Following a one day delay, due to a wayward plane during the countdown yesterday, Orbital ATK successfully launched their Cygnus spacecraft, S.S. Gene Cernan today for an International Space Station rendezvous on Tuesday.
This was the second Cygnus launch on the companies own Antares 230 vehicle, which uses the Russia RD-181 engines. This was the seventh launch of Antares with six successfully completing their missions and one failure. That failure led to the redesign of the Antares rocket which caused a two-year delay in launches, during that time Orbital made use of United Launch Alliances Atlas V to launch Cygnus to the ISS.
SpaceX resumed their 2017 launch campaign today with the successful launch of the Dragon vehicle for the CRS-12 mission to the International Space Station. As with previous CRS launches the first stage returned to land at Landing Zone 1.
This launch comes after a month break to allow the 45th Space Wing to perform maintenance needed around Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.
This was SpaceX’s 11th launch this year and 8th landing.
In what looks to become another busy day for SpaceX the Dragon cargo vehicle that spent a month at the station following its successful launch last month was released by the station this morning and completed a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 8:12 EDT.
This was the second mission for this vehicle and clearly shows that SpaceX’s goals of creating reusable rockets and spacecraft have moved another important step forward.
The spacecraft returned 4,100+ lbs of research and other cargo from the station which will now be returned to port before being transported directly to NASA to be offloaded.
Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed—completing first re-flight of a commercial spacecraft to and from the @Space_Station.
At present SpaceX has not said when another flight-proven Dragon will be used however there have been indications that this is under consideration as well as the possibility of using flight-proven Falcon 9 to launch them.
SpaceX passed another important milestone, on their route to reusability, with the successful launch of the CRS-11 Dragon mission to the International Space Station.
The Dragon capsule used for this launch previously flew to the ISS on the CRS-4 mission in September 2014 and following some refurbishment and re-certification was approved for this current mission. With this launch, SpaceX became the first commercial company to send a previously flown capsule to orbit.
This was the 7th launch this year and 5th landing for SpaceX and the cadence doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon with several more launches scheduled for June including one from Vandenburg.
Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer completed a 4 hours, 13 minute spacewalk successfully today, this was the 200th at the International Space Station.
The spacewalk which was shortened due to an issue with a Service and Cooling Umbilical hose used to provide power and consumables to the spacesuits while inside of the station, this resulted in both Astronauts having to share one reducing the overall battery time they had available.
However, despite this, they were able to complete the following tasks:-
Following a smooth flight, Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA Astronaut Jack Fischer completed their four orbit chase of the International Space Station (ISS) and docked at 9:18 AM EDT. Once the leak checks had been completed the hatches were opened, at 11:05 AM EDT, between the two vehicles allowing them to float into the station to begin their time on the station.
At 3:13 AM EDT today the Soyuz MS-04 was launched from Baikonur to begin a four orbit, six hour journey to dock with the International Space Station (ISS).
For the first time since October 2005, the vehicle was only carrying two crew members instead of the typical three. This is due to a change made by Russian to switch to only having two crew members on board ISS.
One of the experiments making its way to the International Space Station (ISS) today is the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH). As part of the journey to Mars and beyond being able to grow plants for eating will be very important. This experiment builds on the older Veggie experiment that has been active on the station for a while now.
APH will be an enclosed facility that will allow the team to control the environment including lighting levels, humidity, watering etc. Once installed on the station the first two plants to be grown are Wheat and Arabidopsis which will allow the scientists determine how the facility is operating and have well-known structures that have been studied on Earth.
As with the early Veggie experiments, the crew will not eat anything that has been grown initially, however, one of the scientists said during the NASA “What’s On Board” briefing mentioned.
The APH has the ability to grow four different plants even if they have different growth times, this could allow future crews to grow lettuce, tomato, onions and peppers and have a fresh salad.
NASA announced this week that Astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has already set several space flight records and will soon break Scott Kelly’s record for most time in space by a US Astronaut, will be staying on the International Space Station for an additional three months.
Originally scheduled to return home in June this year with her crewmates Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet she will instead transition to the Expedition 52 crew and return home with Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer in September.
This was possible because Russia has now switched to a two cosmonaut crew rotation plan, this would have meant that only two people would have been on the station after Peggy and her crew left in June. This extension will allow the station to keep a full complement of people on the station allowing them to continue the same level of science investigations that has been established recently.
When Peggy returns home in September she will have the third longest consecutive stay on the ISS a record that was set last year by Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko when they spent 340 days aboard the station.