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Russian Cargo Ship Launching Tonight; Station Steers Clear of Debris

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:49 pm via: NASA
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The Expedition 40 crew of the International Space Station is working through a packed agenda of science Wednesday and preparing for the late-night arrival of a Russian cargo craft set to launch in the afternoon. The station also conducted a “deboost” Wednesday morning to steer clear of some space debris.

The engines of the station’s Zvezda service module conducted a 32-second firing at 6:57 a.m. EDT to slightly lower the orbit of the complex and steer clear of a fragment of debris from a Russian Breeze-M upper stage used in the launch of a Russian satellite in December 2011.

The ISS Progress 56 cargo ship is erected on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: Roscosmos

The ISS Progress 56 cargo ship is erected on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: Roscosmos

The “deboost” of the station was coordinated between NASA and Russian flight controllers after tracking data confirmed that the fragment would have posed a high probability of a conjunction with the station. Although last-minute tracking data indicated that the fragment would have passed a safe distance away from the station, flight controllers elected to proceed with the engine firing since it would have no impact on other activities. Earlier data indicated that if no maneuver would have been conducted, the fragment would have made its closest approach to the station at 9:16 a.m. with an estimated radial miss distance of just 1/10 of a mile and an overall miss distance of 3.6 miles.

The maneuver lowered the station’s orbit by 1.1 statute miles at apogee and 1/10 of a statute mile at perigee and left the station in an orbit of 258.8 x 256.9 statute miles.

The conjunction posed no threat to the crew, had no impact on station operations and will have no impact on Wednesday’s launch of the ISS Progress 56 cargo ship from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:44 p.m. (3:44 a.m. Thursday, Kazakh time), bound for a 4-orbit, 6-hour fast track rendezvous to dock to the station’s Pirs docking compartment tonight at 11:30 p.m.

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome, all is in readiness for Wednesday’s launch of Progress 56 atop its Soyuz rocket. The Russian space freighter is packed with 2.8 tons of cargo, including 1,764 pounds of propellant, 48 pounds of oxygen, 57 pounds of air, 926 pounds of water and 2,910 pounds of supplies, spare parts and experiment hardware for the station’s crew.

Live NASA Television coverage of the Progress launch begins at 5:30 p.m. and returns at 11 p.m. for docking coverage.

Progress 56 is slated to spend about three months docked to the complex before undocking to make way for ISS Progress 57.

Pirs was vacated late Monday with the undocking of the ISS Progress 55 cargo craft, which separated from the station at 5:44 p.m. Progress 55 is now a safe distance from the complex for a series of engineering tests prior to being sent to a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean on July 31.

The station’s crew began the workday at 6 a.m. Wednesday, four hours later than the usual 2 a.m. reveille to accommodate the late-night arrival of Progress.

Commander Steve Swanson and Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst are participating in more Ocular Health exams as flight surgeons track the vision health of the astronauts aboard the station. NASA recently identified that some astronauts experience changes in their vision, which might be related to effects of microgravity on the cardiovascular system. Researchers are working to understand and prevent these changes in astronauts. With guidance from the Ocular Health team on the ground, Gerst performed an ultrasound scan of Swanson’s eyes. Flight Engineer Reid Wiseman then pitched in to help out with Wednesday’s exams and conducted an ultrasound scan of Gerst’s eyes. Swanson and Gerst later will measure each other’s blood pressure and collected electrocardiogram data for Ocular Health.

Swanson also temporarily removed the Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus from the Combustion Integrated Rack’s combustion chamber to replace some igniter tips.

The commander then moved on to assist Wiseman, who is participating in another round of data collection for the Sprint exercise study. Sprint measures the effectiveness of high-intensity, low-volume exercise training in minimizing the loss of muscle mass and bone density that occurs during spaceflight. Station crew members currently work out around 2 ½-hours every day, and the Sprint team is looking into ways to reduce that total exercise time while maintaining crew fitness

Wiseman is also scheduled to set up and photograph new test samples for the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test, or BCAT. Results from this ongoing investigation of colloids – mixtures of small particles distributed throughout a liquid – will help materials scientists to develop new consumer products with unique properties and longer shelf lives.

For the ongoing Burning And Suppression of Solids experiment, or BASS, Gerst is conducting a series of flame tests at reduced oxygen pressure to get a stable blue flame for a longer period of time. Housed inside the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox, Materials burn quite differently in the absence of gravity, and BASS is investigating the hypothesis that some materials may actually become more flammable in space. Results from BASS will help screen materials for their use aboard future spacecraft. The research also provides scientists with improved computational models that will aid in the design of fire detection and suppression systems both in space and here on Earth.

Gerst also used several dermatology tools on his forearm to collect data for the Skin B experiment, which investigates the accelerated aging of skin that seems to occur during spaceflight. Results from this study will improve the understanding of the mechanisms of skin aging as well as provide insight into the aging process of similar body tissues.

On the Russian side of the station, Flight Engineers Max Suraev and Oleg Artemyev began the day with an examination of the veins in their lower legs to provide data on the body’s adaption to long-duration spaceflight.

With the Progress 56 slated to arrive at the station well-past the crew’s usual bedtime, all three Russian cosmonauts aboard the station, including Flight Engineer Alexander Skvortsov, began a 4-hour nap at 12:30 p.m.

At Kourou, French Guiana, technicians have completed complimentary verifications and control measures associated with the Ariane 5 ES launcher, and the launch of the European Space Agency’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is now set for Tuesday, July 29, at 7:47 p.m. The ATV-5, named the “Georges Lemaitre” in honor of the Belgian physicist and astronomer, is slated to dock to Zvezda on August 12.

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