In a thrilling demonstration of space robotics, today the Dextre “hand” replaced a malfunctioning camera on the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. And the Canadian Space Agency gleefully tweeted every step of the way, throwing in jokes to describe what was happening above our heads on the International Space Station.
“Dextre’s job is to reduce the risk to astronauts by relieving them of routine chores, freeing their time for science,” the Canadian Space Agency tweeted today (May 27) .
“Spacewalks are thrilling, inspiring, but can potentially be dangerous. They also take a lot of resources and time. So Dextre is riding the end of Canadarm2 today instead of an astronaut. And our inner child is still yelling out ‘Weeeee…!’ ”
The complex maneuvers actually took a few days to accomplish, as the robot removed the broken camera last week and stowed it. Today’s work (performed by ground controllers) was focused on putting in the new camera and starting to test it. You can see some of the most memorable tweets of the day below.
The cookie you see in the first tweet is part of a tradition in Canada’s robotic mission control near Montreal, Que., where controllers have this snack on the day when they are doing robotic work in space.
SpaceX-3 Dragon commercial cargo freighter was detached from the ISS at 8 AM EDT on May 18, 2014 and released by station crew at 9:26 AM for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean with science samples and cargo. Credit: NASA Story updated[/caption]
The 30 day flight of the SpaceX-3 Dragon commercial cargo freighter loaded with a huge cache of precious NASA science experiments including a freezer packed with research samples ended today with a spectacular departure from the orbiting lab complex soaring some 266 miles (428 km) above Earth.
Update 3:05 PM EDT May 18: SpaceX confirms successful splashdown at 3:05 p.m. EDT today.
“Splashdown is confirmed!! Welcome home, Dragon!”
Robotics officers at Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center detached Dragon from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module at 8 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) this morning, Sunday, May 18, 2014 using the stations Canadian-built robotic arm.
Engineers had earlier unbolted all 16 hooks and latches firmly connecting the vehicle to the station in preparation.
NASA astronaut Steve Swanson then commanded the gum dropped shaped Dragon capsule’s release from Canadarm2 as planned at 9:26 a.m. EDT (1326 GMT) while the pair were flying majestically over southern Australia.
The undocking operation was shown live on NASA TV.
Swanson was assisted by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov as the US- Russian team were working together inside the domed Cupola module.
Following the cargo ships release by the 57 foot long arms grappling snares, Swanson carefully maneuvered the arm back and away from Dragon as it moved ever so slowly in free drift mode.
It was already four feet distant within three minutes of release.
Three departure burns by the Dragon’s Draco maneuvering thrusters followed quickly in succession and occurred precisely on time at 9:29, 9:30 and 9:38 a.m. EST.
Dragon exited the 200 meter wide keep out zone – an imaginary bubble around the station with highly restricted access – at the conclusion of the 3rd departure burn.
“The Dragon mission went very well. It was very nice to have a vehicle take science equipment to the station, and maybe some day even humans,” Swanson radioed after the safe and successful departure was completed.
“Thanks to everyone who worked on the Dragon mission.”
The private SpaceX Dragon spent a total of 28 days attached to the ISS.
The six person international crew from Russia, the US and Japan on Expeditions 39 and 40 unloaded some 2.5 tons of supplies aboard and then repacked it for the voyage home.
The SpaceX resupply capsule is carrying back about 3500 pounds of spacewalk equipment, vehicle hardware, science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities, as well as no longer needed trash.
“The space station is our springboard to deep space and the science samples returned to Earth are critical to improving our knowledge of how space affects humans who live and work there for long durations,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations.
“Now that Dragon has returned, scientists can complete their analyses, so we can see how results may impact future human space exploration or provide direct benefits to people on Earth.”
Among the research investigations conducted that returned samples in the cargo hold were an examination of the decreased effectives of antibiotics in space, better growth of plants in space, T-Cell activation in aging and causes of human immune system depression in the microgravity environment.
The 10 minute long deorbit burn took place as scheduled at 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT) today.
Dragon returned to Earth for a triple parachute assisted splash down today at around 3:02 p.m. EDT (19:02 GMT) in the Pacific Ocean – some 300 miles west of Baja California.
It will be retrieved by recovery boats commissioned by SpaceX. The science cargo will be extracted and then delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center within 48 hours.
Dragon thundered to orbit atop SpaceX’s powerful new Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket on April 18, from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
This unmanned Dragon delivered about 4600 pounds of cargo to the ISS including over 150 science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition Earth observing imaging camera suite (HDEV), the laser optical communications experiment (OPALS), the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment as well as essential gear, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard in low Earth orbit.
It reached the ISS on April 20 for berthing.
Dragon is the only unmanned resupply vessel supply that also returns cargo back to Earth.
The SpaceX-3 mission marks the company’s third resupply mission to the ISS under the $1.6 Billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.
The SpaceX Dragon is among a trio of American vehicles, including the BoeingCST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser vying to restore America’s capability to fly humans to Earth orbit and the space station by late 2017, using seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in a public/private partnership. The next round of contracts will be awarded by NASA about late summer 2014.
Another significant milestone was the apparently successful attempt by SpaceX to accomplish a controlled soft landing of the Falcon 9 boosters first stage in the Atlantic Ocean for eventual recovery and reuse. It was a first step in a guided 1st stage soft landing back at the Cape.
The next unmanned US cargo mission to the ISS is set for early morning on June 10 with the launch of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus freighter atop an Antares booster from a launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Boeing, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.
To close out their final week aboard the International Space Station, three of the six Expedition 39 crew members are completing their unloading tasks inside the docked commercial SpaceXDragon cargo freighter and other duties while teams at Mission Control in Houston conduct delicate robotics work outside with dazzling maneuvers of the Dextre robot to remove the last external experiment from the vessels storage truck.
See a dazzling gallery of photos of Dextre dangling outside the docked Dragon depot – above and below.
On Monday, May 5, the robotics team at NASA Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston carefully guided Canada’s Dextre robotic “handyman” attached to the end of the 57-foot long Canadarm2 to basically dig out the final payload item housed in the unpressurized trunk section at the rear of the SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel docked to the ISS.
Dextre stands for “Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator” and was contributed to the station by the Canadian Space Agency. It measures 12 feet tall and is outfitted with a pair of arms and an array of finely detailed tools to carry out intricate and complex tasks that would otherwise require spacewalking astronauts.
The massive orbiting outpost was soaring some 225 miles above the home planet as Dextre’s work was in progress to remove the Optical PAyload for Lasercomm Science, or OPALS, from the Dragon’s truck.
The next step is to install OPALS on the Express Logistics Carrier-1 (ELC-1) depot at the end of the station’s port truss on Wednesday.
Monday’s attempt was the second try at grappling OPALS. The initial attempt last Thursday “was unsuccessful due to a problem gripping the payload’s grapple fixture with the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, or Dextre,” NASA reported.
This unmanned Dragon delivered about 4600 pounds of cargo to the ISS including over 150 science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition Earth observing imaging camera suite (HDEV), the laser optical communications experiment (OPALS), the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment as well as essential gear, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard in low Earth orbit, under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.
OPALS uses laser light instead of radio waves to beam back precisely guided data packages to ground stations. The use of lasers should greatly increase the amount of information transmitted over the same period of time, says NASA.
The science experiments carried aboard Dragon are intended for research to be conducted by the crews of ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.
Robotics teams had already pulled out the other payload item from the truck, namely the HDEV imaging suite. It is already transmitting back breathtaking real time video views of Earth from a quartet of video cameras pointing in different directions mounted on the stations exterior.
The SpaceX CRS-3 mission marks the company’s third resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.
After spending six months in space, Station Commander Koichi Wakata from Japan as well as NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will be departing the station in a week aboard their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft on May 13 at 6:33 p.m. EDT.
They are scheduled to land some 3.5 hours later in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 9:57 p.m. (7:57 a.m. Kazakh time on May 14). The events will be carried live on NASA TV.
To prepare for the journey home, the trio also completed fit checks on their Russian Sokol launch and entry suits on Monday.
Meanwhile Dragon is also set to depart the station soon on May 18 for a parachute assisted splashdown and recovery by boats in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California.
Dragon has been docked to the station since arriving on Easter Sunday morning, April 20.
It was grappled using Canadarm 2 and berthed at the Earth facing port of the Harmony module by Commander Wakata and flight engineer Mastracchio while working at the robotics work station inside the seven windowed domed Cupola module.
For the return trip, the Expedition 39 crew is also loading Dragon with precious science samples collected over many months from the crews research activities as well as trash and no longer needed items.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.
When there’s a Dragon spacecraft coming your way at the International Space Station, you’d better be ready to grapple it with a robotic arm. For if there’s a crash, you will face “a very bad day”, as astronaut David Saint-Jacques points out in this new video (also embedded below the jump).
That’s why the Canadian (along with European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen) was doing robotics training this month at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters near Montreal. The most terrifying thing for astronauts must be the limited view as they do delicate maneuvers with the multi-million dollar Canadarm2.
“All you’ve got, really, while you’re working, is this workstation,” Saint-Jacques said. “You’ve got a couple of camera views to work from. You’ve got your hand controllers to move the arm, and you’ve got some computer displays, and a bunch of switches here on the left.”
“That’s all you’ve got,” he added. “You’ve really got to think ahead: how you’re going to maneuver this arm without crashing into anything.”
The video is the latest in a training series by Mogensen, who will go to the International Space Station in 2015. Saint-Jacques — a fellow 2009 astronaut class selectee — has not been assigned to a flight yet (at least publicly).
The first Canadarm, which cost about $100 million in late 1970s dollars, flew on the second shuttle flight in 1981. Canadarm2 was constructed for space station construction in the 2000s, and is still used today for spacewalks.
About six years ago, the Canadarm — Canada’s iconic robotic arm used in space — was almost sold to a company in the United States, along with other space technology from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates. The Canadian government blocked the sale and swiftly came out with a promise: a space policy to better support Canada’s industry.
A lot has happened in six years. Policy-makers used to cite successor Canadarm2’s role in space station construction. Now the arm also does things that were barely imaginable in 2008 — namely, berthing commercial spacecraft such as SpaceX’s Dragon at the International Space Station. It shows how quickly space technology can change in half a decade.
At 13 pages, there isn’t a lot of information in Canada’s framework yet to talk about, but there are some statements about government priorities. Keep the astronaut program going (which is great news after the success of Chris Hadfield). A heavy emphasis on private sector collaboration. And a promise to keep funding Canada’s contribution to the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s next large observatory in space.
These are the Top 5 priorities listed in the plan:
Canada First: Serving Canada’s interests of “sovereignty, security and prosperity.” As an example: The country has a huge land-mass that is sparsely populated, so satellites are regularly used to see what ship and other activity is going on in the territories. This is a big reason why the Radarsat Constellation of satellites is launching in 2018.
Working together globally: Canada has a tiny space budget ($488.7 million in 2013-14, $435.2 million in 2014-15 and $382.9 million in 2015-16), so it relies on other countries to get its payloads, astronauts and satellites into space. This section also refers to Canada’s commitment to the International Space Station, which (as with other nations) extends to at least 2024. That’s good news for astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques, who are waiting for their first trip there.
Promoting Canadian innovation: The James Webb Telescope (to which Canada is contributing optics and a guidance system) is specifically cited here along with the Canadarm. Priority areas are Canada’s historic strengths of robotics, optics, satellite communications, and space-based radar, as well as “areas of emerging expertise.”
Inspiring Canadians: Basically a statement saying that the government will “recruit, and retain highly qualified personnel,” which in more real terms means that it will need to keep supporting Canadian space companies financially through contracts, for example, to make this happen.
That last point in particular seemed to resonate with at least one industry group.
“A long-term strategic plan for Canada’s space program is critical for our industry. In order to effectively invest in innovation, technology and product development, we rely heavily on knowing what the government’s priorities for the space program are,” stated Jim Quick, president of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (a major group that represents the interests of private space companies.)
While we wait for more details to come out, here’s some valuable background reading. The space-based volume of the Emerson Report (the findings of a government-appointed aerospace review board listed in 2012) called for more money for and more stable funding of the Canadian Space Agency, among other recommendations.
And here’s the government’s point-by-point response in late 2013. In response to funding: “The CSA’s total funding will remain unchanged and at current levels. The government will also leverage existing programs to better support the space industry.” Additionally, the CSA’s space technologies development program will be doubled to $20 million annually by 2015-16, which is still below the Emerson report’s recommendation of adding $10 million for each of the next three years.
What are your thoughts on the policy? Let us know in the comments.
In better news yet for the spacewalkers, a water leak in Hopkins’ spacesuit this past July — one that sent astronauts scrambling back to the airlock for safety — did not happen again, showing that the part replacement NASA directed had worked. An unrelated water issue in Mastracchio’s suit, however, made agency officials decide to delay the next spacewalk one day to Dec. 24.
The pump replacement is needed to put the space station at full fighting weight. Since Dec. 11, science experiments and other non-critical systems have been offline since a valve in the pump broke. While the astronauts are in no immediate danger, one of their two cooling loops is shut down and there is not a big margin of safety if the other loop fails.
Since this is NASA’s first spacewalk since the leaky suit was last used, the agency emphasized two new measures it has to protect the astronauts if another leak occurs. The first is a new helmet absorption pad (HAP) to soak up any water in the helmet. The second is a pipe — a snorkel — that would let astronauts breathe air from another part of the suit, if required.
But with every “HAP check” that CapCom and astronaut Doug Wheelock called up to the astronauts today, they reported that the suits were dry and everything was fine. The new water issue happened after the spacewalk, while the astronauts were repressurizing the airlock. In a statement, NASA said water could have entered Mastracchio’s suit sublimator and decided to switch him to a backup suit as a precaution.
The spacewalk tasks themselves, however, went far more swiftly than problems Wheelock experienced in 2010, such as when an ammonia line on the pump refused to unhook as required and caused a lengthy delay. NASA made some changes (such as lowering the pressure on the lines, as Wheelock told Universe Today), and this time, Mastracchio powered through the line and electrical removals. The astronauts quickly moved 1.5 hours of schedule and then beyond. A few stray ammonia flakes hit Mastracchio’s suit, but not enough to cause concerns about contamination since the traces of substance baked off in the sun as he worked.
“I don’t know if you believe in miracles, but I got it on the first try,” Mastracchio radioed early in the spacewalk as he got a tricky part of a Canadian robotic arm foot restraint threaded. Mastracchio rode the arm for much of the spacewalk while Hopkins was the “free floating” colleague hovering and doing other tasks nearby.
The most spectacular television shots occurred towards the end of the five-hour, 28-minute spacewalk when Mastracchio carefully wrestled the 800-pound ammonia pump module out of its spot on the space station while riding aboard Canadarm2. (Controlling the arm was Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, guided by CapCom and fellow Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide on the ground.)
After he stowed the module, Mission Control gave the astronauts the go-ahead to put in the spare. Mastracchio, however, said he felt it was best for the astronauts to leave it for next time. While the pair have three spacewalks (including today’s) slated to finish the task, it’s possible they could wrap it up in two — but only if things go as smoothly as this time.
The next spacewalk will take place Dec. 24 at 7:10 a.m. EST (12:10 p.m. UTC), and will be available on NASA Television. We’ll keep you up to speed as the next spacewalk occurs. Today’s excursion was Mastracchio’s seventh and Hopkins’ first.
In Canada, “gimme five” could soon have a space connotation. Today the country announced it is preparing to put new polymer $5 bills into circulation that feature Canadian robotics and an astronaut.
At the official circulation ceremony near Montreal, Que. was none other than Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who brought unprecedented social media attention to space through social media. The world was enchanted by his guitar playing and crying in space, but in space circles he also commands a lot of respect. The trilingual Hadfield visited two space stations, helped build the robotic Canadarm2 in space, and commanded the International Space Station, among other achievements.
His presence was appropriate, because the $5 bill has a lot of robotics on it. Canadarm2, Dextre and an astronaut are splashed across one face of the bill. “It reminds us that our dreams do not have a limit,” Hadfield said in French.
“It serves as a reminder to all Canadians of the dedication and hard work of so many people across the Canadian Space Agency and the space industry across Canada, and the scientists and engineers that make the design of these incredibly complex robots and getting them into space somehow easy,” Hadfield added in English. “Being involved in it is the real inspiration part. Who knows where such innovation can take us.”
The Bank of Canada first unveiled the new $5 and $10 bills in April, while Hadfield was at the helm of the station. Canada’s central banking authority is touting the new plasticized bill series as more durable than past cotton-based ones, with better counterfeit measures such as transparency. Polymer bills are available already in $20, $50 and $100 denominations.
Opposite to the space-themed side of the $5 bill is a picture of past prime minister Wilfrid Laurier. The new $10 bill features a train on one side and (as with the past iteration) John A. Macdonald, the first Canadian prime minister, on the other.
Hadfield himself has featured on both Canadian currency and stamps in the past: the Royal Mint of Canada issued two coins with him and Canadarm2 in 2006, and Hadfield was among several astronauts put on to Canadian stamps in 2003.
In a world first, Canada’s Chris Hadfield unveiled a new money note — while in space.
Hadfield spun a fiver before the camera Tuesday as part of a ceremony to announce new $5 and $10 bills that will be distributed in Canada this year. The $5 bill will feature two pieces of Canadian technology that helped build the station: Canadarm2, which is a mobile robotic arm, and the hand-like Dextre.
The bill also shows an unidentified astronaut. That said, the choice to use Hadfield in the press conference was likely not a coincidence: Hadfield assisted with Canadarm2’s installation in 2001 when he became the first Canadian to walk in space.
“These bills will remind Canadians, every time they buy a sandwich and a coffee and a donut, what we are capable of achieving,” said Hadfield, who is in command of Expedition 35 on the International Space Station. His comments were carried on a webcast from the Bank of Canada.
The polymer notes are intended to be more secure than the last generation of bills issued in Canada. Polymer $20, $50 and $100 bills are already available, but the smaller currencies won’t hit consumer pocketbooks until November.
“Featuring a sophisticated combination of transparency and holography, this is the most secure bank note series ever issued by the Bank of Canada. The polymer series is more economical, lasting at least two and half times longer than cotton-based paper bank notes, and will be recycled in Canada,” the Bank of Canada stated in a press release.
As with the past $5 bill, the opposite face of the new bill shows a drawing of past prime minister Wilfrid Laurier. Also shown at the ceremony: the $10 bill, with a Via Canada train on one side and John A. Macdonald, the first Canadian prime minister, on the other.
Both Jim Flaherty, Canada’s minister of finance, and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney wore Expedition 35 pins at the press conference.
“I hope that’s not London calling,” Flaherty quipped to laughing reporters when NASA’s Mission Control phoned in with Hadfield on the line.
Hadfield is no stranger to space-themed currency. In 2006, the Royal Mint of Canada released two coins featuring him and Canadarm2. Hadfield and several other Canadian astronauts were also put on to Canadian stamps in 2003.
An amazing panorama revealing Western Europe’s ‘Cities at Night’ with hardware from the stations robotic ‘hand’ and solar arrays in the foreground was captured by the crew in a beautiful new image showing millions of Earth’s inhabitants from the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).
The sweeping panoramic vista shows several Western European countries starting with the British Isles partially obscured by twin solar arrays at left, the North Sea at left center, Belgium and the Netherlands (Holland) at bottom center, and the Scandinavian land mass at right center by the hand, or end effector, of the Canadian-built ISS robotic arm known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) or Canadarm2.
Coincidentally European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers from Holland (photo at left) is currently aboard the ISS, soaring some 400 kilometers (250 miles) overhead.
The panoramic image was taken by the ISS residents on January 22, 2012.
The Expedition 30 crew of six men currently serving aboard the ISS (photo below) hail from the US, Russia and Holland.
“Cities at Night” – Here’s a portion of a relevant ISS Blog post from NASA astronaut Don Pettit on Jan. 27, 2012:
“Cities at night are different from their drab daytime counterparts. They present a most spectacular display that rivals a Broadway marquee. And cities around the world are different. Some show blue-green, while others show yellow-orange. Some have rectangular grids, while others look like a fractal-snapshot from Mandelbrot space.”
“Patterns in the countryside are different in Europe, North America, and South America. In space, you can see political boundaries that show up only at night. As if a beacon for humanity, Las Vegas is truly the brightest spot on Earth. Cities at night may very well be the most beautiful unintentional consequence of human activity,” writes NASA astronaut Don Pettit currently residing aboard the ISS.
On April 19, 2001, space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-100 mission launched to the space station, and in the payload bay was Canadarm2, a larger, more robust successor to the shuttle’s Canadarm. The Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) is a sophisticated “construction crane,” and is responsible for much of the successful building of the ISS — module by module — in space.
“She is without a doubt one of the most critical components on board station having participated in the construction of the spacecraft that is on orbit today,” said Mike Suffredini, Program Manager of the International Space Station. “Twenty-nine missions have been supported by Canadarm2, two of them capturing and berthing the HTV vehicle, and in all that time with absolutely flawless performance. Without her we couldn’t have gotten to where we are today.”
See a gallery of images of Canadarm2’s 10 years in the space construction business.
Canadarm2 was installed on the ISS by astronaut Chris Hadfield during the first spacewalk by a Canadian. Canadarm2 has unloaded hundreds of tons of equipment and supplies ferried by the shuttle and assisted almost 100 spacewalks. Endeavour’s last flight later this month will mark Canadarm2’s 28th Shuttle mission.
The Canadian Space Agency says that Canadarm2’s role on the ISS will expand as the orbital lab nears completion: in addition to performing routine maintenance, the robotic arm will make more frequent “cosmic catches,” where it will capture, dock and later release visiting spacecraft, as it has done with the HTV. When the space shuttle retires, reusable commercial spacecraft, like SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital’s Cygnus, will be used to bring supplies and equipment to the ISS. Canadarm2 will capture each of these visiting vehicles. In late 2011 and early 2012, Canadarm2 will capture a series of 6 commercial spacecraft in just 7 months, beginning with the Dragon spacecraft, currently scheduled to arrive in October 2011.
More info on the SSRMS and how it was built:
The Expedition 27 crew on board the ISS pay tribute to 10 years of the SSRMS: