As many people on Planet Earth struggled with ferocious hangovers on the morning of 1 January 2015, the incumbent Expedition 42 crew of the International Space Station (ISS)—consisting of Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA, Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov, U.S. astronaut Terry Virts, and Italy’s first woman in space, Samantha Cristoforetti—oversaw the dawn of a year which will end with the most significant reconfiguration of hardware aboard the orbital outpost since the twilight of the shuttle era. During the next 12 months, astronauts and cosmonauts from the United States and Russia, Italy and Japan, Denmark, and the United Kingdom will labor on at least eight EVAs, unload more than a dozen unpiloted visiting vehicles, conduct hundreds of scientific experiments, and prepare the ISS for its future Commercial Crew needs.
In yesterday’s AmericaSpace article, it was highlighted that three U.S. EVAs by Wilmore and Virts will take place in late January and early February, to lay cables, umbilicals, and other utilities to prepare for the arrival of two new docking adapters for Commercial Crew and the implementation by March of a new Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) architecture. By mid-year, Expedition 44 will be in full flow, with Commander Gennadi Padalka of Russia on the cusp of becoming the world’s most experienced spacefarer, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko a quarter of the way through the first year-long mission of the ISS era, and crewmates Oleg Kononenko of Russia, Kjell Lindgren of NASA, and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) rounding out a multi-faceted crew for a very multi-faceted mission.
According to NASA’s latest Flight Planning Integration Panel (FPIP) documentation, SpaceX is set to launch its third Dragon cargo mission of the year on 13 June. It will be the seventh dedicated mission under the language of SpaceX’s $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, signed in December 2008, which requires the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company to deliver 12 flights and 44,000 pounds (20,000 kg) of equipment, supplies, and payloads to the ISS by 2016. However, the primary payload aboard Dragon’s unpressurized “Trunk” for the CRS-7 mission will be quite distinct from its predecessors and very far-reaching in its scope: the first International Docking Adapter (IDA-1), which is fully compliant with the International Docking System Standard (IDSS), an effort by the ISS Multilateral Co-ordination Board to create an international spacecraft docking standard for the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS).
In conference notes from Headquarters in Washington, D.C., in April 2011, NASA rationalized the need for this international standard. “Connecting spacecraft from different nations has required unique development and expensive integration and test,” it was explained. “Expansion of spacefaring nations (and non-governmental entities) will compound this issue in the future. Exploration co-operation could be much easier with internationally accepted interface standards.” As well as having a firm heritage in flight-proven designs, the IDSS also incorporates low-impact technology, which “accommodates a wide range of vehicle contact and capture conditions.” In addition to NASA’s effort with the IDS, the European Space Agency (ESA) is developing its own IDSS-compliant interface, known as the International Berthing and Docking Mechanism (IBDM).
Shortly after arrival at the ISS, the IDA-1 payload will be detached from Dragon’s trunk, by means of the 57.7-foot-long (17.6-meter) Canadarm2 robotic arm. It will then be installed onto the Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA)-2, at the “front end” of the space station, on the forward port of the Harmony node. The PMA-2 interface has not been utilized by any arriving vehicle since STS-135, the final flight of the shuttle era, back in July 2011, but will henceforth be retasked as one of two Commercial Crew docking ports. In addition to a Russian EVA by Padalka and Kornienko, a U.S. EVA in the June-July timeframe—probably by Kelly and Lindgren—will complete the installation and activation of IDA-1, which will convert the PMA-2 docking interface from its original Androgynous Peripheral Attach System (APAS)-95 specification to Boeing’s new Soft Impact Mating and Attenuation Concept (SIMAC), which NASA accepted in late 2012 to satisfy its Commercial Crew requirements and replace earlier plans for an international Low Impact Docking System (iLIDS) soft-capture mechanism.
Prior to the first Commercial Crew mission—currently scheduled to get underway no sooner than May 2018 with the launch of U.S. Crew Vehicle (USCV)-1—two IDAs must be installed onto the station to provide primary and backup docking capability for Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon V-2 piloted spacecraft. Both concepts were selected by NASA last September in the $6.8 billion Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts, which seek to launch U.S. astronauts aboard U.S. spacecraft from U.S. soil for the first time since the retirement of the shuttle fleet.
The new PMA-2/IDS-1 port will thus serve as the primary docking point for Commercial Crew, but the necessity of a backup interface for contingency purposes requires the movement of the PMA-3 docking adapter. The latter is presently situated on the port side of the Tranquility node and will be robotically relocated, by means of Canadarm2, to the space-facing (or “zenith”) port of the Harmony node in October 2015. Two U.S. EVAs will then be performed a few days later to complete the installation process. This will prepare PMA-3 for the subsequent arrival of IDA-2, after which the ISS will be fully equipped with two ports to accept future CST-100s or Dragon V-2s.
However, by moving PMA-3 onto Harmony’s zenith port, and thus transforming it into a new docking port, NASA will also be removing a critical Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM). Like the docking ports, at least two CBMs are required as primary and backup locations for the fleet of unpiloted visiting vehicles, which include SpaceX’s Dragon, Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus, and Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV). At the time of writing, these craft can be accommodated at either the zenith or Earth-facing (“nadir”) ports of Harmony, but with the relocation of PMA-3 a new CBM port will become acutely necessary.
In response to this issue, the 22,000-pound (10,000-kg) Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM)—which was installed by the STS-133 shuttle crew and is presently situated at the nadir interface of the Unity node—will be robotically detached by Canadarm2 in late July 2015 and relocated to the forward port of Tranquility. Measuring 22 feet (6.7 meters) long and 14 feet (4.2 meters) in diameter, Leonardo was originally a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) and launched on eight occasions as a cargo ship between March 2001 and its permanent installation on the ISS in February 2011. The movement of Leonardo will thus open up the Unity nadir port for future unpiloted visiting vehicles and restore the space station to having a pair of CBMs, as well as a pair of docking ports for future piloted craft. Shortly after the relocation, the Expedition 44 crew will install a “Node-1 Berthing Kit” aboard Unity to provide power and data support for future visiting vehicles. Current plans call for Japan’s HTV-5 cargo ship to be the first visiting vehicle to use the Unity nadir port in late August 2015.
With Leonardo having been moved to its new position at Tranquility-Forward in July and PMA-3 having also be relocated to Harmony-Zenith in October, the stage will be set for the arrival of IDS-2 aboard SpaceX’s CRS-9 Dragon cargo ship. According to present plans, the mission will launch on 7 December and IDS-2 will be robotically removed from Dragon’s trunk via Canadarm2 and installed onto PMA-3. Shortly thereafter, two USOS members of the ISS crew—which by this stage will consist of U.S. astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra and Britain’s Tim Peake—will perform at least one EVA to complete the installation and activation procedures.
Dovetailed into these relocation plans, the long-awaited Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is scheduled to launch aboard the trunk of the CRS-8 Dragon on 2 September 2015. Plans for this inflatable, torus-shaped habitat module were announced in January 2013, following a $17.8 million agreement between NASA and Las Vegas, Nev.-based Bigelow Aerospace. When fully inflated, the 3,000-pound (1,360-kg) BEAM measures 13 feet (4 meters) in length and 10.5 feet (3.2 meters) in diameter and provides a habitable internal volume of 565 cubic feet (16 cubic meters). It will be attached to the aft-facing port of the Tranquility node—directly opposite the relocated Leonardo—and is expected to remain in place for at least two years, providing stowage and offering valuable engineering data on the structural integrity, leak rates, temperature changes, and radiation dosages of non-rigid ISS modules with human occupants. That said, BEAM’s hatch will remain closed for much of its mission, with former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver having remarked in January 2013 that members of the ISS crew would typically enter the module “a few times a year to collect data.” Upon completion of its tasks, BEAM will be robotically unberthed from the space station, discarded, and intentionally destroyed during re-entry.
As the Expedition 44 crew support these relocations and changes at their orbital home, they will also play an integral part in the steady stream of arrivals and departures of unpiloted visiting vehicles. In addition to the Dragon missions in June, September, and December, two Russian Progresses will launch toward the space station in August and October, together with Japan’s HTV-5 in August and the first of at least two Atlas V-boosted Cygnus cargo ships for Orbital Sciences later in the fall.
Alongside the unpiloted vehicles, no fewer than four crewed Soyuz spacecraft will rotate a steady flow of astronauts and cosmonauts into and out of the ISS during the course of 2015. Although Soyuz TMA-16M’s Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko are expected to remain aboard the station until March 2016, far beyond the expiry date of their ferry craft, their crewmate Gennadi Padalka will return to Earth in mid-September, completing a “standard” six-month expedition. In order to exchange vehicles, the “fresh” Soyuz TMA-18M will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 1 September, carrying veteran cosmonaut Sergei Volkov to replace Padalka for the second half of Kelly and Kornienko’s marathon mission. Joining him with be Denmark’s first man in space, Andreas Mogensen, who is flying under an ESA contract, and English soprano Sarah Brightman, who is a paying “spaceflight participant.”
The first half of September 2015 will herald a remarkable time for the ISS, as the station plays host to no fewer than nine crew members—Expedition 44 crewmen Gennadi Padalka, Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, Kjell Lindgren, and Kimiya Yui, together with the three new arrivals of Soyuz TMA-18M—simultaneously. Although this size of population was regularly seen, and exceeded, during the shuttle era, it has been an infrequent sight since the reusable fleet of orbiters was retired in July 2011. Under normal circumstances, six-person ISS expeditions follow an “indirect rotation,” whereby a given three-member subset departs, temporarily reducing the crew to three, after which a new three-member team arrives to restore it to six. On only one previous occasion since the end of the shuttle era has a “direct rotation” taken place, back in November 2013. However, the direct rotation planned for September 2015 is unique, in that it will exchange a pair of Soyuz commanders and will see two visiting crew members spend 10 days aboard the multi-national outpost.
Like pieces on an orbiting chessboard, Padalka, Kelly, and Kornienko will board Soyuz TMA-16M on 28 August and relocate it from the zenith-facing Poisk docking module to the aft longitudinal port of the Zvezda service module. The approximately 25-minute maneuver will free up Poisk for the incoming Soyuz TMA-18M on 1 September. This means that not two, but three, Soyuz vehicles will be temporarily docked at the ISS. Since the zenith-facing Poisk and nadir-facing Rassvet docking modules are preferred for long-duration storage of Soyuz, it makes sense to use these ports for Soyuz TMA-17M and Soyuz TMA-18M, which are scheduled to remain until November 2015 and March 2016 respectively. On the other hand, Soyuz TMA-16M will by this stage be only a handful of days away from its return to Earth and thus will reside temporarily at the Zvezda aft port.
Like their predecessors, the incoming Soyuz TMA-18M crew will fly a six-hour, four-orbit expedited rendezvous to reach the ISS. Brightman’s activities aboard the station have yet to be determined, but Mogensen will perform a series of technology and life sciences experiments. At the time of his assignment to the flight, in August 2013, ESA announced that he would test novel ways of interaction between the ground and the ISS with a mobile device that will allow Mogensen to operate it hands-free and with several multi-use communications techniques. The system has advanced 3-D visualization and augmented-reality features, which will be exploited with added “wearable” computers and cameras. These are expected to enable the general public to follow Mogensen’s activites in near-real-time. His short stay aboard the station will test “a new generation of health sensors, vital measurement devices and electro-muscle mobility devices.” Mogensen is also expected to evaluate a tight-fitting, elasticated “skin-suit” to mimic the effects of terrestrial gravity and passively mitigate physiological deconditioning. After 10 days in space, Mogensen and Brightman will board Soyuz TMA-16M, alongside Padalka, on 11 September, and undock from the ISS for their return to Earth. This will mark the start of Expedition 45, with Kelly in command.
As described in an AmericaSpace article on New Year’s Eve, the latter half of 2015 will mark a significant period, not just for the ISS, but for the space program in general. Returning to Earth at the close of his fifth space mission, Padalka will chalk up an 878-day career total, making him the world’s most experienced astronaut or cosmonaut. In June, he will have eclipsed the 803-day achievement of the current record-holder, Sergei Krikalev. Mogensen will become, by default, the most experienced Danish spacefarer, whilst Scott Kelly will eclipse Mike Fincke on 14 October as the most seasoned U.S. astronaut and surpass Mike Lopez-Alegria on 28 October for the longest single U.S. space mission.
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