening, Friday, March 18 after blasting off with two Russian crewmates in a Soyuz spacecraft barely six hours ago and successfully completing a fast-track four orbit rendezvous.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams rocketed to orbit aboard the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft with Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The Russian-American trio vaulted off from the historic Launch Pad 1 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 5:26 p.m. EST (3:26 a.m. Saturday, March 19, Baikonur time). Its the same pad from which Yuri Gagarin blasted to orbit in 1961 to become the world’s first human to travel to space.

Williams, Ovchinin and Skripochka reached the orbiting laboratory at 11:09 p.m. and successfully docked at the Poisk module approximately 250 miles (400 km) above the Southern Pacific Ocean off the western coast of Peru, after today’s flawless launch and rendezvous with the station.

They conducted a fly around maneuver of the ISS with the Soyuz to line up with the Poisk module at a distance of about 400 meters some 10 minutes before docking. Spectacular cameras views were transmitted from the Soyuz and ISS during the final approach and docking.

#Soyuz camera spots station. Crew begins flyaround before 11:11p ET docking to Poisk module on Mar. 18, 2016.  Credit: Roscosmos
#Soyuz camera spots station. Crew begins flyaround before 11:11p ET docking to Poisk module on Mar. 18, 2016. Credit: Roscosmos

“The crew is now firmly affixed to the space station,” radioed NASA mission control, after the hooks and latches were engaged to complete a hard dock and mate to the station.

Here’s a video of the spectacular overnight launch:

Their mission aboard the space station will last for nearly six months.

Overall this will be Williams fourth space mission, including three Soyuz trips and one Space Shuttle trip to space. During Expedition 47, Williams will set a new record for cumulative time in space by an American of 534 days.

Williams has already spent 362 days in space. He will thus surpass the recent American record for time in space set by NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly.

With the arrival of the new trio, the station is restored to its full complement of six crewmates and marks the start of the full Expedition 47 mission, with an international crew of astronauts and cosmonauts from America, Russia and England.

The three join Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineers Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos.

The Soyuz TMA-20M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday, March 19, 2016 carrying Expedition 47 Soyuz Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos into orbit to begin their five and a half month mission on the International Space Station. (Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
The Soyuz TMA-20M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday, March 19, 2016 carrying Expedition 47 Soyuz Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos into orbit to begin their five and a half month mission on the International Space Station. (Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

The combined efforts of the six person crew are aimed at advancing NASA’s plans for sending humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s.

They also follow on and continue the research investigations of the recently concluded mission of the first ever ‘1 Year ISS crew’ comprising of Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko who returned to Earth on March 1 after 340 days in space.

After the docking probe was removed and leak checks completed, the hatches between the ships were opened at 1:15 a.m. EDT on Sat. March 19.

The new Expedition 47 crew members will conduct more than 250 science investigation in fields that benefit all of humanity, such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development, during their six month mission.

Many of these research experiments for both Expeditions 47 and 48 will be launched to the ISS just three days from now, when the next commercial Cygnus cargo freighter lifts off on the commercial resupply servives-6 (CRS-6) flight.

The science studies “include a study of realistic fire scenarios on a spacecraft, enable the first space-based observations of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere from space, explore how regolith, or soil, behaves and moves in microgravity, test a gecko-inspired adhesive gripping device that can stick on command in the harsh environment of space, and add a new 3-D printer for use on station,” according to NASA officials.

The Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission with over 3500 kg of supplies and science experiments will be carried to orbit by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Tuesday, March 22.

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being prepared for the upcoming Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the commander of the STS-107 mission. On that flight, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being prepared for the upcoming Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the commander of the STS-107 mission. On that flight, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX plans to launch its next cargo Dragon to the station on April 8, the first since a launch catastrophe on June 28, 2015 ended in failure. The SpaceX-8 mission is scheduled to carry the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). It is an experimental inflatable and expandable module that astronauts will enter.

In between, Russia will launch a Progress resupply ship with three tons of supplies, food and experiments.

Watch for Ken’s onsite Atlas/Cygnus launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, ULA Atlas rocket, SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Mar 21/22: “Orbital ATK Atlas/Cygnus launch to the ISS, ULA, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evening Mar 21 /late afternoon Mar 22

Bold Euro-Russian Expedition Blasts Free of Earth En Route to Mars in Search of Life’s Indicators

Artists concept of ExoMars spacecraft separation from Breeze M fourth stage. Credit: ESA
Artists concept of ExoMars spacecraft separation from Breeze M fourth stage after launch atop Proton rocket on March 14, 2016. Credit: ESA

The cooperative Euro-Russian ExoMars 2016 expedition is now en route to the Red Planet after successfully firing its upper stage booster one final time on Monday evening, March 15, to blast free of the Earth’s gravitational tug and begin a 500 million kilometer interplanetary journey in a bold search of indications of life emanating from potential Martian microbes.

The vehicle is in “good health” with the solar panels unfurled, generating power and on course for the 500 Million kilometer (300 million mile) journey to Mars.

“Acquisition of signal confirmed. We have a mission to Mars!” announced Mission Control from the European Space Agency.

The joint European/Russian ExoMars spacecraft successfully blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Russian Proton-M rocket at 5:31:42 a.m. EDT (0931:42 GMT), Monday, March 14, with the goal of searching for possible signatures of life in the form of trace amounts of atmospheric methane on the Red Planet.

Video caption: Blastoff of Russian Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying ExoMars 2016 mission on March 14, 2016. Credit: Roscosmos

The first three stages of the 191-foot-tall (58-meter) Russian-built rocket fired as scheduled over the first ten minutes and lofted the 9,550-pound (4,332-kilogram) ExoMars to orbit.

Three more firings from the Breeze-M fourth stage quickly raised the probe into progressively higher temporary parking orbits around Earth.

But the science and engineering teams from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos had to keep their fingers crossed and endure an agonizingly long wait of more than 10 hours before the fourth and final ignition of the Proton’s Breeze-M upper stage required to break the bonds of Earth.

The do or die last Breeze-M upper stage burn with ExoMars still attached was finally fired exactly as planned.

The probe was released at last from the Breeze at 20:13 GMT.

However, it took another long hour to corroborate the missions true success until the first acquisition of signal (AOS) from the spacecraft was received at ESA’s control centre in Darmstadt, Germany via the Malindi ground tracking station in Africa at 5:21:29 p.m. EST (21:29 GMT), confirming a fully successful launch with the spacecraft in good health.

It was propelled outwards to begin a seven-month-long journey to the Red Planet to the great relief of everyone involved from ESA, Roscosmos and other nations participating. An upper stage failure caused the total loss of Russia’s prior mission to Mars; Phobos-Grunt.

“Only the process of collaboration produces the best technical solutions for great research results. Roscosmos and ESA are confident of the mission’s success,” said Igor Komarov, General Director of the Roscosmos State Space Corporation, in a statement.

The ExoMars 2016 mission is comprised of a joined pair of European-built spacecraft consisting of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) plus the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, built and funded by ESA.

“It’s been a long journey getting the first ExoMars mission to the launch pad, but thanks to the hard work and dedication of our international teams, a new era of Mars exploration is now within our reach,” says Johann-Dietrich Woerner, ESA’s Director General.

“I am grateful to our Russian partner, who have given this mission the best possible start today. Now we will explore Mars together.”

ExoMars 2016 Mission to the Red Planet.  It consists of two spacecraft -  the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) which will land.  Credit: ESA
ExoMars 2016 Mission to the Red Planet. It consists of two spacecraft – the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) which will land. Credit: ESA

The cooperative mission includes significant participation from the Russian space agency Roscosmos who provided the Proton-M launcher, part of the science instrument package, the surface platform and ground station support.

The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli lander are speeding towards Mars joined together, on a collision course for the Red Planet. They will separate on October 16, 2016 at distance of 900,000 km from the planet, three days before arriving on October 19, 2016.
TGO will fire thrusters to alter course and enter an initial four-day elliptical orbit around the fourth planet from the sun ranging from 300 km at its perigee to 96 000 km at its apogee, or furthest point.

Over the next year, engineers will command TGO to fire thrusters and conduct a complex series of ‘aerobraking’ manoeuvres that will gradually lower the spacecraft to circular 400 km (250 mi) orbit above the surface.

The science mission to analyse for rare gases, including methane, in the thin Martian atmosphere at the nominal orbit is expected to begin in December 2017.

ExoMars 2016: Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli. Credit:  ESA/ATG medialab
ExoMars 2016: Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli. Credit:
ESA/ATG medialab

As TGO enters orbit, the Schiaparelli lander will smash into the atmosphere and begin a harrowing six minute descent to the surface.

The main purpose of Schiaparelli is to demonstrate key entry, descent, and landing technologies for the follow on 2nd ExoMars mission in 2018 that will land the first European rover on the Red Planet.

The battery powered lander is expected to operate for perhaps four and up to eight days until the battery is depleted.

It will conduct a number of environmental science studies such as “obtaining the first measurements of electric fields on the surface of Mars that, combined with measurements of the concentration of atmospheric dust, will provide new insights into the role of electric forces on dust lifting – the trigger for dust storms,” according to ESA.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer