Russia launches Progress 70 and completes fastest docking ever

Today Russia launched their latest Progress spacecraft to the International Space Station. The spacecraft lifted off at 17:51 EDT and then used an accelerated approach to dock just 3h 40m later making this the fastest launch to docking ever for Progress.

This was the third time Russia had attempted this, however, the previous two times the launch vehicle experienced technical issues while on the launch pad and the launch was delayed. Due to these delays, there wasn’t another launch opportunity available that would allow the accelerated approach so they had to revert to the standard docking profile.

As with previous changes to the launch profile for Russian vehicles, they test with the cargo Progress vehicles before attempting the same with the crew vehicles where the accelerated docking has more benefits for the crew aboard due to how cramped it is inside.

Orbital ATK launches Cygnus J.R. Thompson

Orbital ATK successfully launched their Cygnus spacecraft towards the International Space Station this morning. The spacecraft named J.R. Thompon is carrying 7,385 lbs of cargo to the station and is scheduled to be captured on Thursday by the stations Canadarm 2.  As with the previous Cygnus launches the spacecraft was given a name this time “J.R. Thompson”

S.S. J.R. Thompson

For each CRS mission, it is a tradition at Orbital ATK to name the Cygnus cargo spacecraft for an individual who has furthered our nation’s human spaceflight programs. For our OA-9 mission, we are proud to announce that the OA-9 spacecraft will be named after J.R. Thompson, a distinguished leader in the aerospace industry and a member of our Orbital ATK family. Throughout his life, J.R. held prominent positions at NASA, the Marshall Space Flight Center, and Orbital Sciences. We are honored to celebrate his life with the upcoming launch of the S.S. J.R. Thompson.

Quote from OA-9 mission page

The launch was originally scheduled to liftoff on Sunday 20th but was delayed a day to allow the teams additional time to perform inspections and tests of the system to ensure a successful launch today.

This was the first launch for Orbital ATK this year, the 8th overall for the Antares rocket and the 10th for the Cygnus spacecraft.  After the Orb-3 launch failure in October 2014, Orbital launched two Cygnus spacecraft on United Launch Alliances Atlas V.

Orbital ATK launches Cygnus on OA-8 mission

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 Dragon completes visit to ISS

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.

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.

ISS Contingency Spacewalk Completed Successfully

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer completed a 2 hour 41-minute contingency spacewalk today following the failure of an Multiplexer-Demultiplexer (MDM) over the weekend.

During the walk, they successfully replaced the MDM and also installed two wireless network antenna’s

This was Peggy’s 10th walk for a total time of 60 hours 21-minutes, surpassing John Grunsfeld to become the 3rd place all-time leader and Jack’s second who now has 6 hours 54-minutes accumulated time.

200th ISS Spacewalk Complete

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:-

  • Replaced ExPRESS Carrier Avionics (ExPCA)
  • Installed Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) Forward Shield
  • Installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) 1552 Terminator
  • Secured Multilayer Insulation (MLI) on Japanese Manipulator System
  • Relocated a Portable Foot Restrain to PMA-3

This was Peggy’s ninth spacewalk for a total time of 57 hours, 35 minutes and Jack’s first.

This brings the total time for ISS spacewalks to 1247 hours, 55 minutes.

Soyuz MS-04 launches to ISS

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.

Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin is on his fifth space flight and NASA Astronaut Jack Fischer is traveling for the first time.

Once in orbit, the vehicle deployed its Solar Arrays and KURS automated docking antennas and begun a series of approach burns allowing the crew to perform the accelerated docking path.

When the vehicle returns in September it will be carrying three crew members back to Earth as NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson will be staying on the station to ensure a three person crew remains.

ULA launches Cygnus on OA-7 mission to ISS

This morning at 11:14 AM EDT United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched another Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft towards the International Space Station (ISS). This was the third Cygnus that ULA has launched for Orbital and at the present time the last.

John Glenn Banner inside Cygnus

Named after the late John Glenn, former Astronaut and US Senator who passed away last December. The launch was delayed several times to allow ULA time to address some issues with the launch vehicle and pad, and then to accommodate the hectic ISS schedule. The vehicle is carrying 3,459 kg (7,626 lb) of cargo to the space station and will spend at least 80 days at the station before being released. After it is successfully completed its mission another of the Saffire experiments will be performed, where a controlled fire will lite. Once that is complete the vehicle will burn up in the atmosphere.

The countdown proceeded smoothly this morning with an on-time launch, which concluded when the Cygnus spacecraft was delivered to orbit.

This was ULA’s 71st Atlas V, 36th 401 config, 4th launch of 2017 and 119th consecutive successful launch keeping their perfect 100% record.

As a side note, this was the last launch for NASA PAO George Diller who has been the voice of NASA for many launches in the past.  We hope that he has a great and long retirement and will miss hearing his commentary.

ISS – Advanced Plant Habitat

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.

Prototype, of NASA’s APH

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.

More information on the can be found here.

Jeff Williams sets new cumulative time in space record for US astronaut

m16-026NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams broke NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly’s record today for the longest cumulative time spent in space for a US astronaut. Jeff is on his fourth mission to space, which include one Space Shuttle mission and three long duration missions to the International Space Station.

For this current mission Jeff launched on March 18th, 2016 with Cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka aboard their Soyuz TMA-20M vehicle and docked at the station 6 hours later. Jeff later took command of the station just before the departure of previous commander NASA Astronaut Tim Kopra.

Jeff previous flew on STS-101, Soyuz TMA-8 (Expedition 13), Soyuz TMA-16 (Expedition 21/22).

Jeff will return to Earth in September having surpassed 533 cumulative days in space.