SpaceX Dragon Returns to Earth After Splashdown with Critical NASA Science

A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m. EDT today, May 11, with more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA
A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m. EDT today, May 11, with more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft loaded with nearly two tons of critical NASA science and technology experiments and equipment returned to Earth this afternoon, Wednesday, May 11, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean – and bringing about a successful conclusion to its mission to the International Space Station (ISS) that also brought aloft a new room for the resident crew.

Following a month long stay at the orbiting outpost, the unmanned Dragon was released from the grip of the stations Canadian-built robotic arm at 9:19 a.m. EDT by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake.

After being detached from its berthing port at the Earth-facing port on the stations Harmony module by ground controllers, Peake commanded the snares at the terminus of the 57 foot long (19 meter long) Canadarm2 to open – as the station was soaring some 260 miles (418 kilometers) over the coast of Australia southwest of Adelaide.

Dragon backed away and soon departed after executing a series of three departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station.

European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake captured this photograph of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft as it undocked from the International Space Station on May 11, 2016. The spacecraft was released from the station’s robotic arm at 9:19 a.m. EDT. Following a series of departure burns and maneuvers Dragon returned to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m., about 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.  Credit: NASA
European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake captured this photograph of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft as it undocked from the International Space Station on May 11, 2016. Following a series of departure burns Dragon returned to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m., about 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California. Credit: NASA

“The Dragon spacecraft has served us well, and it’s good to see it departing full of science, and we wish it a safe recovery back to planet Earth,” Peake said.

Dragon fired its braking thrusters to initiate reentry back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and survived the scorching 3000+ degree F temperatures for the plummet back home.

A few hours after departing the ISS, Dragon splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m. EDT today, descending under a trio of huge orange and white main parachutes about 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.

“Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed, carrying thousands of pounds of @NASA science and research cargo back from the @Space_Station,” SpaceX notified via Twitter.

It was loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples including a final batch of human research samples from former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s historic one-year mission that concluded in March.

“Thanks @SpaceX for getting our science safely back to Earth! Very important research,” tweeted Kelly soon after the ocean splashdown.

Among the study samples returned are those involving Biochemical Profile, Cardio Ox, Fluid Shifts, Microbiome, Salivary Markers and the Twins Study.

The goal of Kelly’s one-year mission was to support NASA’s plans for a human ‘Journey to mars’ in the 2030s. Now back on the ground Kelly continues to support the studies as a human guinea pig providing additional samples to learn how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight.

Among the other items returned was a faulty spacesuit worn by NASA astronaut Tim Kopra. It will be analyzed by engineers to try and determine why a small water bubble formed inside Kopra’s helmet during his spacewalk in January that forced it to end prematurely as a safety precaution.

Dragon was plucked from the ocean by SpaceX contracted recovery ships and is now on its way to port in Long Beach, California.

“Dragon recovery team on site after nominal splashdown in Pacific,” said SpaceX.

“Some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA, and then be prepared for shipment to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing,” says NASA.

Currently Dragon is the only station resupply craft capable of returning significant quantities of cargo and science samples to Earth.

The Dragon CRS-8 cargo delivery mission began with a spectacular blastoff atop an upgraded version of the two stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, boasting over 1.5 million pounds of thrust on Friday, April 8 at 4:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The primary goal of the Falcon 9 launch was carrying the SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter to low Earth orbit on a commercial resupply delivery mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).

Relive the launch via this video of the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon CRS-8 liftoff from my video camera placed at the pad:

Video Caption: Spectacular blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL at 4:43 p.m. EST on April 8, 2016. Up close movie captured by Mobius remote video camera placed at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SpaceX commercial cargo freighter was jam packed with more than three and a half tons of research experiments, essential crew supplies and a new experimental inflatable habitat for it deliver run.

After a two day orbital chase it reached the ISS and the gleeful multinational crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts on Sunday, April 10.

Expedition 47 crew members Jeff Williams and Tim Kopra of NASA, Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos are currently living aboard the orbiting laboratory.

CRS-8 counts as the company’s eighth flight to deliver supplies, science experiments and technology demonstrations to the ISS for the crews of Expeditions 47 and 48 to support dozens of the approximately 250 science and research investigations in progress.

In a historic first, the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft marked the first time that two American cargo ships are simultaneously docked to the ISS. The Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-6 cargo freighter arrived two weeks earlier on March 26 and is now installed at a neighboring docking port on the Unity module.

The Dragon spacecraft delivered almost 7,000 pounds of cargo, including the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), to the orbital laboratory which was carried to orbit inside the Dragon’s unpressurized truck section.

BEAM is a prototype inflatable habitat that the crew plucked from the Dragon’s truck with the robotic arm for installation on a side port of the Tranquility module on April 16.

Robotic arm attaches BEAM inflatable habitat module to International Space Station on April 16, 2016. Credit: NASA/Tim Kopra
Robotic arm attaches BEAM inflatable habitat module to International Space Station on April 16, 2016. Credit: NASA/Tim Kopra

Minutes after the successful April 8 launch, SpaceX accomplished their secondary goal – history’s first upright touchdown of a just flown rocket onto a droneship at sea.

The recovered booster arrived back at Port Canaveral a few days later and was transported back to the firms processing hanger at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for testing and eventual reflight.

Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket arrives back in port overnight at Port Canaveral, Florida on April 12, 2016 following successful launch and landing on April 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  Credit: Julian Leek
Recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket arrives back in port overnight at Port Canaveral, Florida on April 12, 2016 following successful launch and landing on April 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Julian Leek

The next NASA contracted cargo launch to the ISS by SpaceX is currently slated for late June from Cape Canaveral.

The next Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo launch is slated for July from NASA Wallops.

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

Ken Kremer

This artist’s concept depicts the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the International Space Station’s Tranquility module. Credits: Bigelow Aerospace
This artist’s concept depicts the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the International Space Station’s Tranquility module.
Credits: Bigelow Aerospace

Stunning Auroras From the Space Station in Ultra HD – Videos

Still image shows a stunning aurora captured from the International Space Station. This frame is from a compilation of ultra-high definition time-lapses of the aurora shot from the space station.  Credit: NASA
Still image shows a stunning aurora captured from the International Space Station. This frame is from a compilation of ultra-high definition time-lapses of the aurora shot from the space station. Credit: NASA

Stunning high definition views of Earth’s auroras and dancing lights as seen from space like never before have just been released by NASA in the form of ultra-high definition videos (4K) captured from the International Space Station (ISS).

Whether seen from the Earth or space, auroras are endlessly fascinating and appreciated by everyone young and old and from all walks of life.

The spectacular video compilation, shown below, was created from time-lapses shot from ultra-high definition cameras mounted at several locations on the ISS.

It includes HD view of both the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis phenomena seen over the northern and southern hemispheres.

The video begins with an incredible time lapse sequence of an astronaut cranking open the covers off the domed cupola – everyone’s favorite locale. Along the way it also shows views taken from inside the cupola.

The cupola also houses the robotics works station for capturing visiting vehicles like the recently arrived unmanned SpaceX Dragon and Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighters carrying science experiments and crew supplies.

The video was produced by Harmonic exclusively for NASA TV UHD;

Video caption: Ultra-high definition (4K) time-lapses of both the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis phenomena shot from the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA

The video segue ways into multi hued auroral views including Russian Soyuz and Progress capsules, the stations spinning solar panels, truss and robotic arm, flying over Europe, North America, Africa, the Middle East, star fields, the setting sun and moon, and much more.

Auroral phenomena occur when electrically charged electrons and protons in the Earth’s magnetic field collide with neutral atoms in the upper atmosphere.

“The dancing lights of the aurora provide a spectacular show for those on the ground, but also capture the imaginations of scientists who study the aurora and the complex processes that create them,” as described by NASA.

Here’s another musical version to enjoy:

The ISS orbits some 250 miles (400 kilometers) overhead with a multinational crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts living and working aboard.

The current Expedition 47 crew is comprised of Jeff Williams and Tim Kopra of NASA, Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos.

Some of the imagery was shot by recent prior space station crew members.

Here is a recent aurora image taken by flight engineer Tim Peake of ESA as the ISS passed through on Feb. 23, 2016.

“The @Space_Station just passed straight through a thick green fog of #aurora…eerie but very beautiful,” Peake wrote on social media.

The @Space_Station just passed straight through a thick green fog of #aurora…eerie but very beautiful.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Tim Peake
The @Space_Station just passed straight through a thick green fog of #aurora…eerie but very beautiful. Credit: NASA/ESA/Tim Peake

A new room was just added to the ISS last weekend when the BEAM experimental expandable habitat was attached to a port on the Tranquility module using the robotic arm.

BEAM was carried to the ISS inside the unpressurized trunk section of the recently arrived SpaceX Dragon cargo ship.

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

Ken Kremer

Russian Space Freighter Hauling Fresh Fruit Blasts Off for ISS Crew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress 63 will remain at the station for six months.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

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

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

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

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

Cygnus Commercial Space Freighter Arrives at Space Station with 3.5 Tons of Supplies

Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-6/OA-6 space freighter arrives for capture and berthing at the International Space Station on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 6:51 a.m. EDT.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Tim Peake
Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-6/OA-6 space freighter arrives for capture and berthing at the International Space Station on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 6:51 a.m. EDT. Credit: NASA/ESA/Tim Peake

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following a perfectly executed three day orbital rendezvous, NASA astronaut and Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra successfully reached out with the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2, grabbed hold and captured Orbital ATK’s commercial Cygnus cargo freighter at 6:51 a.m. EDT, this morning, Saturday, March 26, 2016.

The ISS and Cygnus were soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) over the Indian Ocean at the time of capture following the cargo crafts blastoff atop a two stage United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V at 11:05 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl.

Robotics officers on the ground in Houston working with the station crew high above then maneuvered Cygnus – holding over 3.5 tons of critical cargo supplies and science – into position for final installation and berthing to the orbiting laboratory’s Earth-facing port on the Unity module a few hours later. It was finally bolted fully into place at approximately 10:52 a.m. EDT.

Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-6/OA-6 space freighter arrives for capture and berthing at the International Space Station on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 6:51 a.m. EDT. Credit: NASA TV
Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-6/OA-6 space freighter arrives for capture and berthing at the International Space Station on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 6:51 a.m. EDT. Credit: NASA TV

This Cygnus is named the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rick Husband, the late commander of Space Shuttle Columbia, which was tragically lost with its crew of seven NASA astronauts during re-entry on its final flight on Feb. 1, 2003.

The crew plans to open the hatch to the SS Rick Husband tomorrow morning on Easter Sunday, March 26.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-6 space freighter is loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware for the orbital laboratory in support of over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

A computer overlay with engineering data provides video of the Canadarm2 robotic arm maneuvering to capture the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-6 space freighter on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 651 a.m. EDT. Credit: NASA TV
A computer overlay with engineering data provides video of the Canadarm2 robotic arm maneuvering to capture the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-6 space freighter on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 651 a.m. EDT. Credit: NASA TV

All of Cygnus maneuvers were “executed to perfection for a flawless approach and rendezvous” after the three day trip from Florida to the ISS, as the vehicle closed in to within a few meters for grappling, said NASA commentator Rob Navius.

NASA TV showed spectacular HD views of Cygnus and its UltraFlex solar arrays – deployed 2 hours after launch – from station and robotic arm cameras during the final approach operation, as flight controllers closely monitored all spacecraft systems.

“The crew is ready for Cygnus approach to the capture point,” radioed Kopra.

“Station you are go for capture,” Mission Control radioed back.

Cygnus was placed into free drift mode before capture to prevent any accidental perturbations in the final seconds.

From his robotics work station in the Cupola, Kopra then put the arm in motion by about 6:40 a.m. EDT, during the final phase of the final approach. He extended the 57 foot long (19 meter long) arm to reach out and grab the aft end of Cygnus cargo craft at its grappling pin by closing the snares on the end effector.

ESA astronaut Tim Peake served as backup for arm operations while NASA astronaut Jeff Williams monitored Cygnus systems.

The SS Rick Husband was rock steady during its capture as the station was flying over South Africa and the Indian Ocean.

“Capture confirmed,” reported Navius just moments before the video downlink was temporarily lost as the station communications moved between satellites.

“Excellent work gentleman. Much appreciated. Made that look easy,” radioed Jeremy Hansen, a Canadian Space Agency astronaut from Houston mission control.

“We’d also like to say we are really honored to bring aboard the SS Rick Husband to the International Space Station,” radioed Kopra. “He was a personal hero to many of us. This will be the first Cygnus honoree who was directly involved with the construction of this great station.”

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband  is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It took about 9 minutes to complete the approach from the 30 meter distant hold point to the final capture point where the SS Rick Husband Cygnus arrived at about 6:37 am EDT. NASA TV showed the grapple fixture gradually coming into view.

Cygnus approached precisely within the center of the approach corridor, said Peake, during continuing updates as the ship moved closer to the targeted berthing port. It was perfectly aligned for its capture point.

Cygnus grapple fixture is located at the bottom end of the vehicles service module, beside the thruster.

Kopra and Peake are spending their 103rd day on the station today. While Williams arrived just 8 days ago.

All burns to get to the initial rendezvous point in the keep out sphere 250 meters away were “right on the money. Every burn has been on course and on target, said NASA JSC commentator Navius in Houston, as Cygnus soared some 400 km over the Pacific.

“Everything has gone off without a hitch. A rock solid approach.”

Flight controllers in Houston and Orbital ATK’s Dulles control headquarters then gave the go ahead to resume moving and approach closer to the 30 meter hold point.

The actual berthing operation took place about an hour later than expected to double check that everything was precisely aligned and communications were fully established.

Controllers used the arm to move Cygnus in for capture. They commanded four gangs of four bolts to latch Cygnus to the common berthing mechanism (CBM) on the internally positioned Unity modules nadir or Earth-facing port.

The first and second stage captures were successfully completed by 10:52 a.m. EDT this morning, marking the official hard mating of Cygnus and the station.

When the ISS Expedition 47 crew members open the hatch, they will be greeted with a sign noting the spacecraft was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the STS-107 mission commander.

Orbital ATK #Cygnus mated to Unity module at 10:52 a.m.  EDT (2:52 p.m. UTC). Graphic shows location of five spacecraft at station now.  Credit: NASA
Orbital ATK #Cygnus mated to Unity module at 10:52 a.m. EDT (2:52 p.m. UTC). Graphic shows location of five spacecraft at station now. Credit: NASA

The SS Rick Husband Cygnus is actually at the vanguard of a “constellation” of three resupply ships arriving at the station over a three week period of three weekends.

Next comes the Russian Progress 63 which will dock at Russia’s Zvezda module next weekend after launching this Thursday from site 31 at Kaszakhstan carrying another three tons of supplies.

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

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

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

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

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016.  The spacecraft will deliver 7,500 pounds of supplies, science payloads and experiments.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016. The spacecraft will deliver 7,500 pounds of supplies, science payloads and experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

But first it will stay on orbit for about another eight days, said Orbital ATK’s Cygnus program manager Frank DeMauro in an interview with Universe Today.

After unberthing, Cygnus will be used to conduct several experiments including the Saffire-1 experiment, it will deploy nanosats from an externally mounted carrier, and the REBR experiment will monitor the burn-up of Cygnus during the fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, said DeMauro.

Orbital ATK’s attention then shifts to the next Cygnus launch on the Return to Flight, or RTF, mission of the firms Antares rocket from NASA Wallops on the eastern shore of Virginia.

OA-6 is only the second Cygnus to be launched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, following the OA-4 mission last December.

The CRS-6/OA-6 flight is also the second flight of the enhanced Cygnus variant, that is over 1 meter longer and sports 50% more volume capability.

Thus it is capable of carrying a much heavier payload of some 3500 kg (7700 lbs) vs. a maximum of 2300 kg (5070 lbs) for the standard version.

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

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

Ken Kremer

Video caption: Mobius video camera placed at Florida launch pad captures blastoff up close of Orbital ATK OA-6 (CRS-6) mission riding to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016 at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a video of the spectacular overnight launch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

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