Endeavour – Scrubbed

Endeavour at T-Minus 6 Hours
Image Credit: NASA TV

The launch of Endeavour was scrubbed today due to a failed heater in the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) of the Shuttle. It looks like there are multiple failures on APU1. The Load Control Assembly appears to be the problem, although a short is possible. The next launch opportunity following repairs will be no earlier than Monday, and most likely Wednesday.

CCDev2 – Sierra Nevada

Image Credit: NASA

The second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program has been announced by NASA.

Sierra Nevada Corporation received $80 million in the second round to go with the $20 million it received in 2010. Sierra Nevada acquired the Dream Chaser project in December 2008, and won funding in round one of the CCDev program. This was the largest award in round one.

The project derives from the HL-20 program undertaken in 1990 by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The Dream Chaser is designed to carry up to seven people to the International Space Station and back.

The vehicle is designed to launch vertically on an Atlas V rocket and land horizontally on conventional runways.


Progress at ISS
Image Credit: NASA

With the extension of the lifetime of the International Space Station to 2020, and perhaps beyond, the maintenance and resupply of the station becomes critical. This is the third in a series examining the international effort to maintain a robust human mission on the ISS.

The Russian resupply vessel Progress M-09M (P41) docked with the Pirs module of the International Space Station (ISS) on 30 January 2011. It is the second of three resupply spacecraft that will arrive in close succession early in 2011.

Previously, the Japanese HTV2 cargo vessel “Kounotori” docked with the Harmony module on the International Space Station on 27 January 2011. Progress M-07M (P39) undocked from the Zvezda module on the ISS on Sunday 20th February at 1:12 PM GMT, to make way for the European Space Agency’s “Johaness Kepler” ATV-2 resupply mission, which launched on 16 February 2011, and is expected to dock on 24 February.

During the undocking, Russian thrusters were in control of the station’s attitude control. US Control Moment Gyroscopes (CMGs) resumed control of the ISS later on Sunday. Following the undocking, 39P was commanded to conduct it’s de-orbit burn for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean at 4:12 PM GMT on Sunday.

On 25 February, STS-133 Discovery is expected to launch and dock two days later with the ISS. Kounotori will be moved to the top of the Harmony module (facing away from Earth) and Discovery will dock at the port facing Earth.

Progress M
Cross Section of the Progress M Spacecraft
Image Credit: RKK Energia

Progress M-09M will supply 2,666 kilograms (5,880 lb) of cargo to the space station, including:

  • 1,444 kilograms (3,180 lb) of dry cargo
  • 752 kilograms (1,660 lb) of propellant
  • 50 kilograms (110 lb) of oxygen
  • 420 kilograms (930 lb) of water

Japan and Support of the International Space Station

Previously, we looked at the Europeans Space Agency (ESA) and their ATV program, which is preparing to send their resupply spacecraft, Johannes Kepler, to the International Space Station on 15 February.

Now, we look at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the recently completed launch and capture of the Kounotori spacecraft.

HTV-2 "Kounotori"
Image Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

The external exposed cargo includes a Flex Hose Rotary Coupler and Cargo Transport Container. These spare parts will be transferred to External Logistics Carrier 4 after it is installed during the Discovery STS-133 mission.

The pressurized cargo space is carrying 2,928 kilograms of supplies and equipment:

  • 630 kilograms of crew provisions
  • 1,626 kilograms of research equipment and supplies
  • 609 kilograms) of station hardware
  • 49 kilograms of computers and supplies
  • 14 kilograms of spacewalking equipment and supplies

Among the new research equipment will be the Japanese Kobairo gradient heating furnace for generating high-quality crystals from melting materials, an Amine Swingbed technology demonstration that will look at ways to revitalize the air on space vehicles, and the International Space Station Agricultural Camera, which will take frequent images, in visible and infrared light, of vegetated areas on the Earth.

Canadarm2 Captures HTV2
Image Credit: NASA

Hatch Open
Removing cargo through the hatch on HTV2
Image Credit: JAXA

ATV-2 Johannes Kepler

Keeping the International Space Station (ISS) supplied will become an increasing challenge with the retirement of the US Space Shuttle in 2011. This is the first in a series to look at how the ISS will be serviced for the next five or six years.

The Japanese were schedule to launch their second H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-2) resupply mission today, 20 January, but weather has caused the mission to be rescheduled for a possible launch on Saturday.

The Russians fly their Progress spacecraft on resupply missions, and the next one is scheduled for 28 January.

Johannes Kepler ATV-2
ATV-2 Johannes Kepler
Image Credit:
European Space Agency (ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has flown their Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-1 or Jules Verne) to the ISS once before on 9 March 2008, and their next launch is coming up on 15 February 2011.

On the commercial side, Space X has successfully orbited their Dragon spacecraft and returned to Earth. Their next test flight is penciled in for July and the first resupply mission is penciled in for December.

And Orbital Sciences Corporation has their first cargo delivery test of its Cygnus spacecraft scheduled for December 2011.

That summarizes the partners working to support the International Space Station.

Here is a more detailed look at the European Space Agency’s ATV system.

The 20 ton Johannes Kepler ATV has a cargo capacity of up to 7 metric tons. The composition of this load can vary depending on the mission:

  • 1.5 to 5.5 metric tons of freight and supplies (food, research instruments, tools, etc.)
  • up to 840 kilograms of drinking water
  • up to 100 kilograms of gases (air, oxygen and nitrogen)
  • up to four metric tons of fuel for orbit correction and up to 860 kilograms of propellant to refuel the space station.

The spacecraft is compose of two main sections. The first is the ATV Service Module (below, left), which is not pressurized, includes propulsion systems, electrical power, computers, communications and most of the avionics. The ATV uses four main engines and 28 small thrusters to control the navigation of the spacecraft. Four solar panels are deployed after launch and supply 4800 Watts of power to the batteries and the electrical systems.

The second component is the Integrated Cargo Carrier (below, right). The large section in the front is pressurized and comprises about 90% of the cargo volume. It handles all the dry cargo, including the racks on each side. The inhabitants of the International Space Station access this area through the hatch in the Russian docking system.

Service Module
ATV Service Module & Four Main Engines
Image Credit: ESA

Service Module
Cutaway of ATV Cargo Carrier
Image Credit: ESA

The Equipped External Bay of the Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC) holds 22 spherical tanks of different sizes and colors (below, left). These tanks are used to re-supply the Station with propellant for the International Space Station propulsion system, various gases (air, oxygen, and nitrogen) and water for the crew.

The contents of these tanks are delivered to the Station through dedicated connections, or through manually operated hoses.

Service Module
ATV Liquid Resupply Tanks
Image Credit: ESA

Docking Module
Russian Docking Module
Image Credit: ESA

The ATV uses the Russian-made docking equipment sensors to perform the approach and docking sequence (above, right). The procedure is the same as with the Soyuz manned capsules and the Progress resupply spacecraft.

The Russian docking system enables physical, electrical and propellant connections with the Station. Access to the ICC is through the Russian hatch.

Once the ATV is securely docked, the crew can enter the cargo section and remove the payload, which usually includes maintenance supplies, science hardware, parcels of fresh food, mail and family tapes or DVDs.

The Garden on The International Space Station

The latest crop harvested from the Garden on the International Space Station is Mizuna lettuce. The lettuce was returned to Earth for scientific research, aboard the Discovery shuttle in April 2010.

The greenhouse, first sent up in 2002, has been used for 20 plant growth experiments so far. Now, a second unit has been added, and the lettuce crop was the first experiment to test different conditions side by side.

For many years, the experiments have sought to confirm Earth side results which show that minimizing water usage and salt accumulation would lead to healthier crops. During this experiment, two different root growth mediums were used. One was the traditional root pack used on all the previous tests. The second was the new and improved root pack, with slow release fertilizer. The hypothesis was that the slow release would help reduce salt intake.

Science is sometimes best when things go wrong.

Mizuna Lettuce
Mizuna Lettuce On ISS
Image Credit: NASA

For some reason, the sensor controlling the watering in the first (traditional) module failed. This resulted in “over-watering” the plants. The results were surprising, but microgravity has held many surprises for scientists. First, the seeds that got “too much” water sprouted quicker and developed leaves twice as fast as the second (improved) module. The second surprise was that the plants grown in the slow release fertilizer in the second module had more salt accumulation than the plants in the first module.

The results suggest that plants in space need a larger volume of water and a faster rate of fertilizer than they do under normal gravity. Shane Topham, an engineer with Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University in Logan, said that “the conservative water level we have been using for all our previous experiments may be below optimal for plant growth in microgravity”.

Overall, the garden experiments have four objectives:

  • Can the crops grown in space be consumed safely
  • What microorganisms grow on the plants, and how do you prevent or minimize microorganisms in the modules prior to launch
  • How do you clean and sanitize the crops after they are harvested
  • What conditions optimize the production of crops in microgravity

One additional objective of the experiments is to measure the non-nutritional benefits (stress relief, etc.) that crew members experience working with plants in space. Growing and tending to the crops provides comfort and relaxation to the crew. On a long voyage, this activity may contribute to the success of the mission.

Lada Module
A view of the Russian BIO-5 Rasteniya-2/Lada-2 (Plants-2)
plant growth experiment located in the Zvezda Service Module
on the International Space Station (ISS).
Image Credit: NASA

A close up view of sprouts on the Russian Lada-2 experiment.
Image Credit: NASA

A view of peas growing in the Russian Lada-2 plant growth experiment.
Image Credit: NASA

A close up view of a bloom on the Russian Lada-2 plant growth experiment.
Image Credit: NASA