Cygnus Freighter Fueled and Loaded to Resume American Cargo Launches to Space Station

First enhanced Orbital ATK Cygnus commercial cargo ship is fully assembled and being processed for blastoff  to the ISS on Dec. 3, 2015 on an ULA Atlas V rocket. This view shows the Cygnus, named the SS Deke Slayton II, and twin payload enclosure fairings inside the Kennedy Space Center clean room.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
First enhanced Orbital ATK Cygnus commercial cargo ship is fully assembled and being processed for blastoff to the ISS on Dec. 3, 2015 on a ULA Atlas V rocket. This view shows the Cygnus, named the SS Deke Slayton II, and twin payload enclosure fairings inside the Kennedy Space Center clean room. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The largest and most advanced version of the privately developed Cygnus cargo freighter ever built by Orbital ATK is fueled, loaded and ready to go to orbit – signifying a critical turning point towards resuming American commercial cargo launches to the space station for NASA that are critical to keep it functioning.

The enhanced and fully assembled commercial Cygnus was unveiled to the media, including Universe Today, during an exclusive tour inside the clean room facility on Friday, Nov. 13, where it is undergoing final prelaunch processing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Blastoff of Cygnus atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on the OA-4 resupply mission under contract to NASA is anticipated on Continue reading “Cygnus Freighter Fueled and Loaded to Resume American Cargo Launches to Space Station”

Shuttle Crew Says Goodbye, Undocks from ISS

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After a successful visit to the International Space Station, the crew of space shuttle Atlantis said farewell and undocked from the station at 4:24 am EST Monday morning. Their busy nine-day stay included three spacewalks and the installation of the European Columbus science module, as well as a switch-out in crew. European astronaut Leopold Eyharts stays on the ISS while US astronaut Dan Tani returns home after a four-month expedition on the station.

“We just wanted to thank you again for being a great host and letting us enjoy your station for about a week,” shuttle commander Steve Frick radioed to the ISS before undocking. “We had a great time over there, we learned a lot and we really, really enjoyed working with your crew, one quarter of which we have here and we’re happy to take Dan home. But just again, to you and to Yuri and to Leo, thanks very much.”

“Well thank you guys,” station commander Peggy Whitson replied. “It’s a great new room you’ve added on and we really appreciate it. Get Dan home safe, and thanks!”

In an emotional farewell ceremony on Sunday, Tani reflected on his extended mission. The delay of Atlantis’ mission due to fuel sensor problems made his stay in space almost two months longer than originally planned. During his time on the station, Tani’s mother, who he called his “inspiration” was killed in a car accident. He said he can’t wait to get back home to be with his family.

But his recent experiences have given him great hope for the future.

“Today I feel very optimistic about our space program and our society because I’m here, I’ve spent time with a man from France, from Italy and from Germany and from Russia,” he said. “Nations that have not always been friendly are now cooperating and we’re doing great things.”

With shuttle pilot Alan Poindexter at the controls, the shuttle did a one-loop fly around of the station before departing. Atlantis’ crew is inspecting the shuttle’s heat shield to get the final OK for landing, which is scheduled for shortly after 9:00 am Wednesday morning, if the weather holds in Florida. Both the Kennedy Space Center and the backup landing site in California will be ready as NASA wants the shuttle to land that day to give the military enough time to destroy a damaged spy satellite.

The next shuttle flight is coming right up. Endeavour began its crawl to the launch pad early Monday in to prepare for a March 11 liftoff.

North American residents with clear skies Monday evening should be able to see both Atlantis and the ISS flying in tandem. See NASA’s orbital tracking site or Heaven’s Above for sighting times for your area.

“Suits and Ties” Collaborate on Successful Space Station Repair

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At the end of Wednesday’s successful spacewalk to change out a faulty motor on one of the International Space Station’s solar array positioning devices, the astronauts outside the ISS and flight controllers in Houston were congratulating each other on the group effort it took to pull off this particularly tricky and potentially dangerous repair job.

“You guys looked really good to us. Thanks for making it look so easy,” Mission Control in Houston radioed up to the spacewalkers after their seven-hour and 10 minutes EVA.

“Yeah,” said ISS astronaut Dan Tani. “And we did’t even have to put on a tie.”

This spacewalk really was a collaboration between the “suits and ties” at NASA. The suits — spacesuits, that is — were worn by astronauts Tani and Peggy Whitson. The ties were sported by the engineers and astronauts in Mission Control who planned the repair and guided the spacewalkers during the entire EVA.

Tani and Whitson were thanking one tie-wearing astronaut in particular. Tom Marshburn had practiced the choreography of the spacewalk in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, and shared his insights with the spacewalkers. Usually astronauts get to practice their own EVA’s in the enormous pool that contains a mock-up of the ISS. But the Bearing Motor Roll Ring Module on the starboard solar array quit working in December when Whitson and Tani were already on board the station. So the plan and nuances of the EVA were tested in the pool by Marshburn and former ISS resident Suni Williams and relayed up to Tani and Whitson.

The spacewalk was especially hazardous because of the risk of electrical shock from 160 volts of electricity that flows through the arrays. For safety, Whitson and Tani waited until the International Space Station was on the dark side of Earth, giving them only 33 minute increments to complete their tasks. Whitson had to squeeze inside the station’s truss girder to swap out the 250 pound (113 kilograms) garbage can-sized motor.

The new motor successfully performed a 360-degree test spin during the spacewalk. It’s power-generating capabilities were tested successfully as well.

“Yay, it works!” exclaimed Whitson as she and Tani watched the solar wing turn. “Excellent, outstanding…isn’t that cool?”

The successful repair means the station should be able to generate enough power to support the new modules that will be brought on the next shuttle missions, the European Columbus science lab, and the Japanese Kibo labratory.

“Given the complexity of this spacewalk and the risks that we had to manage … we are exceptionally pleased with how things went,” flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho said after the EVA.

In addition to the motor repair, Whitson and Tani also performed another inspection of the station’s starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, a 10-ft wide gear that keeps the solar wings pointing toward the sun The SARJ is not working and is contaminated with metal shavings. The spacewalkers evaluated damage from the debris and collected samples from areas previously unseen.

Alibaruho said the new debris samples will help determine what repairs will be done, perhaps later this year. NASA hopes to launch up to five shuttle flights to the ISS this year.

Wednesday’s EVA was the final planned spacewalk of the Expedition 16 mission and the 101st dedicated to space station assembly and maintenance. The spacewalk also marked the sixth career EVA’s for both Whitson and Tani.

So, there’s just one question for Dan Tani: Which is harder — donning a 280 lb spacesuit or tying a Windsor Knot?

Original News Source: NASA TV

ISS Astronaut Dan Tani’s Mother Killed

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Our condolences to space station astronaut Dan Tani, whose mother was killed on Wednesday in a car/train accident. Tani has been on board the ISS since October, and in all likelihood would have returned back to earth on Wednesday if space shuttle Atlantis had been able to launch as originally scheduled on Dec. 6. However, the shuttle has been grounded because of malfunctioning engine cutoff sensors in the external fuel tank. As it stands now, the earliest Tani could return home would be late January.

The Chicago Tribune reported that 90-year old Rose Tani was stopped at a railroad track behind a school bus carrying students from her son’s alma mater in Lombard, Illinois. The gates at the track were lowered, but Mrs. Tani honked her car’s horn and then drove around the bus and past the crossing gates when a freight train struck her car.

NASA officials called Tani over a secured connection to tell him the news, and then offered any help he might need. “He would get whatever personal, psychological and spiritual counseling he would need,” NASA spokesman Jim Rostohar told the Tribune. “He can talk it out through a private phone line.”

While the ISS is equipped with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to be used in an emergency as a rescue vehicle for the crew, the death of a family member does not fall under the conditions that the escape vehicle would be used. “Before anyone launches, they understand that unfortunate things could happen and that’s unfortunately part of the difficulties, hardships and risks of space flight,” said Rostohar.

Tani is the youngest of four children and his father passed away when Tani was young. A minister at a church in Lombard told the Tribune that Tani and his mother were “incredibly close.” During a spacewalk in November, Tani sent a greeting to his mother. “I know my mom’s watching on the Internet in Chicago, so hi Mom!” he said. “It’s always fun to have your folks watching you at work.”

Original News Source: Chicago Tribune

Happy Holidays in Space

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NASA is encouraging Earthlings to send a holiday greeting to the members of Expedition 16 on board the International Space Station. NASA’s Homepage contains a link to send your holiday good wishes to the crew with pre-made e-postcards. The sentiment is nice, however the cards seem a little backwards.

One e-card has a picture of the ISS with a caption that says “The View From 220 Miles Up,” while another displays a waving EVA astronaut saying “Wish You Were Here.” These cards are supposed to be to the crew and from Earth, so perhaps more appropriate might be a picture of a snowy holiday scene or a majestic Earth landscape with the caption “Wish You Were Here, But Glad You Are Up There Furthering the Advances of Human Spaceflight.”

But take this opportunity to express yourself to the ISS crew.

And now on to more pressing news from the ISS:

Space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-122 mission to the space station has now been delayed to no earlier than January 10, 2008.

“Moving the next launch attempt of Atlantis to Jan. 10 will allow as many people as possible to have time with family and friends at the time of year when it means the most,” said shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale. “A lot has been asked of them this year and a lot will be asked of them in 2008.”

Additionally, it gives engineers more time to understand the engine cutoff sensor problem that has kept the shuttle on the ground. An original launch of Dec. 6 was scrubbed when the sensors failed in a routine test during fueling of the shuttle’s external tank. The problem re-occurred in subsequent tanking test during countdown on Dec. 9, which caused NASA officials to decide to delay the launch until after the first of the year.

STS-122 will bring the Columbus science module to the station, the European Space Agency’s major contribution to the ISS. In addition to conducting three spacewalks to outfit the new science module, shuttle astronauts would also have done a fourth EVA to inspect a troublesome solar array rotary joint on the ISS’s power-providing solar panels that is contaminated with metallic shavings.

So instead ISS astronauts Peggy Whitson and Dan Tani will do that inspection on a spacewalk on Tuesday, December 18 starting at 6:00am EST. They will also look at another more recent power system problem that could be the result of a micrometeoroid or debris impact. On Dec. 8, two circuit breakers tripped, possibly the result of a space debris impact that might have damaged the mechanism that allows power and data to flow through the rotary joint used to turn the array about its axis.

For the SARJ problem, the starboard SARJ is locked in place because of excessive vibration and the metallic shavings and “bearing race ring” damage that were discovered during a quick inspection during the last shuttle mission. The SARJ has two drive gears and two redundant drive motors.

Whitson and Tani could install new bearings on the undamaged race ring and reposition the motors. The other option is to clean up the contamination and fix whatever is causing the problem.

“Once they have more data, they can make a better assessment of which of those approaches we should do, whether we should clean up the current race ring or just shift over,” ISS Commander Peggy Whitson said in a news conference from the station on Thursday morning. “I think either one’s doable,” she continued. “To me, in my mind, I think it would be probably, from an astronaut’s perspective, easier to just shift to the other race ring rather than trying to clean it up. But we don’t know yet how easy that’s going to be to clean up.”

Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center, said in a later news conference that no decisions will be made until engineers have more information about what might be causing the problem. The port-side solar arrays and that SARJ is operating normally.

“The idea is, we’ll conduct the EVA right now, the SARJ inspection and the BGA inspection, and we’ll learn what we need to learn,” Shireman said. “Then we’ll find the most opportune time to go fix it, not only the BGA but hopefully the SARJ. It really depends on how our analysis comes out. We’ll figure out exactly how long we can go with the BGA locked and the SARJ restrictions we have in place.”

Back to some holiday frivolity, since Tani would have returned to Earth with the STS-122 crew, which was originally scheduled to return home around the 19th of December, he wasn’t supposed to be on board the ISS during Christmas. Reporters inquired about his change of holiday plans and how gift arrangements were being handled. When asked, Commander Whitson declined to answer if all Tani would be receiving from her would be a lump of coal, saying she didn’t want to give away the surprise.

The astronauts said they have been hoarding foods like smoked turkey and other holiday-type goodies, saving them for Christmas dinner, so it appears that Atlantis and STS-122 were supposed to deliver the holiday meal. However a Progress re-supply ship will be docking with the ISS on Christmas Day, and one of the first things to be unpacked are hamburgers and fresh tomatoes and lettuce. Since fresh foods are a rare commodity on board the station, an All-American burger will be a welcome holiday treat for the crew.

Expedition 16 has also recorded a holiday message to Earth. Watch it here

Original News Source: NASA Press Release, NASA TV