The next expeditions aboard the International Space Station will be action-packed with two spacewalks, a traffic pattern that includes both international and commercial resupply missions and a variety of scientific research that will include an innovative small satellite ejection system, a new aquatic habitat and an international disaster monitoring system.
Spanning Expedition 32 through 34, the five-month period will begin with the departure of the Expedition 31 crew, as NASA astronaut and flight engineer Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut and commander Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut and flight engineer Andre Kuipers head home for the green of Earth on July 1 after 191 days on the station and 193 days in space.
Before they depart, Kononeko will transfer his responsibilities to Expedition 32 Commander Gennady Padalka. Padalka will lead a three-man crew including NASA astronaut and flight engineer Joseph Acaba and fellow Russian flight engineer Sergei Revin for 16 days until the remainder of the Expedition 32 crew arrives. The trio has been aboard the station since mid-May. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide are scheduled to launch to the station aboard their Soyuz 31 spacecraft on July 15. All three will be flight engineers until Williams assumes command of Expedition 33 as Padalka, Revin and Acaba depart on Sept. 17.
Flight engineers Kevin Ford of NASA, and cosmonauts Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) will restore Expedition 33 to a six-person crew following an Oct. 15 launch that will lead to an Oct. 17 docking and welcome. The six-person crew will conduct joint research and operations aboard the station until Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide depart the station on Nov. 12 after 118 days on the station and 120 days in space. Ford will assume command of Expedition 34 when Williams departs, and spend 26 days as a three-member crew with Tarelkin and Novitskiy until the rest of the Expedition 34 crew arrives.
Flight engineers Tom Marshburn of NASA, Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency and Roman Romanenko of Roscosmos are scheduled to launch aboard their Soyuz 33 spacecraft on Dec. 5, and arrive at the station to round out the crew of six on Dec. 7. They’ll spend nearly four months working with Ford, Tarelkin and Novitskiy before that trio departs in late March.
Among three score new experiments, facilities and technology demonstrations for Expedition 32 are the Advanced Colloids Experiment-1, the first in a series of microscopic imaging investigations of materials which contain small colloidal particles; a new JAXA-furnished Aquatic Habitat capable of accommodating small freshwater fish, such as medaka or zebrafish that are excellent research models for investigating the space environment affects living things over the long term; a Space Communications and Navigation Testbed that will look at the performance of software-controlled radios, and a demonstration of the Small satellite Orbital Deployer, designed to eject nano-satellites using Japan’s Kibo laboratory robotic arm. In addition, researchers will take the Spanish verb “server,” or “to serve,” to heart with the International Space Station SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System (ISERV) that will focus on disaster areas in cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Expedition 34-35 will work with additional new experiments, including a European Space Agency-provided Facility for Absorption and Surface Tension (FASTER) that will be used to investigate how surfactants (surface acting agents that reduce the surface tension of water, such as soap) are affected by microgravity, and a Canadian Space Agency-provided facility called Microflow that will be the first demonstration in space of a miniaturized flow cytometer that will enable doctors and scientists and physicians to quantify molecules and cells in blood or other body fluids with the eventual goal being an operational medical tool for the station.
Throughout the period, NASA will take the initial steps in a longer campaign to use the station as an example, or analog, for future long-duration spaceflights. NASA will kick off the activities in June under a project called International Space Station Testbed for Analog Research, or ISTAR. Slices of crew and Mission Control time will practice communications delays and self-guided crew schedules on non-critical activities. The goal is to better understand the risks and challenges facing astronauts on voyages to asteroids, Mars, and other possible destinations where round-trip communication delays up to xx min are expected. Station crews will review plans for the tests and the procedures that will be used during the second half of 2012, but no actual delays will be inserted.
The first full voice communications delay test is planned during Expedition 35, which starts in March 2013.
The first spacewalk of the period will be Russian extravehicular activity (EVA) 31, which is planned for mid-August. The six-hour spacewalk will be dedicated to beefing up the Zvezda service module’s micrometeoroid and orbital debris shielding and relocating the Strela 2 telescoping boom from the Pirs docking compartment and airlock to the Zarya control module. If time allows, spacewalkers Gennady Padalka, wearing a Russian Orlan-MK spacesuit with a red stripe, and Yuri Malenchenko, wearing a similar suite with a blue stripe, will retrieve two experiments from the airlock’s exterior and installing two support struts for the ladder, or porch, outside the airlock’s hatch. The satellite (what satellite?) is a little more than 20 inches (53 centimeters) in diameter and weighs about 20 pounds (9.2 kilograms). The Strela boom is being moved in preparation for the arrival of the new Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) that will replace Pirs in 2013.
The second spacewalk, planned for late August, will be a six-and-a-half-hour excursion by NASA’s Williams and JAXA’s Hoshide to replace one of the four Main Bus Switching Units (MBSU) that are the primary electrical power routing devices on the space station. MBSU 1 began showing preliminary indications of failure in October 2011. The unit has continued to provide power without interruption since then, but is expected to fail at some point and is being replaced to prevent unnecessary service interruptions. Both will wear U.S. Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuits, with Williams identified by a red stripe on her suit legs. Hoshide will wear a suit with no stripes. In addition to replacing the MBSU, the pair will route cables needed to integrate the Russian MLM with station systems, and if time allows, install a debris and thermal cover on the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2, which served as the primary space shuttle docking port on the end of the Harmony module.
In terms of vehicle traffic, the period will be extremely busy.
Just four days after Japanese astronaut Hoshide arrives at the station, JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle-3, known as Konoutori 3 (Konoutori means white stork), will launch from Tanegashima, Japan, on July 20, arriving at the station on July 27 for a Canadarm2 robotic grapple and berthing to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module. Konoutori 3 will deliver about 7,700 pounds (3.5 metric tons) of cargo including food, beverages, clothing and other supplies needed by astronauts, plus the new Aquatic Habitat, Small Satellite Orbital Deployer, five small CubeSat satellites that it will deploy, a replacement catalytic reactor for the station’s water recycling systems, and a new coolant water circulation pump for the Kibo laboratory. HTV-3 will remain at the station until it is unberthed Sept. 6 and directed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Two days after that, flight controllers in Mission Control, Moscow, will command the Progress 47 resupply craft to undock from the Pirs docking compartment in a test of a new and improved docking system that is expected to be used for both Progress resupply and Soyuz human spacecraft in the future. The new automated rendezvous system, known as Kurs-NA, will allow the removal of four other Progress antennas and use less power to improve safety and update electronics. After undocking July 22, Progress 47 will redock to the station on July 24, testing the performance of the newly installed system. Progress 47 will depart the station for good on July 30, and be commanded to reenter the atmosphere destructively taking with it trash and unneeded items.
The next Russian cargo vehicle, Progress 48, is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 31 and dock to the same Pirs docking port on Aug. 2, bringing another 2 tons of supplies for the station crews.
ATV-3, known as Edoardo Amaldi, will depart the station’s aft docking port Sept. 26 after almost two and half tons of dry cargo, 285 kg (628 pounds) of water and about three tons of propellants have been unloaded into the station, and a huge amount of trash, packing materials and other unneeded items will be disposed of as it burns up during reentry. With maneuvers monitored and controlled from the ATV Control Center in Toulouse, France, the ATV’s thrusters were used to reboost the space station to keep it in the proper orbit for the rendezvous of other arriving and departing spacecraft.
Later in September, the first contracted commercial resupply mission to the station by SpaceX will deliver still more supplies and equipment. The flight will receive a formal target date once NASA signs off on the completion of all milestones associated with SpaceX’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services demonstration flights.
The final planned cargo mission is Russian Progress 49, scheduled to launch from Baikonur on Nov. 1 and dock to the station’s recently vacated Zvezda service module aft docking port on Nov. 3.
After an eventful first half of the year for the International Space Station, the second half of the year promises to be equally active as the orbiting outpost continues to serve as a platform for scientific research that builds a bridge to the future of exploration and provides immediate benefits to all of us on Earth.