Tag Archives: ISS

Last UK Appearance for Tim Peake prior to launch for ISS

Credit: ESA
Tim Peake, first British Astronaut to go to the ISS. Credit: ESA

On 6 November, ESA’s first British astronaut, Tim Peake, will be paying his last visit to the UK before his launch to the International Space Station. He will take part in a news conference at the Science Museum London to discuss his upcoming mission.

Together with Jo Johnson, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science, Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, and David Parker, CEO of the UK Space Agency, Tim will talk with journalists about his training, and the science and education objectives of his mission. While in space, Tim will perform more than 30 experiments for ESA and its Member States and take part in numerous others from ESA’s international partners.

Tim’s mission is ESA’s eighth long-duration mission to the Space Station. It will start aboard a Soyuz spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 15 December. Together with NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, Tim will embark on a six-month stay in space.

Soyua craft docked at ISS.  Credit: NASA
Soyua craft docked at ISS. Credit: NASA

The mission is named Principia, after Isaac Newton’s ground-breakingNaturalis Principia Mathematica, which describes the principal laws of motion and gravity.

ESA and the UK Space Agency are together developing many exciting educational activities aimed at sparking the interest of young children in science and space, including Rocket Science, AstroPi, Zero Robotics, Mission-X Train like an Astronaut, and amateur radio contacts in space.

Mind the Gap

The USA (NASA) has been experiencing a gap now of several years in its own domestic capability to take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) since the decommissioning of the space-shuttle program.

Photo credit: NASA
Photo credit: NASA

Does the reliance of the Russian Soyuz matter, or has it been good for international cooperation? Is it in fact inspiring a step-change in private space companies bringing us into a better era of space exploration?

Soyuz craft dock with the International Space Station. Photo credit NASA

How did we get here?

The space shuttle program was ambitious, hugely expensive, often successful, but also included several disasters. Worryingly, it also included many near misses, and seems to have been a departure from the initial culture of the Apollo space program. Apollo 13 captured the imagination, with the idea that a creative ad-hoc solution was found during the mission in order to not lose the crew, who were in a dire situation. In contrast to that episode, the Columbia disaster may have been prevented if requests from NASA engineers had been fulfilled to carry out investigation on the damaged heat-shield tiles prior to re-entry. There were many quirks with the shuttle, even down to various software bugs, leading to astronauts having to memorise which systems were required to register as OFF in order to actually be ON.

Photo: Ben Cooper, launchphotography.com
Photo: Ben Cooper, launchphotography.com

So, since 2010, the world has been dependent on the Russian Soyuz vehicle. A craft that began it’s life during the race to the moon, which of course Soviet Russia lost. However, since that time Russia focused on space-station technology, and getting to and from orbit, and has been extremely successful at doing so. Did the Russian space program losing the space-race/cold-war, mean that it’s winning the subsequent peace? Britain’s first ESA astronaut, Tim Peake, will be travelling to the ISS on the Soyuz craft this November, and international space efforts would be sunk without Soyuz, but what will happen next – when the next generation really gets going, will we then enter a era where we can’t quite believe this pause in development was quite so long?

Development of the Orion module. Photo credit, NASA
Development of the Orion module. Photo credit, NASA

Space is hard, and the reliable Soyuz craft is the result of the continuous development of a craft begun in the 1960’s. New and exciting things take a huge amount of money, and also a long time in development. NASA’s Orion spacecraft is still in development and currently not expected to be making manned flights until 2021…that’s quite a gap.

Finally a docking at the International Space Station as Astronauts Arrive

Astronauts from Russia, the US and Japan have successfully docked at the International Space Station.

Less than six hours after take-off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome, Kjell Lindgren from the US, Kimiya Yui of Japan and Russian Oleg Kononenko safely arrived at the orbital outpost.

The flight had been postponed after the April launch of a cargo rocket failed.

Manned flights to the ISS are currently only possible with Russia’s Soviet space technology, Soyuz.

Thursday’s mission capsule connected to the International Space Station about 250 miles (400km) above Earth at 01:45 GMT.

Astronauts arriving at the ISS
Kimiya Yui floating on board

Sushi in space

The three astronauts had been set to take off in May but Moscow was forced to delay the flight after the 28 April crash when an unmanned Soyuz cargo rocket had failed to reach the station and burned up in the atmosphere before crashing back to Earth.

“It’s certainly no fun to see several of the cargo vehicles undergo mishaps,” Mr Lindgren said. “It underscores the difficulty of this industry and how unforgiving the space environment,” he told a news conference ahead of the launch.

ISS in space
The ISS is manned by a rotating international team

For both the US astronaut and for Kimiya Yui, it is their first time in orbit.

The Japanese astronaut said he was taking some sushi along as a treat for the others.

The team has joined the existing ISS crew of Russians Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly from the US.

Aside from Russia’s Soyuz rockets that largely date back to Soviet technology, two privately owned US companies flying cargo the ISS have also lost rockets in recent launch failures.

Both Space X and Orbital ATK currently remain grounded following accidents last month and in October last year.

Tim Peake Phones Into Conference

British Astronaut Tim Peake, the first British Astronaut to lice and work on the International Space Station, phoned into the Space Conference UK 2015. Tim had to make the call during his quarantine while he is on standby for the mission prior to his in case he would need to fill-in at the last moment for one of his colleagues. Tim’s mission is scheduled for the end of November.

Tim has done incredible work with outreach programs for young people, which have included a broad range; from a competition to design the mission patch for him, to the Great British Space Dinner Challenge to plan a meal for him to eat in space with the winners working with Heston Blumenthal to develop the meal. During Tuesday’s call, Tim announced the winning schools for the competition to design experiments for him to carry out using the Raspberry Pi computer that he will have onboard the ISS. The winning schools were from Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Norfolk and London.

Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education at the UK Space Agency, said: “We’re incredibly impressed with the exciting and innovative Astro Pi proposals we’ve received and look forward to seeing them in action aboard the International Space Station.”

“Not only will these students be learning incredibly useful coding skills, but will get the chance to translate those skills into real experiments that will take place in the unique environment of space.”

In addition to these announcements, Tim talked further about his aspirations for his mission, and contribution to developing the space sector in the UK.

Tim will be flying to the ISS on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the most reliable method to date. The Soyuz craft were developed in the 60’s under the Soviet space program, and it’s a fascinating testament to their creators that they have this record and are still the best way to get to ISS, but also a sign of the failure of any other systems to be developed, and just how difficult getting into space actually is.


Soyuz spacecraft

Orbital module (A)

1 docking mechanism, 2 Kurs antenna, 4 Kurs antenna, 3 television transmission antenna, 5 camera, 6 hatch

Descent module (B)

7 parachute compartment, 8 periscope, 9 porthole, 11 heat shield

Service module (C)

10 and 18 attitude control engines, 21 oxygen tank,12 Earth sensors, 13 Sun sensor, 14 solar panel attachment point, 16 Kurs antenna, 15 thermal sensor, 17 main propulsion, 20 fuel tanks, 19 communication antenna

Russian re-supply mission success at ISS

A Russian Progress cargo ship glided to a smooth docking with the International Space Station early Sunday, bringing more than 3 tons of supplies and equipment to the lab complex.

Two days after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the success of the mission will come as a relief after the previous two supply missions failed.

First, a Progress launched April 28 spun out of control shortly after reaching orbit and one week ago, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated during ascent, destroying a Dragon supply ship loaded with more than 4,000 pounds of supplies and equipment.

It is not yet known what caused the SpaceX failure, but Russian engineers said earlier they had identified and corrected the problem believed to be responsible for the Progress mishap and there were no problems of any significance with the M-28M/60P vehicle.

Before the launching, NASA said the station crew had enough supplies on board to continue normal operations through October. With the successful docking of the Progress M-28M/60P spacecraft, and assuming a Japanese HTV freighter arrives on schedule in August, the lab crew should be sufficiently stocked through the end of the year.

How will Space X be affected by recent rocket failure, by Leonard David


Sunday’s explosion of the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has put a dent in the booster’s impressive track record. SpaceX must fix whatever caused the problem and return to flight in order to fulfill billions of dollars of launch orders.

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated 139 seconds after liftoff Sunday (June 28), ending the seventh operational flight under SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.

Sitting atop the rocket was SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon spacecraft — filled to the brim with about 2 tons of supplies, research hardware and experiments — headed for linkup with the International Space Station (ISS). [See photos of the failed Falcon 9 launch]
While NASA has stated it will rebound from the loss of ISS cargo, space analysts contacted by Space.com have flagged a number of wait-and-see ripple effects stemming from the accident.

Response to failure

“SpaceX’s response to the failure will be more important than the actual failure, in terms of future business impact,” said Carissa Bryce Christensen, a founder and managing partner of The Tauri Group in Alexandria, Virginia, a company that provides strategic planning and technology assessments for civil and government clients.

“NASA, the Air Force and commercial customers will all be watching SpaceX’s engineering and management processes at work, looking for SpaceX to demonstrate its solidity and maturity as a launch provider,” she added.

Also watching the upshot of the booster misfortune is Rand Simberg, author of the book “Safe Is Not an Option” (Interglobal Media LLC, 2013). He is an admitted “recovering aerospace engineer” with more than 30 years of experience in the space industry.

Simberg said it’s a little concerning that SpaceX has not already identified the cause of the launch failure.

“They are usually pretty fast at that,” Simberg said. “If the telemetry doesn’t tell the tale … and they have to hope they’ll find enough debris to figure it out, that’s bad news.”

“If they can’t figure out what happened, they have hard decisions to make,” he continued. “They have a $7 billion backlog [of launches], and every month of delay will cost them a lot in potential lost customers. But flying again without understanding [what happened] carries a lot of risk as well, if a customer will even chance it.” [Explosion! SpaceX CRS-7 Mission Ends In Disaster (Video)]
Uncertainty and good news

The SpaceX booster mishap also throws uncertainty into the schedule for the inaugural flight of the company’s Falcon Heavy booster that was on tap to fly later this year, “unless they fly it with an inert upper stage,” Simberg said.

The good news, Simberg said, is that any crew onboard a human-rated Dragon capsule probably would have survived, as long as the craft’s launch escape system was used. “The other good news is that the first stage still seems to be rock solid in its performance,” he said.

“I find it ironic that this happened just a month after SpaceX got Air Force certification. It makes one question the utility of that lengthy and costly process,” Simberg concluded.

Getting back in the air

Other space analysts were more forgiving about the incident.

“I kind of take it in stride, because this is not a brand-new vehicle. It has had a fair amount of success,” said Marco A. Cáceres, a senior space analyst at Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group, a team of researchers who keep an eye on the aerospace and defense industry.

“It’s not like there’s a fundamental design flaw to the vehicle,” Cáceres said. He believes that SpaceX probably will be flying again in the next two to three months.

Getting back in the air as quickly as possible “would get the public and the government to forget about the failure,” Cáceres said, adding, “I think I would reserve judgment until I see their next try.”

Modified first stage

One lingering question is whether NASA should be flying its cargo missions on a SpaceX booster that’s outfitted with landing legs and other hardware to test an experimental reusable first stage. (SpaceX attempted to land the Falcon 9’s first stage on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean during Dragon cargo launches in January and April, and had planned to try this bold maneuver again on Sunday.)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a post-accident news conference that the company does not think the accident was caused by a problem with the first stage.

“We saw some pressurization indications in the second stage, which we will be investigating,” she said.

Similarly, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted shortly after the failure, “Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before the first-stage shutdown. There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.”

Cáceres said those SpaceX remarks seem to clear the Falcon 9 modified first stage as the culprit in the launch malfunction. But, he added, “I would tend to agree, in general — if I were NASA, I would not be wanting to use a rocket that, at least on the way back, is going to be used for experimental purposes. I’d want a standard vehicle that gets the supplies up there to the ISS with the least amount of risk or uncertainty as possible.” [Inside SpaceX’s Epic Fly-Back Reusable Rocket Landing (Infographic)]

Faith in the system

One payload that’s slated for SpaceX booster delivery to the ISS this year is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which has been developed by Bigelow Aerospace under a contract with NASA.

“BEAM will be ready when they [SpaceX] are,” said Mike Gold, director of Washington, D.C., operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace LLC. “If I know SpaceX, it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”

BEAM is now ready for shipment from the firm’s plant in North Las Vegas, Nevada, to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Gold said.

Regarding the Falcon 9 problem, Gold said, “The story here to me is not that they had a failure. A failure should have been anticipated. They’ve had 18 consecutive successful launches. It’s that track record that they enjoyed prior to this time. That should give the industry great faith in the system.”

Achilles’ heel

Gold also serves as chairman of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, or COMSTAC for short. COMSTAC was established in 1984 to provide information, advice and recommendations to the FAA administrator on critical matters concerning the U.S. commercial space transportation industry.

“The Achilles’ heel of the commercial space industry remains the paucity of funding for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation,” Gold said. “This accident will only further aggravate what was already a critical situation for that FAA office relative to lack of funding and lack of personnel.”

Gold said he is hopeful that Congress will see its way to fund that FAA office at a required level to ensure stable commercial space growth.
No turning back

In taking a long look at commercial space operations, Cáceres remains bullish.

“I don’t think there’s a turning back here … going back to the way it was in the past 50 years, where NASA was by far the dominant player,” Cáceres said. “It’s going to go more the way other major industries have gone, like the way [the] railroad, automobile and aircraft industries developed very early on in their histories.”

Cáceres said that, for some reason, space became different: It was looked upon as more complicated and much more dangerous, so the government played the leading role.

“We’ve moved into this new era, this new paradigm, and we’re still at the very, very early stages,” Cáceres said. “For those that say we should turn back, I don’t see that happening.”

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and is co-author of Buzz Aldrin’s 2013 book “Mission to Mars – MyVision for Space Exploration,” published by National Geographic with a new updated paperback version released in May. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.