One Year Mission on the Space Station Set for 2015

Scott Kelly
American Astronaut Scott Kelly
Image Credit: NASA

Mikhail Kornienko
Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko
Image Credit: NASA

NASA announced on Monday 26 November 2012, that American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been selected by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and their international partners to conduct a 12 month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015.

The mission aboard the orbiting laboratory is designed to further our understanding of how the human body reacts and adapts to microgravity and other aspects of living in space. Work over the past several years have shown marked improvement in the ability for astronauts on a normal 5-6 month mission aboard the ISS to adapt to microgravity. The year long mission seeks to validate these findings.

Long duration missions to the Moon, Lagrange points, asteroids and Mars will require countermeasures to reduce risks associated with future exploration.

Kelly and Kornienko are veterans of space travel. Kelly served as a pilot on space shuttle mission STS-103 in 1999, commander on STS-118 in 2007, flight engineer on the International Space Station Expedition 25 in 2010 and commander of Expedition 26 in 2011. Kelly has logged more than 180 days in space.

Kornienko was selected as an Energia test cosmonaut candidate in 1998 and trained as an International Space Station Expedition 8 backup crew member. He served as a flight engineer on the station’s Expedition 23/24 crews in 2010 and has logged more than 176 days in space.

The two astronauts will launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in the Spring of 2015 and return to land in Kazakhstan in the Spring of 2016.

Arizona State Space Exploration Symposium – A Review

Michael Mackowski, a member of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society, attended the one day symposium titled “The Future of Humans in Space” on 26 October 2012. He sent us these observations:

Notes from ASU Space Exploration Symposium, 10/26/12

I attended a symposium at ASU on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012. The name of the event was “Future of Humans in Space: Re-Kindling the Dream. The day-long symposium was sponsored by ASU’s Beyond Center, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and the Center for Science and the Imagination. Here are my random notes on each speaker.

Hugh Downs (former television news personality and current chairman of the board of governors of the NSS)
He reminisced about NASA’s “glory days” when a leader like von Braun could make design decisions on the spot. Downs claimed that Werner saw the original Saturn V design with four engines, and suggested they add a fifth. There were no trade studies, no review committees, no cost-benefits trades, just a brilliant engineer with the freedom to get things done. Downs also talked about the early days of the National Space Society including how George Whitesides helped get it going.

George Whitesides (CEO and president of Virgin Galactic)
He talked about how Virgin wants to put more people into space. While he acknowledged these are suborbital flights, he avoided noting (until asked) that it is only for two minutes. He tried to make a case that these are exciting times for space development right now, with SpaceX proving their new capabilities and Virgin close to proving out the market for tourist flights into space. Just how this fits in with the theme of the symposium (“Why are we stuck in low Earth orbit?”), when Virgin doesn’t even GET to orbit was a bit puzzling to me. I’m all for rich people wanting to take their joy rides, and maybe this advances cheaper access to space, but I don’t see how suborbital tourist rides gets us closer to settlements off the Earth. Perhaps it can establish a space tourist market that can evolve into a LEO business, thus driving down launch costs. Whitesides did mention that Virgin Galactic has plans for orbital vehicles but that is a long way off.

Ed Finn (Director, Center for Science and the Imagination)
This center (http://csi.asu.edu) was one of the co-sponsors of this event and they had a few minutes to introduce themselves. A simple statement of their charter is to connect science and the arts. One of their efforts is to bring together scientists and engineers with science fiction writers. It’s another example of ASU president Michael Crow’s adventures in collaborations across disciplines.

Kip Hodges (Director, ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration)
He talked about collaboration between humans and robots in future space exploration from the perspective of a field geologist. His main point was that robots are unlikely to ever be as good as humans for exploration. Human cognition will always be superior to autonomous machines, but there is plenty of room for working together. The problem is latency, or the time it takes to communicate with a teleprescence on another world. Until we figure that out, robotic exploration will be slow and inefficient.

Panel Discussion: How to Leverage Our Investment in Space
This panel included Kip Hodges, Lawrence Krauss (physics professor), astronaut Andrew Thomas, and Paul Davies. I don’t think the discussion ever talked about leveraging our past investments, but the topic veered into how will we ever manage to get a manned Mars mission. All of the classic debate topics came up:
– Destinations versus Capabilities
– Moon versus Mars
– Robots versus People
– Science versus Adventure
– Settlement versus Political Prestige
– Government versus Entrepreneur
There was a consensus that the ultimate goal is human settlement on other worlds. But the path to get there is not at all clear. Astronaut Andy Thomas had a lucid view of the situation, in that space exploration is not a national imperative. Our indecisiveness is a social issue, not technical, not even political. It is still too expensive for private entities to bankroll, and the American taxpayer is in no mood to pay for more than we are doing now. Public interest is just too shallow. It won’t be performed by “commercial” firms because there is no business case for going to the Moon or Mars. The problem of radiation exposure was debated, and clearly more research is required here. Some of the panelists supported the concept of a one-way mission to Mars. These would not be suicide missions but the beginnings of permanent settlements. Others, however, said that eliminating the problems of a return to Earth stage is replaced with other, equally challenging problems of long duration survival.

Robert Zubrin (author of The Case for Mars)
Zubrin kicked off his presentation with the audacious claim that the most important issue is the world today is going to Mars. In 500 years, the first mission to Mars will be remembered more than who wins the election or how we manage our health care system. There’s some truth to that, but most people have to pay their bills first. He gave his classic talk on how to get to Mars in ten years. It is a very well thought out mission plan, and a lot of it makes sense. On the down side, Robert seems to be using the same charts and graphics from when he first came up with this concept twenty years ago. (He had grainy images from Viking to make a point about landing sites. How hard would it be to use some images from, say, the 1990s?) When it comes to destination-vs-capabilities, Zubrin is of the mind that missions drive the technology, so he wants to see a challenging mission declared. Unfortunately, this runs in the face of Andy Thomas’s observation that today’s American public is in no mood for expensive space spectaculars.

Kim Stanley Robinson (science fiction author)
Robinson’s take on space exploration was a bit more philosophical than the other speakers, as he is a writer and not a technologist. He claims that “the space project” will naturally occur as the outcome of a healthy planet and a healthy human civilization. Looking around the world right now, we’re not there. Thinking of space as a planet will help us deal with climate change. He’s not enamored with so-called “commercial” space. Space is a commons, not a playground for the rich. We need to take care of our own planet, as only Earth matters. We also have to acknowledge that we, as a species, are not “destined” for space. We are products of the Earth’s biosphere. We can attempt to take it with us, but the inter-relationships among human beings and microbiotic life (for example) is not fully understood. If we take a sterile environment with us on deep space missions, what crucial microbes will we forget?

Panel Discussion: Wilder ideas, one-way missions, warp drives, starships, etc.
This panel consisted of Sarah Walker (an astrobiologist), Ed Finn (from the Center for Science and the Imagination), Paul Davies, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Robert Zubrin. It was an entertaining discussion on such speculative topics as nuclear propulsion, space elevators, controlled fusion, magnetic monopoles, generation ships, modified human biology, etc.

Summary
There was no real conclusion or summary statement planned, but I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I spoke with Prof. Paul Davies prior to the meeting and he kindly gave me a few minutes on stage to promote local chapters of the National Space Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Some good contacts were made and I think there will be opportunities for collaboration between ASU and groups like NSS, the Moon Society, and AIAA.

As for the prospects for invigorating the space program, I believe the key word is patience. Government-run space exploration will only accomplish what citizens are demanding, and right now, not enough citizens are demanding a base on the moon or Mars. Privately sponsored space exploration might happen eventually, but it would have to be from a purely altruistic motivation, as there is no business case for exploration any time soon. We will need to wait for the technology to allow either of these paths to become affordable before we will make much progress towards establishing a true space faring civilization. That is the sad reality.

Dragon – Capture and Berthing – Images

Capture of the Dragon was completed by Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide at 3:56 AM Phoenix time (10:56 UTC). Suni: “Looks like we tamed the dragon, she’s on board with us.”

Referring to the fact that Dragon is capable of carrying powered equipment to and from the space station, the space station crew reported that they had captured Dragon and were looking forward to the chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream in the freezer aboard the space craft.

Sunlight
Dragon Attached to ISS – In The Sunlight Above Earth
Image Credit: NASA TV

At 4:45 Phoenix time, the space station crew is preparing for Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) inspection.

The CBM has been inspected and has been confirmed to be in good condition. Since the ISS is out of range of KU communication, there will be a 10-15 minute wait until the crew can move the robotic arm to the pre-install position.

Moving
Dragon Moving Carefully to the Berthing Position on the Harmony Node
Image Credit: NASA TV

In the image below, the Dragon Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) is in the upper right and the Harmony Node is in the lower left. The ISS crew is waiting to receive permission to move the Dragon to the pre-install position.

CBM
Dragon Common Berthing Mechanism
Image Credit: NASA TV

At 5:15 AM Phoenix time (12:15 UTC), Dragon is being moved to the pre-install position.

Pre-Install
Dragon Being Moved to the Pre-Install Position
Image Credit: NASA TV

The ground crew is preparing to give the go ahead to berth the Dragon. Currently the Flight director hand-over is in work for transition from Orbit-1 to Orbit-2.

The flight director has begun to continue the process leading up to berthing. Suni is checking that the thrusters have been safed.

At 5:41 AM, the Dragon is again in motion, moving toward the bottom of the Harmony module.

And Suni has confirmed contact: “We are ready to latch”.

RTL
Dragon Makes Contact and is Ready To Latch
Image Credit: NASA TV

First stage capture is complete and the bolts have been tightened. The robotic arm has been “limped”, but not disengaged.

Second stage capture is underway, 272 Miles above the South Atlantic. With the re-establishment of solid comm, Suni can proceed.

At 6:03 AM (13:03 UTC), installation has been confirmed.

RTL
Dragon Installed on the International Space Station
Image Credit: NASA TV

Graphic showing all the vehicles currently attached to the International Space Station.

RTL
Dragon in the International Space Station Parking Lot
Image Credit: NASA TV

Dragon – Rendezvous and Grappling – CRS-1

Rendezvous COTS 2,3
COTS 2,3 Dragon Rendezvous with the International Space Station
Image Credit: SpaceX

Acronyms.

NASA TV provides coverage of the SpaceX/Dragon rendezvous and grappling. SpaceX will also provide coverage.

Events for this evening and tomorrow morning:

  • Height adjust burns start adjusting altitude higher toward station
  • COTS Ultra-high Frequency Communication Unit (CUCU) and on-board UHF communication system between Dragon
    and ISS is configured
  • Height adjust burn: Dragon begins burns that bring it within 2.5 km of station (go/no-go)
  • Dragon receives and sends information from/to the CUCU unit on station
  • Height adjust burn brings Dragon 1.2 km from station (go/no-go)
  • Height adjust burn carries Dragon into the station’s approach ellipsoid (go/no-go)
  • Dragon holds at 250 meters (go/no-go) for confirmation of proximity sensors targeting acquisition
  • Dragon begins R-Bar Approach
  • Dragon holds at 30 meters (go/no-go)
  • Dragon holds at capture point, 10 meters below the station (go/no-go)
  • Crew captures Dragon using the station’s robotic arm (SSRMS)
  • Dragon is attached to the station

This means 3:30 AM Phoenix time with grappling scheduled for roughly 4:00 to 4:30 AM tomorrow morning (11:00 UTC).

We will keep making updates here.

Dragon - ISS
Dragon Chasing the International Space Station about 8:30 PM Phoenix time
Image Credit: kevlar on You Tube

Virgin Galactic Unveils LauncherOne

LauncherOne
Virgin Galactic Unveils LauncherOne to Deliver 225 KG Orbit for $10 MIllion
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

In an announcement today at the Farnborough International Air Show, Virgin Galactic revealed it is partnering with a privately funded satellite launcher to build a two stage air launched rocket capable of placing 225 kilograms into orbit for around $10 Million dollars.

Skybox Imaging announced it has raised $91 million for a high resolution imaging system, which will use LauncherOne.

GeoOptics Inc. is developing a constellation of remote sensing satellites to be orbited by Virgin Galactic.

Spaceflight Inc. will use Virgin Galactic, and Planetary Resources also plans to use LauncherOne.

Also, Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems, announced that they would create optimized satellite designs to match LauncherOne’s performance specifications.

ILS Proton-M Launches SES-5 Communications Satellite

Liftoff
Proton-M at Liftoff with SES-5
Image Credit: ILS

An International Launch Systems (ILS) Proton-M rocket lifted off its pad in Baikonur Kazakhstan yesterday at 11:38 AM Phoenix time (1838 UTC). There have been almost 400 launches of the Proton system since 1965.

Nine hours after launch, the Briz-M upper stage delivered the satellite to Geostationary Orbit.

Originally scheduled for launch last December, it was postponed due to an upper stage problem. Then, in June, an out of tolerance telemetry reading for a first stage sub-assembly eventually forced the vehicle off the pad and back to the processing hall for extensive testing.

Satellite Services (SESthe ) owns SES-5, which is equipped with 24 C-band transponders and 36 Ku-band transponders.

This 6,000 Kg communications satellite will be stationed at five degrees East, and provide Ku-band capacity for Africa and Nordic and Baltic countries. The C-band coverage is for Africa and the Middle East. It has an expected lifetime of 15 years.

SES-5, built by Space Systems/Loral, will also carry the first hosted L-band payload for the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS). The EGNOS payload, which was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission (EC), will help verify, improve, and report on the reliability and accuracy of navigation positioning signals in Europe.