Orbital ATK’s CRS Cargo Missions resume

More than a year after the catastrophic failure of the Antares Launch vehicle which resulted in the lose of the Cygnus Cargo vehicle and its payload Orbital’s enhanced Cygnus vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral today with the help of an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.  The launch which was delayed three times due to inclement weather finally lifted off this afternoon when the Atlas V RD-180 came to life.

Orbital elected to purchase two Atlas V launches to allow it to resume its Commercial Resupply contract with NASA for the International Space Station while the enhancements to its Antares rocket continue.  Orbital were also able to introduce there enhanced Cygnus vehicle which can carry an additional 1,200-1,500 kg of cargo depending on launch vehicle.


Important Step forward for Manned Space Flight

ISS_Lettuce3Today on the International Space Station the crew had the opportunity to eat Lettuce that had been grow on the station.

While they have grown vegetables before on the station this was the first time they actually were able to harvest and eat them, previous tests had been returned to Earth for testing.

As we move further away from Earth it becomes more expensive to bring resources to the crews.  Now that we have demonstrated that we can grow vegetables in space some of the cargo can be seeds and other materials that will produce much greater quantities of food.  Another important factor is the physiological impact on the crew where until now they have been fully reliant on supplies from Earth.

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TMA-17M Docks with ISS

Following the successful launch earlier the Soyuz TMA-17M carrying Oleg Kononenko, Kimiya Yui and Kjell Lindgren arrived at the international Space Station following a four orbit journey.

After the launch it became clear that as with TMA-14M one of the solar panels had not deployed correctly, this didn’t impact the docking and as before the panel deployed either during or after docking.

Once the spacecraft completed the docking leak tests were performed to ensure a good connection between both vehicles before the hatches were opened allowing the three crew members to join Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Korniyenko and Scott Kelly.

Videos of the docking and hatch opening

Soyuz TMA-17M launches to ISS

Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui and NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren launched this evening from Baikonur Cosmodrome towards the International Space Station.

Once in orbit the spacecraft deployed its solar panels and KURS docking antenna’s before beginning the six hours, four orbit chase of the ISS.

We will follow up with an article after the docking and hatch opening.

Image below of the launch

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ISS Resupply Vehicle Launches successfully

Following on from two recent failures the Progress 60P (M-28M) spacecraft lifted off successfully this morning,

Lifted to orbit aboard a Soyuz-U rocket the automated spacecraft successfully deployed its Solar Arrays and Kurs docking antennas before firing its thrusters to begin the journey to the ISS, for this flight the spacecraft will use the two day approach due to the phasing of ISS and the schedule change due to the previous Progress M-27M failure.

The last progress launch made it to orbit aboard the newer Soyuz-2.1a rocket but due to a malfunction in the upper stage the spacecraft span out of control and eventually burnt up in the atmosphere.

Below is a video of the launch, we will publish another article following the successful docking.

ISS and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

It does seem like the International Space Station is having quite a bad time with re-supply at the moment, three missions have been lost since last October. However things are not really as bad as the title suggests.

Tomorrow morning another re-supply vehicle is scheduled to liftoff from Baikonur, the Russian Progress 60P spacecraft. This is the first flight of the Progress since the previous vehicle 59P was lost after it reached orbit earlier this year. Next month Japan’s HTV spacecraft is also scheduled to launch to the station.

At present the crew has supplies to last them until October without the supplies that both of the flights above launch will be bring with them.

Later this year the Cygnus spacecraft will once again launch to the station, this time using an Atlas 5 vehicle, Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket is scheduled to return to flight next year.

At present we don’t have a timeline for SpaceX to resume flights of there Falcon 9 rocket. Once the details of what happened and what needs to be done to resolve it are available SpaceX will then determine when flights can resume.

So while it has been a bad year for ISS, all that has been lost is replaceable cargo.

We will be publishing an article tomorrow after the launch of the Progress 60P spacecraft.

SpaceX loses CRS-7 mission to ISS

CRS7-logoThis morning SpaceX launched their latest mission to the International Space Station, unfortunately during the first stage flight the rocket exploded causing lost of Falcon, Dragon and the cargo it was carrying


Among the cargo that Dragon was carrying was the first of two International Docking Adapters for the station which will be used by Boeing and SpaceX to dock their crewed vehicles in the future.  They were also flying the Meteor experiment which was originally launched on the fated Orb-3 mission last year but lost when the rocket exploded.  For further details of the cargo manifest check out this pdf file.

Below are screen grabs of the launch captured from the Webcast

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PMM relocated on ISS

This morning the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 moved the Permanent Multipurpose Module from the Unity module to the Tranquility module. The module which was previously flown as a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) aboard the Space Shuttle was left at the station in February 2011 to provide additional storage space.

The was moved to continue the re-configuration of the station for the new Commercial Crew Vehicles expected to fly starting late next year.

Below are screen grabs of the move operation from NASA TV.

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And it gets worse – Progress ISS Re-boost also failed

Just as we thought things couldn’t get worse for Russia we were wrong.  The planned International Space Station re-boost by the Progress M-26M failed when the engines on the spacecraft failed to start.

The spacecraft which has been docked at the station since 17th February 2015 was supposed to raise the orbit of the station to compensate for drag as it flies around the Earth.  Without these occasional re-boosts the station will eventually fall back to Earth, although there is no danger of this happening any time soon, however with the lose of the Progress M-27M does complicate the issue.

The crew are not in any danger and were not involved in the process to re-boost the station which is controlled from Mission Control in Russia.  They will now investigate what happened and determine if another attempt can be done next week.

We will post another update once we have more news on the investigation and plan to try again.

UPDATE – Mission control attempted another re-boost this morning Monday 18th which was successful.  Below is a quote from the Russian news source.

The orbit correction was made with the Progress M-26M spacecraft engines.


“The manoeuvre has been completed,” the source said.

According to him, the spacecraft’s engines worked for 23 minutes. During this time the ISS orbit was lifted by 2.8 km to reach 405 km on the average.

Why we need multiple providers for Space Access

It became clear again this week why it is critical that we have multiple providers to access Space.  With the Progress 59 (M-27M) failure recently the International Partners involved in the ISS have now had to rescheduled several future flights to accommodate the loss of the vehicle and allow time for the investigation into the loss to determine impact on the future.

As a result the Expedition 43 crew members Terry Virts, Samantha Cristoforetti and Anton Shkaplerov will be spending an extra month aboard the station and Expedition 44 crew members Oleg Kononenko, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui are now expected to launch in late July almost two months late.

At present the Soyuz TMA vehicle is the only way for crewed missions to the ISS, this is set to change in 2017 when the Dragon 2 and CST-100 vehicles will begin servicing the station, assuming SpaceX and Boeing complete there contracts on time.

While some people question the choice of SpaceX and Boeing for commercial crew services, especially the price awarded to the contractors it is clear that only selecting a single option would have left us with a similar situation should that single supplier fall behind schedule or suffer a failure that grounded the vehicle.  By selecting two providers both for Cargo and Crew NASA are protecting there investment in ISS by ensuring access.  This decision has already be justified with the failure of Orbital ATK’s Orb-3 mission last October.