The 15th year of continuous occupation of the International Space Station (ISS) promises to be a dramatic one for NASA and its partners from Russia, Japan, Canada, and the member states of the European Space Agency (ESA). For the first time, a U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut will aim to spend a year away from the Home Planet and, as outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace article, numerous records are set to be broken, including the world endurance record for time spent in space, the longest period spent away from Earth by a non-Russian and non-U.S. female spacefarer, and the first flight by a citizen of Denmark. Yet, although the records are set to fall like ninepins in 2015, the year also marks a period of extraordinary transition for the multi-national outpost itself, which will see its first major relocation of hardware in more than four years, as NASA prepares for its future Commercial Crew requirements.
“A great year” was how Denmark’s soon-to-be first man in space, Andreas Mogensen, described plans for 2015 during a news conference for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), held in Paris on 18 December. No fewer than three ESA astronauts are set to call the ISS their home during the next dozen months, including Italy’s first female spacefarer, Samantha Cristoforetti, who currently joins U.S. astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts and Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov on the six-strong Expedition 42 crew. Having been launched aboard Soyuz TMA-14M on 25 September, Wilmore, Samukotyayev, and Serova are today (1 January) entering their 107th day in orbit, whilst Shkaplerov, Virts, and Cristoforetti, who flew to the ISS aboard Soyuz TMA-15M on 23 November, have reached their 39th day away from the Home Planet.
Currently, the station plays host to ESA’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5), which has been attached to the aft longitudinal port of the Zvezda service module since mid-August and is expected to remain in place until 10 February, when it will be undocked and deorbited. One other unpiloted craft—Russia’s Progress M-25M cargo ship, launched last October—is in residence at the ISS, located at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Pirs module, and is expected to undock and return to a fiery re-entry in late April 2015. The next VV is SpaceX’s fifth dedicated Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-5) Dragon mission, already delayed from December and now tracking a launch attempt from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., no sooner than 6:18 a.m. EST Tuesday, 6 January. Assuming an on-time liftoff, the Dragon will be robotically grappled by the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6-meter) Canadarm2 early on 8 January and berthed at the nadir interface of the Harmony node. It will spend about a month in residence, before being unberthed and returning to a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Baja California.
In the meantime, a significant amount of work stands ahead of the Expedition 42 crew, before the scheduled return to Earth of Wilmore, Samokutyayev, and Serova on 12 March, with preparations for a major reconfiguration of the station planned for the second half of 2015. Already, during U.S. EVA-28 last 15 October, spacewalkers removed television cameras and other equipment from Camera Port (CP)-7 on the nadir inboard face of the P-1 truss and repositioned them farther outboard at the CP-8 location. This also demanded the movement of a Wireless External Transceiver Assembly (WETA) to a new site, together with the transfer of an Articulating Portable Foot Restraint (APFR) and tool stanchion from the nadir side of P-1 to the central S-0 truss. All of these movements will ensure adequate clearance when several large pieces of ISS hardware are moved to new locations.
As part of the requirements for Commercial Crew operations, two International Docking Adapters (IDAs) will be installed onto the space station to support two future piloted vehicles, Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon V-2, both of which were selected by NASA last September in the $6.8 billion Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. To prepare for the IDA-1 and IDA-2, Wilmore and Virts are expected to step outside the ISS on three occasions in the coming weeks. This marks a clear return to “nominal” U.S. EVA operations, following the harrowing water intrusion incident suffered by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano during EVA-23 in July 2013. Although two contingency spacewalks were undertaken in December 2013, followed by another in April 2014, issues with Long Life Batteries (LLBs) aboard the Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs) meant that it was not until EVA-27 and EVA-28 in October that planned spacewalks on the U.S. side of the ISS resumed in earnest. Including the trio of EVAs by Wilmore and Virts, current plans envisage no fewer than seven U.S. spacewalks in 2015.
The opening pair of EVAs—officially known as U.S. EVA-29 and EVA-30—are planned for 6.5 hours apiece on 28 January and 2 February and are devoted to “IDA Prep.” During a pre-flight press conference last July, Wilmore explained that he and Virts would be “the cable guys,” responsible for routing power and other utilities for the IDAs. A third spacewalk (EVA-31), currently scheduled for 6 February, will see Wilmore and Virts work to install early hardware components of the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) architecture. Developed under contract between NASA and Mason, Ohio-based L-3 Cincinnati Electronics, C2V2 “provides standardized communications between the International Space Station (ISS) and docked vehicles by using a standard data link for exchanging audio, video and telemetry data at varying data rates and communications ranges.” For unpiloted Visiting Vehicles (VVs), this includes trajectory and overall spacecraft health data, whilst for the crewed vehicles it will also feature a two-way audio capability. When its hardware is fully installed and activated, C2V2 will operate for up to 13 years—throughout the remaining lifetime of the ISS—and consolidate station-based communications, save weight and volume and greatly simplify logistics for co-ordinating the arrival and departure of all VVs.
In September 2012, L-3 was awarded a $24 million contract by NASA to deliver four S-band flight units and associated equipment for C2V2. This hardware will “provide coverage to all ISS docking ports” and will occur “throughout the VV trajectory,” with locations for the antennas and their laser retroreflectors ranging across the forward and aft faces of the starboard-side S-3 and port-side P-3 trusses, together with three of the Express Logistics Carriers (ELCs), the space-facing (or “zenith”) face of the central S-0 truss and the nadir sides of the Quest airlock and the Tranquility node. Under the terms of the contract, the integrated C2V2 hardware should be ready “to support on-orbit operation by March 2015.” Documentation pertaining to the technical requirements and constraints of the system notes that the number of C2V2-related EVAs should be minimized and restricted only to the physical installation of the hardware.
With the completion of their three EVAs, the month of February—in addition to a full workload of science—will see the departure and arrival of several VVs, with ATV-5 expected to undock from Zvezda’s aft longitudinal port on 10 February. Seven days later, Russia’s Progress M-26M cargo ship will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, bound for a six-hour and four-orbit “fast rendezvous” to take up residence at the Zvezda aft location until late August.
March will commence with the departure of Wilmore, Samokutyayev, and Serova aboard Soyuz TMA-14M, touching down in Kazakhstan after 168 days in orbit. This will elevate Samokutyayev from his current position as the world’s 46th most experienced spacefarer into 41st place, with a cumulative 332 days in two missions. It will also complete the first voyage of Serova, who is Russia’s first female spacefarer in two decades and only the country’s fourth woman cosmonaut in history, as well as closing out the second flight of former shuttle pilot Wilmore. Returning to Earth, Wilmore will hand command of the ISS to Virts, who will lead Expedition 43 until mid-May. During Virts’ tenure, a new crew—that of Soyuz TMA-16M, comprising Russian cosmonauts Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko and U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly—will launch from Baikonur on 27 March to bring Expedition 43 up to full six-person strength. Shortly afterwards, on 8 April, SpaceX will deliver its sixth CRS Dragon on a month-long cargo delivery flight to the ISS. One of its primary payloads is expected to be the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) experiment, a highly successful, balloon-borne instrument now assigned a role aboard the ISS for measuring the charges of cosmic rays from hydrogen through iron nuclei, over a broad energy range. CREAM will be robotically removed from Dragon’s unpressurized Trunk and attached to the Exposed Facility (EF) of Japan’s Kibo laboratory for three years of operations. Also scheduled to arrive at the station in late April is Russia’s Progress M-27M.
With the scheduled return to Earth of Virts and his crewmates Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti on 11 May, after almost 170 days in orbit, the ISS will rotate into Expedition 44, under the command of Padalka. And this crew is particularly special. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace article, Kelly and Kornienko plan to spend almost a full year in orbit, returning in March 2016. This will be the first occasion that a piloted voyage of such extreme duration has ever been attempted on the ISS and only the fourth time in history—after the 366-day mission of Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov in 1987-88, the 438-day expedition of Valeri Polyakov in 1994-1995, and the 379-day flight of Sergei Avdeyev in 1998-99, all of which took place aboard Russia’s Mir space station—that a human being will have spent about a year continuously away from the Home Planet.
Two weeks after the return of Virts’ crew to Earth, on 26 May Soyuz TMA-17M will launch from Baikonur, carrying the second half of Expedition 44. Seasoned Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko—currently the 19th most experienced spacefarer in the world, with 391 days, spread across two previous missions—will be joined by “rookie” crewmates Kjell Lindgren of NASA and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Their arrival aboard the ISS will set the stage for a dramatic second half of 2015, which is expected to see no fewer than three SpaceX Dragons, the first Atlas V-boosted Cygnus cargo ship on behalf of Orbital Sciences Corp., several relocations of critical ISS hardware, and the arrival of the station’s first expandable habitation module.
The second part of this article will appear tomorrow.
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