Perseverance Seen From Space by ESA’s ExoMars Orbiter

A little over a week ago (February 18th, 2021), NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on the surface of Mars. In what was truly a media circus, people from all over the world tuned to watch the live coverage of the rover landing. When Perseverance touched down, it wasn’t just the mission controllers at NASA who triumphantly jumped to their feet to cheer and applaud.

In the days that followed, the world was treated to all kinds of media that showed the surface of Mars and the descent. The most recent comes from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which is part of the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars program. From its vantage point, high above the Martian skies, the TGO caught sight of Perseverance in the Jezero crater and acquired images that show the rover and other elements of its landing vehicle.

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ISS Crew Return Safely to Earth

On the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 21st, the crew of Expedition 63 finally returned to Earth after spending 196 days in space. It all began when NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy (commander) and Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin (both flight engineers) departed the International Space Station (ISS) aboard their Soyuz spacecraft at 07:32 PM EDT (04:32 PM PDT) and landed in Kazakhstan by 10:54 PM EDT (07:54 PM PDT).

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The Crew of the ISS has Found the Source of the Station’s Air Leak

It’s no secret that the International Space Station (ISS) has had a problem with leaks for more than a year. While pressure loss is a perpetual issue, officials noticed an increase last September, which became more serious over the past summer. As of August, the crew began a hard-target search for the source of the leak, eventually narrowing it down to the Zvezda module in the Russian section.

Thanks to an ongoing search over the past two months, the crew has finally pinpointed the leak using a novel detection method. Simply put, they released tea leaves into the Zvezda module and followed them to the source! According to a statement by Roscosmos, the crew of Expedition 63/64 has patched the hole with some heavy-duty tape they had aboard the station. Talk about DIY repairs!

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The Oxygen Supply has Failed in the Russian Zvezda Module of the ISS. Don’t Worry, the Astronauts aren’t in Danger, but the Station is Showing its Age

In November of 1998, the first modules of the International Space Station (ISS) were launched into orbit, and the first crew arrived almost two years later. With almost twenty years of hosting astronauts from all over the world, the ISS holds the record for the longest continuous human presence in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). After all that time, the ISS is beginning to show the signs of age.

Back in August, the ISS crew reported there was a leak in the Zvezda module. By Sept. 29th, Roscosmos announced that the crew had found the source of the leak, but determined it was worse than previously thought. In the latest news, Roscomos announced on Wednesday (Oct. 14th) that the oxygen supply system has failed on a Russian segment of the ISS, but reassured everyone that the crew are not in danger.

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The Air Leak on the International Space Station is Worse Than Previously Believed

On Tuesday, Sept. 29th, the Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos) announced that astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) had found the source of a suspected leak. The crew of Expedition 63 – NASA astronaut and Commander Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner – had been searching for this leak since August, and determined that it was “beyond expected levels.”

Roscosmos also said in a statement that “it was established that the spot is located in the Zvezda (star) service module, which contains scientific equipment.” They also emphasized that the leak “is not dangerous for the life and health of the ISS crew and does not prevent the ISS continuing manned flight.” Nevertheless, the amount of atmosphere lost may require additional oxygen to be pumped into the station.

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Russia Just Tested an Anti-Satellite Weapon

The United States and Russia/USSR have been adversaries for a long time. Their heated rivarly stretches back to the waning days of WW2, when the enormous Red Army was occupying large swathes of eastern Europe, and the allies recognized the inherent threat.

The Cold War followed, when the two nations aimed an absurd number of nuclear warheads at each other. Then came the Space Race, when both nations vied for the prestige of making it to the Moon.

The US won that race, but the rivalry didn’t cool down.

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Russian Cosmonaut says that the Hole in the ISS was Drilled From the Inside

Back in August, the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) was surprised to learn that a leak was responsible for a slight loss in air pressure aboard the station. After investigating, they learned that the cause was a small hole in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that had docked with the ISS. While the hole was promptly sealed, the cause of it has remained a mystery ever since.

To determine a possible cause, and inspect the external hole on the spacecraft, the crew of Expedition 57 conducted an “unprecedented spacewalk” on Dec. 11th. After collecting samples from the outside of the craft, flight engineers Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev concluded that the hole had been drilled from inside the capsule, a finding which raises even more questions.

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Soyuz Launch Carrying Two Astronauts is Forced to Abort, Landing Safely Back on Earth

Soyuz MS-10 shortly after launch, but before the failure. The craft executed an emergency ballistic landing and both crew members are safe. Image: NASA

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying crew to the ISS was aborted shortly after launch on Thursday, Oct. 11th when its booster failed. The spacecraft executed an emergency ballistic landing with a sharp angle of descent. Both crew members on board—American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin—exited the capsule safely and are in good condition.

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Russia Says They’ll Be Pitching in on the Deep Space Gateway

Artist illustration of Habitation Module. Credit: Lockheed Martin

In Spring of 2017, NASA revealed their plans for what the massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket would be used for: to build the Deep Space Gateway, a space station in cis-lunar orbit that’ll serve as a stepping stone to the exploration of the Solar System. Until today, it was assumed that this would be a NASA project, with the agency constructing the station over the course of several launches of the SLS from 2021 through 2026, delivering the 4 major modules. The details were hazy, though, with the various components in development with various contractors.

Artist's impression of the Deep Space Gateway, currently under development by Lockheed Martin. Credit: NASA
Artist’s impression of the Deep Space Gateway. Credit: NASA

Today, however, NASA and the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos announced that they’ll be building the Deep Space Gateway together. They signed an agreement in Australia at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, and announced the news to the world.

What will Russia be contributing? According to TASS, Russian officials said that they’d be providing one to three modules for the station, as well as the docking mechanism that spacecraft would use when approaching the station. Russia also offered to carry some of the station parts on their new super heavy lift rocket. They didn’t specify the rocket, but that sounds like the Angara rocket which is in development, and is expected to make its first flights over the next few years.

The Deep Space Gateway will serve as the primary destination for NASA’s human space exploration efforts, once the SLS and Orion Crew Module are completed. The first launch of SLS will carry an unmanned Orion capsule on a trans-lunar flight in 2018. Then SLS will be used to blast the Europa Clipper off to the Jovian system. Their original strategy was to launch some time between 2021 and 2023 carrying the Solar Power Electric Bus module to the station, followed by the Habitation Module in 2024, the Logistics Module in 2025 and finally the Airlock Module in 2026.

At this point, NASA has solicited proposals from various aerospace contractors for the development of the Power Module, and Habitation System, and they didn’t indicate that Russia’s involvement would have any impact on the construction of these modules.

With the Russians announcing their involvement, we don’t really know how this’ll impact the structure of the station or its configuration of modules. This might also be an incentive for other space agencies (like the newly announced Australian Space Agency) to come on board.

Of course, the Russians were involved in the construction of the International Space Station. They provided the Zarya module for propulsion and navigational guidence, then the Zvezda for living quarters, and the Pirs, Poisk and Rassvet docking modules. They’ve also provided half the support of the station, including astronauts, and provide the only way to get humans up to the station, on their Soyuz rockets. Until recently, Russia had been threatening to pull their support of the International Space Station, before it was ready for retirement. But earlier this year, they agreed to support ISS until 2024, and even to 2028 if necessary. They’ve also been continuing work on their Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module (MLM), which was originally planned for launch in 2007, and is now expected to be attached to the station some time in 2018.

Before announcing their involvement with the Deep Space Gateway, Russia had said that they’d probably be investing in the development of their own orbital space station once the ISS mission was over. They’re also apparently working on a robotic lunar orbiter and lander mission.

This isn’t the only announcement involving the Deep Space Gateway. It might also get a solar sail. Engineers from the Canadian Space Agency proposed attaching a small solar sail to the Gateway, which could serve in re-orienting the space station without needing propellant. It would have a surface area of about 50-meters, and would save hundreds of kilograms of hydrozine fuel which would normally be used over the lifespan of the Deep Space Gateway. Check out Anatoly Zak’s excellent reporting on this development for the Planetary Society.

More information: TASS, Interfax