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

Space Station Gets Experimental New Room with Installation of BEAM Expandable Habitat

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

The International Space Station (ISS) grew in size today, April 16, following the successful installation of an experimental new room – the BEAM expandable habitat module.

Engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston used the space station’s high tech robotic arm to pluck the small module known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) out from the unpressurized rear truck section of the recently arrived SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter, and added it onto the orbiting laboratory complex.

BEAM was manufactured by Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace under a $17.8 million contract with NASA. It will remain joined to the station for at least a two-year test period.

The 3115 pound (1413 kg) BEAM will test the use of an expandable space habitat in microgravity with humans for the first time.

It was extracted from the Dragon’s trunk overnight with the robotic Canadarm2 and then installed on the aft port of the Tranquility module at 5:36 a.m. EDT over a period of about 4 hours. The station was flying over the Southern Pacific Ocean at the moment of berthing early Saturday.

NASA astronaut and ISS Expedition 47 crew member Tim Kopra snapped a super cool photo of BEAM in transit, shown above.

BEAM module after installation on the ISS Tranquility module on April 16, 2016.  Credit: NASA
BEAM module after installation on the ISS Tranquility module on April 16, 2016. Credit: NASA

BEAM was carried to orbit in a compressed form inside the Dragon’s truck following the April 8 blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:43 p.m. EDT on the Dragon CRS-8 resupply mission for NASA to the ISS.

BEAM is a prototype inflatable habitat that could revolutionize the method of construction of future habitable modules intended for use both in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as well as for deep space expeditions Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) to destinations including the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

The advantage of expandable habitats is that they offer a much better volume to weight ratio compared to standard rigid metallic structures such as all of the current ISS pressurized modules.

It is constructed of lighter weight reinforced fabric rather that metal. This counts as the first test of an expandable module and investigators want to determine how it fares with respect to protection again solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space.

Furthermore they also take up much less space inside the payload fairing of a rocket during launch.

Watch this animation showing how Canadarm2 transports BEAM from the Dragon spacecraft to a side berthing port on Tranquility where it will soon be expanded.

Animation shows how the International Space Station robotic arm will transport BEAM from the Dragon spacecraft to a side berthing port on the Harmony module where it will then be expanded.  Credit: NASA
Animation shows how the International Space Station robotic arm will transport BEAM from the Dragon spacecraft to a side berthing port on the Tranquility module where it will then be expanded. Credit: NASA

Current plans call for the module to be expanded in late May with air. It will expand to nearly five times from its compressed size of 8 feet in diameter by 7 feet in length to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet in length. Once inflated it will provide 565 cubic feet (16 m3) of habitable volume.

Exactly how it will expand is also an experiment and could happen in multiple ways. Therefore the team will exercise great caution and carefully monitor the inflation and check for leaks.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is attached to the International Space Station early on April 16, 2016.  Credit: NASA
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is attached to the International Space Station early on April 16, 2016. Credit: NASA

The astronauts will first enter BEAM about a week after the expansion. Thereafter they will visit it about 2 or 3 times per year for several hours to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions, say NASA officials.

Visits could perhaps occur even frequently more if NASA approves. says Bigelow CEO Robert Bigelow.

BEAM is an extraordinary test bed in itself.

This computer rendering depicts the Canadarm2 robotic arm removing BEAM from the back of the Space X Dragon spacecraft.  Credit: NASA
This computer rendering depicts the Canadarm2 robotic arm removing BEAM from the back of the Space X Dragon spacecraft. Credit: NASA

But Robert Bigelow hopes that BEAM can be used to conduct science experiments after maybe a six month shakedown cruise, if all goes well, and NASA approves a wider usage.

Bigelow Aerospace has already taken in the next step in expandable habitats.

Earlier this week, Bigelow and rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced they are joining forces to develop and launch the B330 expandable commercial habitat module in 2020 on an Atlas V. It is about 20 times larger and far more capable. Details in my story here.

Robert Bigelow says he hopes that NASA will approve docking of the B330 at the ISS.

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

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft delivered almost 7,000 pounds of cargo.

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.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

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

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

SpaceX Dragon Set for ‘Return to Flight’ Launch to ISS Apr. 8 – Watch Live

A Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon spacecraft stand at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station before the CRS-8 mission to deliver experiments and supplies to the International Space Station.  Credits: SpaceX
A Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon spacecraft stand at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station before the CRS-8 mission to deliver experiments and supplies to the International Space Station. Credits: SpaceX

The SpaceX Dragon is set for its ‘Return to Flight’ mission on Friday, April 8, packed with nearly 7000 pounds (3100 kg) of critical cargo and research experiments bound for the six-man crew working aboard the International Space Station.

Blastoff of the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the Dragon CRS-8 resupply ship is slated for 4:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The weather outlook looks great with a forecast of 90 percent “GO” and extremely favorable conditions at launch time of the upgraded, full thrust version of the SpaceX Falcon 9. The only concern is for winds.

The SpaceX/Dragon CRS-8 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV beginning at 3:30 p.m. EDT with additional commentary on the NASA launch blog.

SpaceX also features a live webcast approximately 20 minutes before launch beginning at 4:23 p.m. EDT.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV at – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can watch the launch live at SpaceX Webcast at – spacex.com/webcast

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that any delays due to weather or technical issues will results in a minimum 1 day postponement.

A backup launch opportunity exists on Saturday, April 9, at 4:20 p.m. with NASA TV coverage starting at 3:15 p.m.

SpaceX most recently launched the upgraded Falcon 9 from the Cape on March 4, 2016 as I reported from onsite here.
Friday’s launch marks the first for a Dragon since the catastrophic failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in flight last year on June 28, 2015 on the CRS-7 resupply mission.

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.

Also packed aboard in the Dragon’s unpressurized trunk section is experimental Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) – an experimental expandable capsule that the crew will attach to the space station. The 3115 pound (1413 kg) BEAM will test the use of an expandable space habitat in microgravity. BEAM will expand to roughly 13-feet-long and 10.5 feet in diameter after it is installed.

As a secondary objective, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage by propulsively landing it on an ocean-going droneship barge stationed offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental expandable capsule that attaches to the space station.  Credits: Bigelow Aerospace, LLC
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental expandable capsule that attaches to the space station. Credits: Bigelow Aerospace, LLC

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.

Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit about 10 minutes after launch. Then it will deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station.

After a 2 day orbital chase Dragon is set to arrive at the orbiting outpost on Sunday, April 10.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake will then reach out with the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm to grapple and capture the Dragon spacecraft.

Ground commands will be sent from Houston to the station’s arm to install Dragon on the Earth-facing bottom side of the Harmony module for its stay at the space station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will begin at 5:30 a.m. on NASA TV, with installation set to begin at 9:30 a.m.

In a historic first, the launch of a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft sets the stage for the first time that two American cargo ships will be simultaneously attached to the ISS. The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter launched just launched on March 22 and arrived on March 26 at a neighboring docking port on the Unity module.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), developed for NASA by Bigelow Aerospace, is lifted into SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft for transport to the International Space Station when the spacecraft launches at 4:43 p.m. Friday, April 8, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.  Credits: SpaceX
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), developed for NASA by Bigelow Aerospace, is lifted into SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft for transport to the International Space Station when the spacecraft launches at 4:43 p.m. Friday, April 8, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. Credits: SpaceX

Among the new experiments arriving to the station will be Veggie-3 to grow Chinese lettuce in microgravity as a followup to Zinnias recently grown, an investigation to study muscle atrophy and bone loss in space, using microgravity to seek insight into the interactions of particle flows at the nanoscale level and use protein crystal growth in microgravity to help in the design of new drugs to fight disease, as well as reflight of 25 student experiments from Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Odyssey II payload that were lost during the CRS-7 launch failure.

Dragon will remain at the station until it returns to Earth on May 11 for a parachute assisted splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California. It will be packed with numerous science samples, including those collected by 1 year crew member Scott Kelly, for return to investigators, some broken hardware for repair and some items of trash for disposal.

SpaceX CRS-8 is the eighth of up to 20 missions to the ISS that SpaceX will fly for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX, NASA Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, ISS, Orbital ATK, ULA, 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

Patch for the SpaceX CRS-8 mission to the ISS. Credit: SpaceX
Patch for the SpaceX CRS-8 mission to the ISS. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 as umbilical’s fly away from rocket carrying SES-9 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. As seen from remote camera set near rocket on launch pad 40.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ignition and liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 as umbilical’s fly away from rocket carrying SES-9 satellite to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on March 4, 2016. As seen from remote camera set near rocket on launch pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Commercial Cygnus Cargo Freighter Departs ISS After Resuming US Resupply Runs

Cygnus before we let her go as we flew above Bolivia this morning, Feb. 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly
Cygnus before we let her go as we flew above Bolivia this morning, Feb. 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

A commercial Cygnus cargo freighter departed the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Feb. 19) after successfully resuming America’s train of resupply runs absolutely essential to the continued productive functioning of the orbiting science outpost.

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra commanded the release of the privately developed Orbital ATK “S.S. Deke Slayton II” Cygnus resupply ship from the snares of the stations Canadian-built robotic arm at 7:26 a.m. EST – while the space station was flying approximately 250 miles (400 km) above Bolivia.

“Honor to give #Cygnus a hand (or arm) in finalizing its mission this morning. Well done #SSDekeSlayton!” Kelly quickly posted to his social media accounts.

The Orbital ATK “S.S. Deke Slayton II” Cygnus craft had arrived at the station with several tons of supplies on Dec. 9, 2015 after blazing to orbit on Dec. 6 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the company’s fourth NASA-contracted commercial station resupply mission dubbed CRS-4.

Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named SS Deke Slayton II is released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 on Feb 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly
Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named SS Deke Slayton II is released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 on Feb 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

To prepare for today’s release, ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center first used the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6- meter-long) robotic arm, Canadarm2, to unberth Cygnus from its place on the stations Earth-facing port of the Unity module at about 5:38 a.m.

Cygnus came loaded with over three tons of critically needed supplies and research experiments as well as Christmas presents for the astronauts and cosmonauts living and working on the massive orbital lab complex during Expeditions 45 and 46.

Today’s activities were carried live on NASA TV. This brief NASA video shows a few highlights from Cygnus departure:

Altogether, Cygnus spent approximately 72 days attached to the station. During that time the crews unloaded all the research gear for experiments in areas such as biology, biotechnology, and physical and Earth science.

“All good things must come to an end. #Cygnus, your mission was a success! Farewell #SSDekeSlayton,” said Kelly.

Mission controllers at Orbital ATK’s Dulles, VA space operations facility soon commanded Cygnus to fire its thrusters to gradually maneuver away from the station.

The Cygnus spacecraft is released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 on Feb 19, 2016.  Credit: NASA TV
The Cygnus spacecraft is released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 on Feb 19, 2016. Credit: NASA TV

Before departure, the crew had loaded Cygnus back up with about 3000 pounds of trash for disposal.

On Saturday, after the spacecraft is far away from the station, controllers will fire the engines twice to pushing the vehicle into Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery reentry where it will harmlessly burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, Kelly himself will also be departing the ISS in about ten days when his historic ‘1 Year ISS Mission’ concludes on March 1, when he returns to Earth on a Russian Soyuz capsule along with his cosmonaut crewmates Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov.

December’s arrival of the Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 cargo freighter – also known as OA-4 – represented the successful restart of American’s critically needed cargo missions to the ISS following a pair of launch failures by both of NASA’s cargo providers – Orbital ATK and SpaceX – over the past year and a half. It was the first successful US cargo delivery mission in some 8 months.

Cygnus was named the ‘SS Deke Slayton II’ in memory of Deke Slayton, one of the America’s original seven Mercury astronauts. He was a member of the Apollo Soyuz Test Flight. Slayton was also a champion of America’s commercial space program.

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay clean room at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized module is being processed for Dec. 3, 2015 launch, Dan Tani, former astronaut and now Orbital ATK VP for Mission and Cargo Operations, center, poses with Cygnus and mural of Deke Slayton, along with Randy Gordon, Launch Support Project manager for NASA, and Kevin Leslie, ULA Mission manager. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized module is being processed for Dec. 3, 2015 launch, Dan Tani, former astronaut and now Orbital ATK VP for Mission and Cargo Operations, center, poses with Cygnus and mural of Deke Slayton, along with Randy Gordon, Launch Support Project manager for NASA, and Kevin Leslie, ULA Mission manager. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CRS-4 counts as the first flight of Cygnus on an Atlas and the first launch to the ISS using an Atlas booster.

This is also the first flight of the enhanced, longer Cygnus, measuring 5.1 meters (20.5 feet) tall and 3.05 meters (10 feet) in diameter, sporting a payload volume of 27 cubic meters.

“The enhanced Cygnus PCM is 1.2 meters longer, so it’s about 1/3 longer,” Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK Vice President for Human Spaceflight Systems Programs, said in an exclusive interview with Universe Today.

This Cygnus also carried its heaviest payload to date since its significantly more voluminous than the original shorter version.

“It can carry about 50% more payload,” DeMauro told me.

“This Cygnus will carry more payload than all three prior vehicles combined,” former NASA astronaut Dan Tani elaborated.

The total payload packed on board amounted to 3513 kilograms (7745 pounds), including science investigations, crew supplies, vehicle hardware, spacewalk equipment and computer resources.

Among the contents are science equipment totaling 846 kg (1867 lbs.), crew supplies of 1181 kg (2607 lbs.), and spacewalk equipment of 227 kg (500 lbs.).

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus Spacecraft carrying vital cargo to resupply the International Space Station lifts-off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Dec. 6, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK’s Cygnus Spacecraft carrying vital cargo to resupply the International Space Station lifts-off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Dec. 6, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orbital ATK holds a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from NASA worth $1.9 Billion to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for eight Cygnus cargo delivery flights to the ISS.

Orbital ATK has contracted a second Cygnus to fly on an Atlas on the OA-6 mission, currently slated for liftoff around March 22, 2016. Liftoff was delayed about two weeks to decontaminate an infestation of mold found in cargo already packed on the Cygnus.

NASA has also contracted with Orbital ATK to fly three additional missions through 2018. Orbital also recently was awarded six additional cargo missions by NASA as part of the CRS-2 procurement.

Orbital ATK hopes to resume Cygnus cargo launches with their own re-engined Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia this summer.

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

Ken Kremer

Gorgeous Views of Earth from Space Ring in New Year 2016 From the Space Station and Beyond

Earth from GOES East

Happy New Year 2016 from the International Space Station (ISS) and Beyond!

Behold Earth ! Courtesy of our Human and Robotic emissaries to the High Frontier we can ring in the New Year by reveling in gorgeous new views of our beautiful Home Planet taken from the space station and beyond. Continue reading “Gorgeous Views of Earth from Space Ring in New Year 2016 From the Space Station and Beyond”

First British Astronaut to Visit ISS Blasts Off on Soyuz with Russian/American Crewmates

The Soyuz TMA-19M rocket is launched with the Expedition 46 crew of Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky
The Soyuz TMA-19M rocket is launched with the Expedition 46 crew of Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The first British astronaut to blast off on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS) soared gloriously skyward early today, Dec 15, following the flawless launch of a Russian Soyuz capsule with his Russian/American crewmates from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The picture perfect liftoff of the Soyuz TMA-19M rocket into clear blue skies with Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander and six time space flyer Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), occurred at 6:03 a.m. EST (5:03 p.m. Baikonur time, 1103 GMT) on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.

The Soyuz crew executed a series of Continue reading “First British Astronaut to Visit ISS Blasts Off on Soyuz with Russian/American Crewmates”