Station Astronaut Snaps Super Sharp View of the Great Pyramids from Space

The Great Egyptian Pyramids of Giza from space and the International Space Station on 10 June 2015. “It took me until my last day in space to get a good picture of these!
Credit: NASA/Terry Virts/@AstroTerry
See Pyramid map below[/caption]

On his last full day in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronaut Terry Virts at last captured a truly iconic shot of one of the “Seven Wonders of the World” – the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

Virts snapped the exquisitely sharp view of the Egyptian pyramids at Giza on June 10 looking out from the stations windows, just hours before entering the Soyuz return spaceship and closing the hatches behind him for his planned plummet back to Earth.

He proudly posted the spectacular photo on his twitter social media account from space while serving as station commander of Expedition 43.

The three pyramids of Giza dominate the fantastically beautiful photo. They are located about 9 km (5 mi) from the town of Giza on the Nile, and some 25 km (15 mi) southwest of the Egyptian capital city of Cairo.

The Great Sphinx is also located nearby the massive complex of the Great Pyramids and visible in the stunning photo. See map below.

Map of Giza pyramid complex - "Pyramid of Khufu" refers to the Great Pyramid.
Map of Giza pyramid complex – “Pyramid of Khufu” refers to the Great Pyramid.

Virts and his international crewmates from Russia and Italy just returned home safely to a sun drenched and toasty touchdown on the remotes steppes of Kazakhstan on June 11, after departing from the massive orbiting complex aboard their Russian Soyuz TMA-15M ferry craft.

Apparently the Pyramid photo proved to be quite elusive – as it took Virts the entire length of his six months duration flight to finally take the stunning close up photo he longed for and achieved, with no time left to spare.

“It took me until my last day in space to get a good picture of these!” tweeted Virts from the ISS on June 11.

NASA Astronaut Terry Virts inside the Cupola, commanded just completed Expedition 43 during over 199 days aboard the ISS.  Credit: NASA
NASA Astronaut Terry Virts inside the Cupola, commanded just completed Expedition 43 during over 199 days aboard the ISS. Credit: NASA

The multinational Expedition 43 trio comprised Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency).

They undocked from the orbiting outposts Russian Rassvet module as scheduled in the Soyuz TMA-15M spaceship at 6:20 a.m. EDT, June 11, while soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Mongolia.

Earlier in the mission, Cristoforetti captured a wider angle view of the Great Pyramids of Giza, shown for comparison below. Modern civilization juts up very near to the ancient pyramids.

The Egyptian Pyramids of Giza from space and the ISS.  ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
The Egyptian Pyramids of Giza from space and the ISS. Credit: ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

The largest pyramid, known as the Great Pyramid or Pyramid of Khufu was built over around 10 to 20 years and completed around 2560 BC. It measured about 146.5 meters (481) feet in height when it was originally built. At the base it has a width of 230.4 meters (765 feet).

Altogether, the Expedition 43 crew served nearly 200 days on board the ISS.

During his just concluded stay aboard the ISS during Expedition 43, Virts did three spacewalks totaling 19 hours and 2 minutes. Including the nearly 200 day mission, he raised has total cumulative time in space to 212 days.

Virts was a prolific photographer during his duty time in orbit. A few more of his shots are gathered included herein, including one of many nighttime photos, a shot of the Soyuz return vehicle and his very last shot, a magnificent view out the stations windows.

“The last picture I took on this mission.”  Credit:  NASA: Terry Virts/@AstroTerry
“The last picture I took on this mission.” Credit: NASA/Terry Virts/@AstroTerry

The Expedition 43 flight was extended at the last minute due to the surprise launch failure of a Russian rocket carrying a station bound Progress resupply ship in late April.

The Progress 59 cargo vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, spun wildly out of control as it separated from the Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket. The freighter and all its 2.5 tons of contents for the crew were destroyed during an uncontrolled plummet as its crashed back to Earth on May 8.

As a direct result of the mission extension, Cristoforetti now holds the single mission space record for a female astronaut, of nearly 200 days.

On June 6, Cristoforetti surpassed the female astronaut record of 194 days, 18 hours and 2 minutes established by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams on a prior station flight back in 2007.

Expedition 43 marked Cristoforetti first foray into space and she is also the first female Italian astronaut.

With the departure of the Virts crew, three people remain on board to start Expedition 44. They comprise NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, the two members of the first “ISS 1 Year Mission” as well as cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.

The next three person crew is due to blastoff in a Soyuz around July 23 to 25 to restote the station to a full complement of six.

The next cargo ferry flight involves NASA’s next contracted unmanned Dragon cargo mission by commercial provider SpaceX on the CRS-7 flight. Dragon CRS-7 is now slated for liftoff on June 26. Watch for my onsite reports from KSC.

The Dragon will be carrying critical US equipment, known as the International Docking Adapter (IDA), enabling docking by the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporters – due for first crewed launches in 2017.

The most recent unmanned Dragon cargo CRS-6 mission concluded with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 21.

“My ride back to Earth today.” Soyuz ferry craft touched down safe on 11 June 2015.  Credit:  NASA: Terry Virts/@AstroTerry
“My ride back to Earth today.” Soyuz ferry craft touched down safe on 11 June 2015. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts/@AstroTerry

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

Ken Kremer

Soyuz departs on 11 June 2015. “Fair winds and following seas to my good friends @AstroTerry,   @AstroSamantha, and @AntonAstrey.”  Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
Soyuz departs on 11 June 2015. “Fair winds and following seas to my good friends @AstroTerry, @AstroSamantha, and @AntonAstrey.” Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Record Setting Italian Female Astronaut and ISS Crewmates Land in Sunny Kazakhstan

An international crew comprising a Russian cosmonaut, a US astronaut and an Italian astronaut who accomplished a record setting flight for time in space by a female, departed the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today, June 11, and safely landed in sunny and warm Kazakhstan tucked inside their Russia Soyuz ferry ship after a successful and extended 199-day mission devoted to science and station upgrades.

The multinational trio comprising Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) undocked from the orbiting outposts Russian Rassvet module as scheduled in the Soyuz TMA-15M spaceship at 6:20 a.m. EDT while soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Mongolia.

A four-minute 40-second deorbit burn at 8:51 a.m EDT slowed the craft for the fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The crew touched down just a few hours after undocking at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan on the steppes of Kazakhstan, about an hour and a half before sundown in delightfully summer weather. Temperatures today were in the 80s, but they are ‘bone chilling’ in the winter months.

Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) touched down at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.  Credits: NASA TV
Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) touched down at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. Credits: NASA TV

The Expedition 43 flight was extended at the last minute due to the surprise launch failure of a Russian rocket carrying a station bound Progress resupply ship in late April.

The Progress 59 cargo vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, spun wildly out of control as it separated from the Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket. The freighter and all its 2.5 tons of contents fpr the crew were destroyed during an uncontrolled plummet as its crashed back to Earth on May 8.

The Soyuz/Progress 59 failure had far reaching consequences and resulted in a postponement of virtually all Russian crew and cargo flights to the ISS for the remainder of 2015, as announced this week by Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.

One result is that Cristoforetti now holds the single mission record for a female astronaut, of nearly 200 days.

Expedition 43 was extended by about a month in the wake of the launch failure of the Progress 59 cargo vessel, which quickly cascaded into an extended mission from its originally planned length of about 170 days to 199+ days.

The Soyuz is only certified to stay on orbit for 200 days. So the return home delayed as much as possible to minimize the time when the ISS reverts to only a three person crew – and consequently reduced time for research.

This past weekend on June 6, Cristoforetti surpassed the female astronaut record of 194 days, 18 hours and 2 minutes established by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams on a prior station flight back in 2007.

Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency (ESA), is on her first ever space flight also counts as she also counts as Italy’s first female astronaut.

The station departure and parachute assisted soft landing was shown during a live webcast on NASA TV.

“The landing was on time and on target after over 199 days in space,” said NASA commentator Rob Navius.

“Everything went by the book for an on target touchdown. The crew is safely back on Earth!”

Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as SpaceX Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA
Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as SpaceX Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA

In the final stages of the return to Earth, the Soyuz descent module glided down safely using a single mammoth orange and white parachute, aided by braking rockets in the final moments just a few feet above ground.

The Soyuz landed upright, which eased the extraction of the crew. Russian recovery team members hoisted all three up and out from the cramped capsule.

Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov was hauled up first, followed by Samantha Cristoforetti and finally Terry Virts.

All three crewmembers were healthy and happy, each signaling their elation with a joyous ‘thumbs up.’

After preliminary medical checks, the crew were flown by helicopter to a staging base at Karaganda. From there they split up. Shkaplerov heads back to Moscow and Star City. Cristoforetti and Virts fly to Mission Control in Houston.

During their time aloft, the crew completed several critical spacewalks, technology demonstrations, and hundreds of scientific experiments spanning multiple disciplines, including human and plant biology,” according to NASA.

Among the research experiments conducted were “participation in the demonstration of new, cutting-edge technologies such as the Synthetic Muscle experiment, a test of a new polymer that contracts and expands similar to real muscle. This technology has the potential for future use on robots, enabling them to perform tasks that require considerable dexterity but are too dangerous to be performed by humans in space.”

“The crew engaged in a number of biological studies, including one investigation to better understand the risks of in-flight infections and another studying the effects microgravity has on bone health during long-duration spaceflight. The Micro-5 study used a small roundworm and a microbe that causes food poisoning in humans to study the risk of infectious diseases in space, which is critical for ensuring crew health, safety and performance during long-duration missions. The Osteo-4 study investigated bone loss in space, which has applications not only for astronauts on long-duration missions, but also for people on Earth affected by osteoporosis and other bone disorders.”

Three cargo flights also arrived at the ISS carrying many tons of essential supplies, research equipment, science experiments, gear, spare parts, food, water, clothing.

The resupply freighters included the Russian Progress in February 2015 as well as two SpaceX Dragon cargo ships on the CRS-5 and CRS-6 flights in January and April.

Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, left, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), center, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA) sit in chairs outside the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft just minutes after they landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Virtz, Shkaplerov, and Cristoforetti are returning after more than six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 42 and 43 crews. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, left, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), center, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA) sit in chairs outside the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft just minutes after they landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Virts, Shkaplerov, and Cristoforetti are returning after more than six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 42 and 43 crews. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

With the return of Virts crew, the new Expedition 44 begins and comprises NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, the two members of the first “ISS 1 Year Mission” as well as cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.

Padalka now assumes command of the station for a record setting fourth time. And he’ll soon be setting another record. In late June, he will break the all time record for cumulative time in space currently held by cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev of 803 days on six space flights.

When Padalka returns to Earth around September 10 in the Soyuz TMA-16M ship, that brought the 1 Year crew to the ISS, he will have been in space for a grand total of over 877 days over five flights.

The next cargo ferry flight involves NASA’s next contracted unmanned Dragon cargo mission by commercial provider SpaceX on the CRS-7 flight.

Dragon CRS-7 is now slated for liftoff on June 26. Watch for my onsite reports from KSC.

The Dragon will be carrying critical US equipment, known as the International Docking Adapter (IDA), enabling docking by the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporters – due for first crewed launches in 2017.

The most recent unmanned Dragon cargo CRS-6 mission concluded with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 21.

The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA

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

Ken Kremer

Expedition 43 crews rests post landing  on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Terry Virts of NASA, comprising cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and record setting Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA).  Credit: NASA
Expedition 43 crews rests post landing on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Terry Virts of NASA, comprising cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and record setting Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA). Credit: NASA

Longest Woman Spaceflyer to Return as Russia Reshuffles Station Launches After Rocket Failure

The longest space mission in history by a female astronaut is now set to conclude on Thursday, following Russia’s confirmation of a significant reshuffling of the crew and cargo flight manifest to the International Space Station (ISS) for the remainder of 2015 – all in the wake of the unexpected Russian launch failure of a station bound Progress resupply ship in late April with far reaching consequences.

The record setting flight of approximately 200 days by Italian spaceflyer Samantha Cristoforetti, along with her two Expedition 43 crewmates, will come to an end on Thursday, June 11, when the trio are set to undock and depart the station aboard their Russian Soyuz crew capsule and return back to Earth a few hours later.

NASA TV coverage begins at 6 a.m. EDT on June 11.

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, officially announced today, June 9, a revamped schedule changing the launch dates of several upcoming crewed launches this year to the Earth orbiting outpost.

Launch dates for the next three Progress cargo flights have also been adjusted.

The next three person ISS crew will now launch between July 23 to 25 on the Soyuz TMA-17M capsule from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The exact timing of the Expedition 44 launch using a Russian Soyuz-FG booster is yet to be determined.

The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA

Soon after the Progress mishap, the Expedition 43 mission was extended by about a month so as to minimize the period when the ISS is staffed by only a reduced crew of three people aboard – since the blastoff of the next crew was simultaneously delayed by Roscosmos by about two months from May to late July.

Indeed Cristoforetti’s endurance record only came about as a result of the very late mission extension ordered by Roscosmos, so the agency could investigate the root cause of the recent launch failure of the Russian Progress 59 freighter that spun wildly out of control soon after blastoff on April 28 on a Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket.

Roscosmos determined that the Progress failure was caused by an “abnormal separation of the 3rd stage and the cargo vehicle” along with “associated frequency dynamic characteristics.”

The Expedition 43 crew comprising of Cristoforetti, NASA astronaut and current station commander Terry Virts, and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov had been scheduled to head back home around May 13. The trio have been working and living aboard the complex since November 2014.

The 38-year old Cristoforetti actually broke the current space flight endurance record for a female astronaut during this past weekend on Saturday, June 6, when she eclipsed the record of 194 days, 18 hours and 2 minutes established by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams on a prior station flight back in 2007.

Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency (ESA), also counts as Italy’s first female astronaut.

The Progress 59 cargo vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, along with all its 2.5 tons of contents were destroyed during an uncontrolled plummet back to Earth on May 8.

NASA astronaut Terry Virts (left) Commander of Expedition 43 on the International Space Station along with crewmates Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (center) and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on May 6, 2015 perform a checkout of their Russian Soyuz spacesuits in preparation for the journey back to Earth - now set for June 11, 2015.  Credits: NASA
NASA astronaut Terry Virts (left) Commander of Expedition 43 on the International Space Station along with crewmates Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (center) and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on May 6, 2015 perform a checkout of their Russian Soyuz spacesuits in preparation for the journey back to Earth – now set for June 11, 2015. Credits: NASA

Roscosmos announced that they are accelerating the planned launch of the next planned Progress 60 (or M-28M) from August 6 up to July 3 on a Soyuz-U carrier rocket, which is different from the problematic Soyuz-2.1A rocket.

Following the Soyuz crew launch in late July, the next Soyuz will blastoff on Sept. 1 for a 10 day taxi mission on the TMA-18M capsule with cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen. After British opera singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from participating as a space tourist, a new third crew member will be named soon by Roscosmos.

The final crewed Soyuz of 2015 with the TMA-19M capsule has been postponed from Nov. 20 to Dec. 15.

Also in the mix is the launch of NASA’s next contracted unmanned Dragon cargo mission by commercial provider SpaceX on the CRS-7 flight. Dragon CRS-7 is now slated for liftoff on June 26. Watch for my onsite reports from KSC.

The most recent unmanned Dragon cargo CRS-6 mission concluded with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 21.

The Dragon will be carrying critical US equipment, known as the IDA, enabling docking by the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporters – due for first crewed launches in 2017.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti enjoys a drink from the new ISSpresso machine. The espresso device allows crews to make tea, coffee, broth, or other hot beverages they might enjoy.  Credit: NASA
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti enjoys a drink from the new ISSpresso machine. The espresso device allows crews to make tea, coffee, broth, or other hot beverages they might enjoy. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka will remain aboard the station after the Virts crew returns to begin Expedition 44.

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

Ken Kremer

Russia Postpones ISS Crew Rotations Following Progress Freighter Failure

Russia and its International Space Station (ISS) partners have prudently decided to postpone the scheduled upcoming crew rotations, involving departures and launches of station crews, in the wake of the failure of the Russian Progress 59 freighter that spun out of control soon after blastoff on April 28 and was destroyed during an uncontrolled plummet back to Earth on Friday, May 8.

The schedule shifting, whose possibility was reported here over the weekend and confirmed on Tuesday, May 12 by NASA and Roscosmos, literally came barely a day before the planned return to Earth on Wednesday, May 13 of the three person crew comprising of NASA astronaut and current station commander Terry Virts and flight engineers Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos. The trio have been working and living aboard the complex since November 2014.

The return of Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov is now targeted for early June, according to official statements from NASA, ESA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. That’s about a month later than the originally planned 171 day mission, in the wake of the failed Progress cargo ship that burned up on reentry.

Although an exact date has not been specified, sources indicate a tentative return target of around June 11.

“The partner agencies agreed to adjust the schedule after hearing the Russian Federal Space Agency’s (Roscosmos) preliminary findings on the recent loss of the Progress 59 cargo craft,” said NASA in a statement. “The exact dates have not yet been established, but will be announced in the coming weeks.”

If that new return date holds, ESA’s Samantha Cristoforetti will become the woman to fly the longest in space, eclipsing the current record holder, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.

"There's coffee in that nebula"... ehm, I mean... in that #Dragon.  Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA
Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA

Blastoff of their replacement crew on the next planned manned Soyuz launch on May 26 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan has also been delayed, for about two months most likely to late July. That Expedition 44 crew comprises Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui and NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren.

A rotating international crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts currently serve aboard the ISS. The delayed return of Virts crew from Expedition 43 will lessen the time when the ISS is staffed by a reduced crew of three, which significantly dampens the time allotted to science research.

A Russian state commission investigation board appointed by Roscosmos, is still seeking to determine the cause of the Progress 59 malfunction which occurred right around the time of the separation from its Soyuz-2.1A carrier rockets third stage following blastoff from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan.

File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos
File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos

A preliminary accident report from the state commission was planned for May 13. But investigators need more time to determine the root cause of the Progress 59 (also known as Progress M-27M) mishap.

Soon after detaching from the rockets third stage, it began to spin out of control at about 1.8 times per second, as seen in a video transmitted from the doomed ship.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka will remain aboard the station after the Virts crew returns to begin Expedition 44.

Roscosmos is also working to speed up the launch of the next unmanned Progress 60 (M-28M), potentially from August to early July. But that hinges on the outcome of the state commission investigation.

File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos
File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos

The 7 ton Progress vehicle was loaded with 2.5 tons of supplies for the ISS and the six person Expedition 43 crew. Items included personal mail for the crew, scientific equipment, food, water, oxygen, gear and replaceable parts for the station’s life support systems.

NASA officials say that the current ISS Expedition 43 six person crew is in no danger. The station has sufficient supplies to last until at least the fall of 2015, even if no other supplies arrive in the meantime.

Also in the mix is the launch of NASA’s next contracted unmanned Dragon cargo mission by commercial provider SpaceX on the CRS-7 flight. Dragon CRS-7 had been slated for liftoff no earlier than June 19. But that date could slip as well.

The Dragon will carry critical US equipment enabling docking by the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporters.

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

Wayward Progress Destroyed During Fiery Plummet, ISS Crew Launches ‘Under Evaluation’

File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos
Story updated with further details[/caption]

The spinning, out-of-control Russian Progress 59 cargo freighter met its undesired early demise when it fell from orbit early Friday, May 8, and was destroyed during the unplanned fiery plummet through the Earth’s atmosphere.

As a result of the loss of the unmanned Progress 59 spacecraft, which was bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on a routine resupply mission, the timelines of upcoming crew rotations and new launches are “under evaluation” – Universe Today learned according to Russian and American space sources.

The doomed Progress freighter “ceased to exist” after it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere 05.04 Moscow time on May 8, 2015 (10:04 p.m. EDT May 7) over the central Pacific Ocean,” according to an official statement from Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency.

The consequences of the failure might cause “postponements of upcoming station crew changes to June” and blastoffs “to July” according to Russian space industry and media sources.

The vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, burned up minutes later and any surviving pieces fell over the Pacific Ocean.

“Debris fell about 900 kilometers west of the Marquesas Islands in the central Pacific Ocean,” a space industry source told the Russian news agency TASS.

“Roscosmos plans to adjust the program of flights to the International Space Station (ISS) due to the recent accident involving the Progress M-27M spacecraft,” according to the TASS rocket and space industry source.

Roscosmos quickly established an investigation board to determine the cause of the Progress failure and any commonalities it might have with manned launches of the Soyuz rocket and capsule, and report back by 13 May.

“The results of investigation of the incident related to “Progress M-27M” will be presented no later than 13 May following the completion of the state commission,” Roscosmos stated.

Russian mission controllers lost control of the Progress 59 spacecraft shortly after its otherwise successful launch to the ISS on April 28 from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket.

Soon after detaching from the rockets third stage, it began to spin out of control at about 1.8 times per second, as seen in a video transmitted from the doomed ship.

After control could not be reestablished, all hope of docking with the ISS was abandoned by Roscosmos.

NASA officials said that the current ISS Expedition 43 six person crew is in no danger. The station has sufficient supplies to last until at least September, even if no other supplies arrive in the meantime.

“The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station, and the break up and reenty of the Progress posed no threat to the ISS crew,” NASA said in a statement.

“Both the Russian and USOS segments of the station continue to operate normally and are adequately supplied well beyond the next planned resupply flight.”

There is a stock of propellants onboard in the Russian segment that can be used for periodically required station reboosts.

According to TASS, “the cause of the accident with the Russian Progress M-27M spacecraft has not been established yet, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told journalists on Friday.”

“Not yet,” he said, answering a question on whether causes of the accident had been established.

File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos
File photo of a Russian Progress cargo freighter. Credit: Roscosmos

Because the cause of Progress failure is not yet clear, the schedules for upcoming crew departures and launches to the ISS via Russian Soyuz rockets and capsules are “under evaluation,” according to sources.

There is a significant potential for a delay in the planned May 13 return to Earth of the three person crew international crew consisting of NASA astronaut and current station commander Terry Virts and flight engineers Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since November 2014.

They comprise the current Expedition 43 crew, along with the recently arrived crew of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka who launched onboard a Soyuz capsule on March 27.

Kelly and Kornienko comprise the first ever “1 Year ISS Crew.”

Virts and his crewmates were due to head back to Earth in their Soyuz capsule on May 13. According to Russian sources, their return trip may be postponed to about June 11 to 13.

“The return from orbit of the expedition which is currently there is suggested to be postponed from May 14 to June,” said a TASS source.

Their three person replacement crew on Expedition 44 were due to blastoff on the next planned manned Soyuz launch on May 26 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This launch may now be delayed as well, to mid or late July.

“More time will be needed to check already manufactured rockets,” said a source. “A manned Soyuz launch may be made in the last ten days of July.”

“The proposal was forwarded by a Roscosmos working group and has not been approved yet,” reports TASS.

An official announcement by Roscosmos of any ISS schedule changes may come next week since the scheduled return of Virts crew is only days away.

Another potential change is that the launch of the next unmanned Progress 60 (M-28M), could potentially be moved up from August to July, hinging on the outcome of the state commission investigation.

To date flights of the Progress vehicle have been highly reliable. The last failure occurred in 2011, shortly after the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in July 2011. The loss of the Progress did cascade into a subsequent crew launch delay later in 2011.

"There's coffee in that nebula"... ehm, I mean... in that #Dragon.  Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA
“There’s coffee in that nebula”… ehm, I mean… in that #Dragon. Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA

The 7 ton Progress vehicle was loaded with 2.5 tons of supplies for the ISS and the six person Expedition 43 crew. Items included personal mail for the crew, scientific equipment, food, water, oxygen, gear and replaceable parts for the station’s life support systems.

The next SpaceX Falcon 9 launch carrying the CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship on a resupply mission for NASA to the ISS is slated for mid-June. The most recent SpaceX Dragon was launched on the CRS-6 mission on April 14, 2015.

At this time the SpaceX CRS-7 launch remains targeted for liftoff on June 19, 2015.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Russia’s Out of Control Progress Freighter Doomed to Fiery Finale Friday

Russia’s out-of-control Progress 59 cargo freighter is doomed to a fiery finale overnight Friday, May 8, according to Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency.

The errant spaceship is expected to fall back to Earth and reenter the atmosphere early in the morning Moscow time following the latest orbital analysis by Roscosmos.

“The time window for the failed Progress spacecraft reentry in the Earth’s atmosphere was changed to a span between 01.13 a.m. and 04.51 a.m. Moscow time on May 8, according to Russia’s space agency Roscosmos,” according to the latest update today, May 7, from the Russian Sputnik news outlet.

According to a Roscosmos source, the unmanned Progress 59, also known as M-27M , would most likely make the atmospheric reentry over the Indian Ocean.

Roscosmos said in a statement that Progress 59 “will cease to exist” on Friday.

Most of the debris is expected to burn up. But any remaining fragments are likely to hit north of Madagascar.

Russian mission controllers lost control of the Progress 59 spacecraft ship – bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on a routine resupply mission – shortly after its otherwise successful launch on April 28 from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket.

Soon after detaching from the rockets third stage, it began to spin out of control at about 1.8 times per second, as seen in a video transmitted from the doomed ship.

After control could not be reestablished, all hope of docking with the ISS was abandoned by Roscosmos.

Here’s a short video taken by the spinning Progress with NASA commentary:

The 7 ton vehicle was loaded with 2.5 tons of supplies for the ISS and the six person Expedition 43 crew. Items included personal mail for the crew, scientific equipment, as well as replaceable parts for the station’s life support systems and a stockpile of water and oxygen, according to Russia Today.

The Progress spacecraft is also loaded with a significant amount of fuel as it orbits Earth at an inclination of 51.6 degrees to the equator. This carries it over most of the populated world between 51.6 degrees north and south latitudes. But most of the area is over unpopulated oceans, making the chances of danger from falling debris very small.

The latest ground track reentry prediction for the Progress 59 (M-27M)  spacecraft showing orbital path around Earth as of May 7, 2015. Note: subject to change.  Credit: Aerospace Corp.
The latest ground track reentry prediction for the Progress 59 (M-27M) spacecraft showing orbital path around Earth as of May 7, 2015. Note: subject to change. Credit: Aerospace Corp.

To date the Progress vehicle have been highly reliable. The last failure occurred in 2011, shortly after the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in July 2011.

Roscosmos has established an investigation board to determine the cause of the Progress failure and any commonalities it might have with manned launches of the Soyuz rocket and capsule.

“The conclusions are to be made by May 13, 2015,” according to a Roscosmos statement.

The potential exists for a delay in the next planned manned Soyuz launch with a three person international crew later on May 26 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The ISS crew is in no danger and has sufficient supplies to last until at least September.

Besides the Russian Progress cargo ship, the ISS is resupplied by the commercial US SpaceX Dragon and Orbital Sciences Cygnus vessels and the Japanese HTV. ESA’s ATV has been retired after 5 flights.

The next Falcon 9 launch carrying the CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship on a resupply mission for NASA to the ISS is slated for mid-June. The most recent Dragon was launched on the CRS-6 mission on April 14, 2015.

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The last Orbital Sciences launch of an Antares rocket with the Orb-3 Cygnus resupply ship ended in a catastrophic explosion just seconds after liftoff on October 28, 2014.

The ISS lifeline hangs by a delicate thread.

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

Ken Kremer

Base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

SpaceX Dragon Launches on Science Supply Run to Station, Booster Hard Lands on Barge

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a 24 hour delay due to threatening clouds, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared spectacularly to orbit from the Florida Space coast today, April 14, carrying a Dragon on a science supply run bound for the the International Space Station that will help pave the way for deep space human missions to the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s bold attempt to land and recover the 14 story tall first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket successfully reached a tiny ocean floating barge in the Atlantic Ocean, but tilted over somewhat over in the final moments of the approach, and tipped over after landing and broke apart. Here’s a Vine video posted on Twitter by Elon Musk:

See the video of the launch, below.

SpaceX will continue with attempt to soft land and recover the rocket on upcoming launches, which was a secondary goal of the company. SpaceX released some imagery and video with a few hours of the landing attempt.

“Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Falcon 9 first stage approaches Just Read the Instructions. Image of SpaceX Falcon 9 first start booster in final moments of hard landing on ocean going barge after CRS-6 launch. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 first stage approaches Just Read the Instructions. Image of SpaceX Falcon 9 first start booster in final moments of hard landing on ocean going barge after CRS-6 launch. Credit: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 first stage was outfitted with four landing legs and grid fins to enable the landing attempt, which is a secondary objective of SpaceX.

The top priority was to safely launch the Falcon 9 and deliver critical supplies to the station with the Dragon cargo vessel.

“Five years ago this week, President Obama toured the same SpaceX launch pad used today to send supplies, research and technology development to the ISS,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“Back then, SpaceX hadn’t even made its first orbital flight. Today, it’s making regular flights to the space station and is one of two American companies, along with The Boeing Company, that will return the ability to launch NASA astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil and land then back in the United States. That’s a lot of progress in the last five years, with even more to come in the next five.”

“Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

A chase plane captured dramatic footage of the landing on the ocean going platform known as the ‘autonomous spaceport drone ship’ (ASDS).

It was pre-positioned some 200 to 250 miles offshore of the Carolina coast in the Atlantic Ocean along the rockets flight path flying along the US Northeast coast to match that of the ISS.

The ASDS measures only 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet.

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission. to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Overall CRS-6 is the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission and the seventh trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the station since 2012.

CRS-6 marks the company’s sixth operational 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 station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 with the Dragon vessel for the CRS-6 launch lifts off for the International Space Station at 4:10 PM eastern time on 4/14/15 from Cape Canaveral.  Credit: Alex Polimeni/AmericaSpace
The SpaceX Falcon 9 with the Dragon vessel for the CRS-6 launch lifts off for the International Space Station at 4:10 PM eastern time on 4/14/15 from Cape Canaveral. Credit: Alex Polimeni/AmericaSpace

Dragon is packed with more than 4,300 pounds (1915 kilograms) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the six person Expedition 43 and 44 crews serving aboard the ISS.

After a three day orbital chase, the Dragon spacecraft with rendezvous with the million post Earth orbiting outpost Friday morning April 17.

After SpaceX engineers on the ground maneuver the Dragon close enough to the station, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will use the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17-meter-long) robotic arm to reach out and capture Dragon at approximately 7 a.m. EDT on April 17.

Cristoforetti will be assisted by fellow Expedition 43 crew member and NASA astronaut
Terry Virts, as they work inside the stations seven windowed domed cupola to berth Dragon at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

The series of images shows the journey the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from its launch at 4:10 p.m. EDT on Tuesday April 14, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, to solar array deployment. Credit: NASA TV
The series of images shows the journey the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from its launch at 4:10 p.m. EDT on Tuesday April 14, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, to solar array deployment. Credit: NASA TV

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of the CRS-6 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX, Mars rovers, Orion, Antares, MMS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Apr 18/19: “Curiosity explores Mars” and “NASA Human Spaceflight programs” – NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon CRS-6 set for April 13 Launch to ISS and Historic Landing Attempt

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Now just a day away, all systems are “GO” for blastoff of the next SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon CRS-6 cargo capsule on Monday, April 13, on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and a near simultaneous historic attempt to soft land the boosters first stage on a barge in a remote area of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of miles offshore from the US eastern seaboard.

In advance of Mondays launch attempt, SpaceX engineers successfully completed the practice countdown dress rehearsal and required static fire engine test this afternoon, Saturday, April 11, to ensure everything is ready with the rocket and first Stage Merlin 1-D engines for a safe and successful mission to the orbiting outpost.

The Dragon capsule has already been loaded with most of the cargo bound for the space station and was mated to the Falcon 9 booster earlier this week.

Although it is raining heavily now around the Florida Space Coast region along with multiple tornado warning threats, NASA and SpaceX officials are hopeful that weather conditions will clear sufficiently to permit Monday’s planned launch.

U.S. Air Force weather forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron currently rate the chances of favorable conditions at launch time as 60 percent GO for liftoff of the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission (CRS-6) to the ISS.

Static fire engine test completed on April 11, 2015 in advance of April 13 launch attempt to the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX
Static fire engine test completed on April 11, 2015 in advance of April 13 launch attempt to the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX and NASA are targeting blastoff of the Falcon 9 and Dragon CRS-6 spacecraft for Monday, April 13, slated at approximately 4:33 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA Television plans live launch coverage starting at 3:30 p.m EDT: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

SpaceX also plans live launch coverage beginning at 4:15pm EDT: www.spacex.com/webcast

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that the rocket must liftoff at the precisely appointed time. Any delays due to weather or technical factors will force a scrub.

If all goes well with Mondays launch attempt, the Dragon spacecraft will rendezvous with the Earth orbiting outpost Wednesday, April 15, after a two day orbital chase.

In the event of a scrub for any reason, the backup launch day is 24 hours later on Tuesday, April 14, at approximately 4:10 p.m.

The Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs and grid fins to enable the landing attempt, which is a secondary objective of SpaceX. Cargo delivery to the station is the overriding primary objective and the entire reason for the CRS-6 mission.

The SpaceX plan is to direct the spent 1st stage on a precision guided rocket assisted descent from high altitude to accomplish a pinpoint soft landing onto a tiny platform in the middle of a vast ocean.

The ocean-going barge is known as the ‘autonomous spaceport drone ship’ (ASDS). It is being positioned some 200 to 250 miles offshore of the Carolina’s in the Atlantic Ocean along the rockets flight path flying along the US Northeast coast to match that of the ISS.

The ASDS measures only 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 6, 2015. File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

This marks the 2nd attempt by SpaceX to recovery the 14 story tall Falcon 9 first stage booster on the ASDS barge.

The first attempt in January during the CRS-5 mission was largely successful, as I wrote earlier at Universe Today, despite making a ‘hard landing’ on the ASDS. The booster did make it to the drone ship, positioned some 200 miles offshore of the Florida-Carolina coast, northeast of the launch site in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket broke into pieces upon hitting the barge.

Overall CRS-6 is the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission and the seventh trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the station since 2012.

CRS-6 marks the company’s sixth operational 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 station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Dragon is packed with more than 4,300 pounds (1915 kilograms) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the six person Expedition 43 and 44 crews serving aboard the ISS.

Dragon cargo vessel ready for mating to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for CRS-6 mission launch to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for April 13, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Dragon cargo vessel ready for mating to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for CRS-6 mission launch to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for April 13, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

The ship will remain berthed at the ISS for about five weeks.

The ISS cannot function without regular deliveries of fresh cargo by station partners from Earth.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of the CRS-6 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

Ken Kremer

Dragon cargo vessel being mated to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for CRS-6 mission launch to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for April 13, 2015. Credit: SpaceX
Dragon cargo vessel being mated to SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for CRS-6 mission launch to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for April 13, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

………….

Learn more about SpaceX, Mars rovers, Orion, Antares, MMS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Apr 11-13: “SpaceX, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, MMS, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Apr 18/19: “Curiosity explores Mars” and “NASA Human Spaceflight programs” – NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club

SpaceX Resets CRS-6 Space Station Launch to April 13 with Booster Landing Attempt

The clock is ticking towards the next launch of a SpaceX cargo vessel to the International Space Station (ISS) hauling critical supplies to the six astronauts and cosmonauts serving aboard, that now includes the first ever ‘One-Year Mission’ station crew comprising NASA’s Scott Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko.

The mission, dubbed SpaceX CRS-6 (Commercial Resupply Services-6) will also feature the next daring attempt by SpaceX to recover the Falcon 9 booster rocket through a precision guided soft landing onto an ocean-going barge.

SpaceX and NASA are now targeting blastoff of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for Monday, April 13, just over a week from now, at approximately 4:33 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA Television plans live launch coverage starting at 3:30 p.m.

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that the rocket must liftoff at the precisely appointed time. Any delays due to weather or technical factors will force a scrub.

The backup launch day in case of a 24 hour scrub is Tuesday, April 14, at approximately 4:10 p.m.

Falcon 9 launches have been delayed due to issues with the rockets helium pressurization bottles that required investigation.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 6, 2015. File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs and grid fins to enable the landing attempt, which is a secondary objective of SpaceX. Cargo delivery to the station is the overriding primary objective and the entire reason for the mission.

An on time launch on April 13 will result in the Dragon spacecraft rendezvousing with the Earth orbiting outpost Wednesday, April 15 after a two day orbital chase.

After SpaceX engineers on the ground maneuver the Dragon close enough to the station, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will use the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17-meter-long) robotic arm to reach out and capture Dragon at approximately 7:14 a.m. EDT on April 15.

Cristoforetti will be assisted by fellow Expedition 43 crew member and NASA astronaut Terry Virts, as they work inside the stations seven windowed domed cupola to berth Dragon at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

SpaceX Dragon cargo ship approaches ISS, ready for grappling by astronauts. Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon cargo ship approaches ISS, ready for grappling by astronauts. Credit: NASA

Overall CRS-6 is the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission and the seventh trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the station since 2012.

CRS-6 marks the company’s sixth operational 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 station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Dragon is packed with more than 4,300 pounds (1915 kilograms) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the six person Expedition 43 and 44 crews serving aboard the ISS.

The ship will remain berthed at the ISS for about five weeks.

The ISS cannot function without regular deliveries of fresh cargo by station partners from Earth.

The prior resupply mission, CRS-5, concluded in February with a successful Pacific Ocean splashdown and capsule recovery.

Introducing Landing Complex 1, formerly Launch Complex 13, at Cape Canaveral in Florida.  Credit: SpaceX
Introducing Landing Complex 1, formerly Launch Complex 13, at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Credit: SpaceX

The CRS-5 mission also featured SpaceX’s history making attempt at recovering the Falcon 9 first stage as a first of its kind experiment to accomplish a pinpoint soft landing of a rocket onto a tiny platform in the middle of a vast ocean using a rocket assisted descent.

As I wrote earlier at Universe Today, despite making a ‘hard landing’ on the vessel dubbed the ‘autonomous spaceport drone ship,’ the 14 story tall Falcon 9 first stage did make it to the drone ship, positioned some 200 miles offshore of the Florida-Carolina coast, northeast of the launch site in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket broke into pieces upon hitting the barge.

Listen to my live radio interview with BBC 5LIVE conducted in January 2015, discussing SpaceX’s first attempt to land and return their Falcon-9 booster.

Watch for Ken’s onsite coverage of the CRS-6 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

Ken Kremer

Year in Space Flight for Russian/American Crew Starts With Spectacular Night Launch and Station Docking

The first ever ‘One-Year Mission’ to the International Space Station (ISS) started with a bang today, March 27, with the spectacular night time launch of the Russian/American crew from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday (1:42 a.m., March 28 in Baikonur and culminated with a flawless docking this evening.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka launched aboard a Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft to the International Space Station precisely on time today on the Expedition 43 mission.

The crew rocketed to orbit from the same pad as Russia’s Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.

Kelly and Kornienko will spend about a year living and working aboard the space station on the marathon mission. Padalka will remain on board for six months.

Streak shot of Expedition 43 Launch to the ISS on March 27 Eastern time, (March 28, 2015, Kazakh time)  from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka to start one-year ISS mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Streak shot of Expedition 43 Launch to the ISS on March 27 Eastern time, (March 28, 2015, Kazakh time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka to start one-year ISS mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The goal is to use the massive orbiting outpost to provide critical knowledge to NASA and researchers hoping to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long-duration spaceflight and the harsh environment of space.

The pathfinding mission is about double the normal time of most expeditions to the Earth orbiting space station, which normally last four to six months.

The one-year mission is among the first concrete steps to start fulfilling NASA’s “Journey to Mars” objective of sending “Humans to Mars” in the 2030s.

“Scott Kelly’s mission is critical to advancing the administration’s plan to send humans on a journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

“We’ll gain new, detailed insights on the ways long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.”

Year in Space Begins With Soyuz Launch.  Media photograph the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft as it launches to the ISS with Expedition 43 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) onboard at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday, March 27, 2015 (March 28 Kazakh time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Year in Space Begins With Soyuz Launch. Media photograph the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft as it launches to the ISS with Expedition 43 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) onboard at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday, March 27, 2015 (March 28 Kazakh time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

This evening the three man international crew successfully rendezvous and docked at the ISS at the Poisk module at 9:33 p.m. EDT – just four orbits and six hours after liftoff.

‘Contact and capture confirmed, 1 year crew has arrived,’ said the NASA launch commentator Don Huot. “The one-year crew has arrived.”

“Soyuz is firmly attached to the ISS.”

Soyuz spacecraft on final approach to dock with the ISS for #YearInSpace mission. Credit: NASA
Soyuz spacecraft on final approach to dock with the ISS for #YearInSpace mission. Credit: NASA

Docking took place about 253 kilometers off the western coast of Colombia, South America approximately 5 hours and 51 minutes after today’s flawless launch from Baikonur.

The crews are scheduled to open the hatches between the Soyuz and ISS at about 11:15 p.m. EDT/315 GMT this evening after conducting pressure, leak and safety checks.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly gives a thumbs-up from inside the Soyuz TMA-16M taking him and Expedition 43 crewmates Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the International Space Station after a successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  Credit:  NASA
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly gives a thumbs-up from inside the Soyuz TMA-16M taking him and Expedition 43 crewmates Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the International Space Station after a successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA

The arrival of Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka returns the massive orbiting outpost to its full six person crew complement.

The trio joins the current three person station crew comprising Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, as well as flight engineers Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since November 2014.

“Welcome aboard #Soyuz TMA-16M with Genna, Scott, and Misha- we just had a succesful docking,” tweeted Virts this evening post docking.

The 1 Year mission will provide baseline knowledge to NASA and its station partners – Roscosmos, ESA, CSA, JAXA – on how to prepare to send humans on lengthy deep space missions to Mars and other destinations in our Solar System.

A round-trip journey to Mars is likely to last three years or more! So we must determine how humans and their interactions can withstand the rigors of very long trips in space, completely independent of Earth.

Astronaut Scott Kelly will become the first American to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory for a year-long mission and set a new American duration record.

Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonauts Kornienko and Padalka are all veteran space fliers.

They have been in training for over two years since being selected in Nov. 2012.

No American has ever spent anywhere near a year in space. Four Russian cosmonauts – Valery Polyakov, Sergei Avdeyev, Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov – conducted long duration stays of about a year or more in space aboard the Mir Space Station in the 1980s and 1990s.

Kelly and Kornienko will stay aboard the ISS until March 3, 2016, when they return to Earth on the Soyuz TMA-18M after 342 days in space. Kelly’s combined total of 522 days in space, will enable him to surpass current U.S. record holder Mike Fincke’s mark of 382 days.

Padalka will return in September after a six month stint, making him the world’s most experienced spaceflyer with a combined five mission total of 878 days in space.

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise  the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew
NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew

They will conduct hundreds of science experiments focusing on at least 7 broad areas of investigation including medical, psychological and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration space flight, as well as the long term effects of weightlessness and space radiation on the human body.

Another very unique science aspect of the mission involves comparative medical studies with Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut and shuttle commander Mark Kelly.

“They will participate in a number of comparative genetic studies, including the collection of blood samples as well as psychological and physical tests. This research will compare data from the genetically identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight,” says NASA.

Scott Kelly is a veteran NASA Space Shuttle commander who has previously flown to space three times aboard both the Shuttle and Soyuz. He also served as a space station commander during a previous six-month stay onboard.

Good luck and Godspeed to Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka – starting humanity on the road to Mars !!

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

Ken Kremer

Expedition 43 crew members Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), top, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, center, and Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos wave farewell as they board the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft ahead of their launch to the International Space Station.  Credit:  NASA/Bill Ingalls
Expedition 43 crew members Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), top, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, center, and Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos wave farewell as they board the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft ahead of their launch to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls