Spacelab and 30 years of ESA astronauts

Spacelab-1/STS-9 launch

Thirty years ago this week the first European-built Spacelab was launched on the Space Shuttle. ESA’s first astronaut, Ulf Merbold, flew on the mission, marking ESA’s entry into human spaceflight.

On 28 November 1983 at 11:00 local time, the ninth Space Shuttle mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA.

The six astronauts on Spacelab-1 worked in two teams on 12-hour shifts, allowing for continuous operations. They performed over 70 experiments in solar physics, space plasma physics, astronomy, Earth observation, material science, technology and life sciences.

After circling Earth 166 times in just over 10 days, Space Shuttle Columbia landed back on Earth on 8 December.

Space laboratory

Spacelab was a cooperation between ESA and NASA, with Europe responsible for funding, designing and building Spacelab and agreeing to deliver free of charge the engineering model, the first flight unit and ground equipment in return for a shared first mission.

In preparation for Spacelab, ESA Member States in 1978 put forward 53 astronaut candidates, and four were selected: Ulf Merbold of Germany, Wubbo Ockels of the Netherlands, Claude Nicollier of Switzerland and Franco Malerba of Italy.

Ulf was selected for the first Spacelab mission, with Wubbo as backup. Wubbo flew on the Spacelab-D1 mission in 1985.

Between 1983 and 1998, Spacelab modules flew on the Space Shuttle 22 times and totalled 244 days in orbit. Experiments surveyed the possibilities of weightless research in many scientific areas that led to space-age metals used in mass-produced smartphones and revealed areas of space research that show promise in treating chronic muscle diseases.

Spacelab evolution

Many of Spacelab’s features live on in space hardware that is flying above us today. The pressure shell was reused for the Harmony and Tranquility modules on the International Space Station, and supply spacecraft, such as ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles and the commercial Cygnus, reuse Spacelab’s exterior structure.

Europe’s Columbus laboratory on the Station evolved from Spacelab. On the inside, Spacelab used standardised science racks that contributed to its success and were adopted for all of the Station’s laboratory modules.

In the same way that Spacelab was operated by international teams of astronauts, so are today’s European experiments and laboratories on the Station. They are kept running and performing science by the Station’s permanent crew – which now includes European astronauts.

Celebrating Fifteen Years of the International Space Station

Astronaut James H. Newman waves during a spacewalk
Astronaut James H. Newman waves during a spacewalk preparing for release of the first combined elements of the International Space Station. The Russian-built Zarya module, with its solar array panel visible here, was launched into orbit fifteen years ago on Nov. 20, 1998. Two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 1998, NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour launched Unity, the first U.S. piece of the complex. Endeavour’s forward section is reflected in Newman’s helmet visor in this image. During three spacewalks on the STS-88 mission, the two space modules built on opposite sides of the planet were joined together in space, making the space station truly international.

Since that first meeting of Zarya and Unity, the space station grew piece by piece with additions from each of the international partners built across three continents and leading to the largest and most complex spacecraft ever constructed. The space station, now four times larger than Mir and five times larger than Skylab, represents a collaboration between NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, representing 15 countries in all.

In support of station assembly and maintenance, station and shuttle crews have conducted 174 spacewalks totalling almost 1,100 hours – the equivalent to nearly 46 days of spacewalks to build and maintain the complex. The station, with a mass of almost a million pounds and the size of a football field, is second only to the moon as the brightest object in the night sky.

Over the years, a great deal of research has been done on the space laboratory, which has already yielded tremendous results toward various fields. The science of the space station has provided benefits to humankind in areas such as human health, Earth observation and education. Many more results and benefits for both space exploration and life on Earth are expected in the coming years.

ISS 15 Years Insignia – available soon.

Space Station 15 Years Logo

 

What might recyclable satellites look like?

A now-derelict satellite

22 November 2013No matter how painstakingly we choose the materials to build satellites, once a mission is over they are just so much junk. But what if one day they could be recycled in space for future missions – perhaps as construction material, fuel or even food?

As part of its Clean Space initiative, ESA is looking for new ideas on materials that could be recycled or converted into different, useful resources for other processes.

It costs a lot to put anything into space – a payload typically costs its own weight in gold – and the further it travels out into the Solar System the more valuable it becomes. So recycling or converting space hardware for follow-on missions could bring significant added value.

Full article here

NASA, Space Station Partners Announce Future Crew Members

NASA and its international partners have appointed future crew members for the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake are scheduled to launch in December 2015 and return to Earth in spring 2016. They will join the Expedition 45 crew members in orbit and will remain aboard as part of Expedition 46 with yearlong expedition Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Mikhail Kornienko.

This will be the second long-duration spaceflight for Kopra, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Kopra was a flight engineer aboard the station during Expedition 20 in 2009. This will be the first spaceflight for Peake, a former British Army helicopter pilot and graduate of the Royal Military Academy.

The Expedition 45 crew will be:

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, station commander —

Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, flight engineer —

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, flight engineer —

ESA astronaut Tim Peake, flight engineer

ESA Euronews: The re-entry test

ESA Euronews: The re-entry test

European Space Agency sent this email alert on 28-08-2013 12:45 PM CEST

Europe’s newest spacecraft, the IXV, or Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, has moved a step closer to its planned launch in 2014.

The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) is a European Space Agency (ESA) experimental re-entry vehicle intended to validate European reusable launchers which could be evaluated in the frame of the FLPP program. The IXV development would be carried out under the leadership of the NGL Prime SpA company. It would inherit of the principles of previous studies such as CNES’ Pre-X and ESA’s AREV (Atmospheric Re-entry Experimental Vehicle).

Andreas Mogensen set for Soyuz mission to Space Station in 2015

Andreas Mogensen

28 August 2013ESA’s Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen has been assigned to be launched on a Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in September 2015 for a mission to the International Space Station.

This 10-day mission will be Andreas’s first flight into space and the first ever space mission by a Danish astronaut.

The flight is directly connected to the new era in ISS operations: two experienced spacefarers from the USA and Russia will work on the Station for one year from May 2015. During his stay onboard the ISS, he will conduct a series of experiments preparing future missions and testing new technologies.

“I’m happy to announce this mission as this is already the fifth flight assignment for the class recruited in 2009,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.

“With first of the new class, Luca Parmitano, currently working on the Space Station, and three other astronauts already training for their imminent missions, ESA’s new astronauts are very busy.

“Thanks to the decisions of the Member States at the Ministerial Council last November, we will be able to fulfil our commitment to fly all six newly selected astronauts before the end of 2017,” said Mr Reiter.

“This mission is the fulfilment of a life-long dream and the culmination of many years of hard work and training,” said Andreas Mogensen.

“I am excited to be able to participate in ESA’s outstanding programme of science and technology development on board the International Space Station and I am honoured to represent Denmark and Europe in space. The mission is a unique opportunity for Europe to develop and test the technologies necessary for the future of human space exploration.”

New technology and science mission

The launch of the mission will take place on 30 September, 2015 with the launch of Soyuz TMA-18 (44S) and it will end on 10 October, when Andreas will land with Soyuz TMA-16 (42S).

During his flight, Andreas will test novel ways of interaction between the ground and space crews with a mobile device that allows astronauts to operate it hands-free and with several multi-user communication techniques. The system will have also advanced 3D visualisation and augmented reality –features that will be fully exploited with added wearable computers and cameras to allow the general public to follow activities on the ISS ‘through the eyes of an ESA astronaut’ potentially in real time.

Andreas’s short mission is an excellent opportunity for several science studies, particularly in life science. By adding samples and measurements from a short-duration mission astronaut to material gathered and being collected during long-duration missions, the value of the biomedical statistics is increased. All the instrumentation needed for physiology, biology and material science experiments is already available in the Columbus laboratory and samples can be returned quickly back to Earth for further analysis.

A short-duration mission is also perfect for testing a new generation of health sensors, vital measurement devices and electro-muscle-mobility devices. These have direct benefit for future exploration missions and even sooner on Earth, for instance with operators of heavy machinery or with rehabilitation after sports injuries.

Andreas will be specially suited too: he will assess a new ‘skinsuit’ during normal daily activities. This is tight garment made from elastic material mimicking Earth gravity and thus passively mitigating deconditioning of an astronaut’s body during spaceflight.

Along with the Soyuz arrival, the ISS will host up to nine persons for a while – a record that has not been broken since retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

Between Luca’s ongoing mission and flight of Andreas in 2015, ESA astronauts Alexander Gerst and Samantha Cristoforetti, are scheduled for launch in 2014 for long-duration missions to the Station. After Andreas, the next European destined for space will be Tim Peake, who will start his long-duration mission on the ISS as a member of the Expedition 46/47 in December 2015.

High-flying engineer

This new technology packed mission will be a dream flight for an aerospace engineer like Andreas. Not only will the mission include many firsts and demonstrations, but also Andreas will fly as the flight engineer in the ‘left seat’ of Soyuz, making him second-in-command of their vehicle.

Andreas was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 2 November 1976, and he received a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Imperial College London, UK, in 1999, followed by a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, Austin, USA, in 2007.

He was selected as an ESA astronaut in May 2009 and completed the astronaut basic training programme in November 2010 with the five other astronauts of the 2009 class. Andreas is a qualified Eurocom at the Columbus Control Centre in Munich, where he has been communicating with the astronauts on the International Space Station.

In addition to his training and work activities, Andreas worked for ESA on the Lunar Lander programme at ESTEC, Noordwijk, the Netherlands, where he was involved in the design of the guidance, navigation and control system for a precision lunar landing.

From his homebase at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, Andreas will start his mission training with the partners of the International Space Station. This will take him to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA, and Star City, near Moscow, Russia, as well as Japan and Canada.

Andreas blogs about space exploration and his astronaut training activities in Danish at videnskab.dk/profil/andreas-mogensen.

Luca Skywalker

this_sure_beats_any_selfie_I_ve_done_up_to_now_fullwidth changing_the_socket_on_my_PGT_after_recovering_the_CPLA_fullwidth my_wrist_mirror_refects_my_visor_which_reflects_the_Earth_fullwidth on_the_Canadarm_on_the_way_to_the_port_side_fullwidth photo_op_before_reentry_fullwidth ready_to_install_the_Starboard_RGB_fullwidthLuca Parmitano Spacewalker

These images were captured during the spacewalk of ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, together with NASA’s Chris Cassidy, 9 July 2013. The spacewalk, the first for Luca and the fifth for Chris, lasted 6 hours 7 minutes.

This was the first of two Expedition 36 excursions to prepare the International Space Station for a new Russian module and perform additional installations on the station’s backbone. The second spacewalk is scheduled for 16 July; Luca, working again with Chris Cassidy, will egress the Quest airlock at around 12:15 GMT (14:15 CEST).

Luca, the orbital repair man

 10 July 2013

Yesterday, at 12:02 GMT, astronauts Luca Parmitano and Chris Cassidy switched their spacesuits to battery power and began their spacewalk outside the International Space Station.

The sortie was planned for six and half hours, but the astronauts proceeded faster than planned and had time for extra ‘get-ahead’ tasks, routing cables and staging equipment to help future spacewalkers. The final duration of Tuesday’s extravehicular activity was 6 hours and 7 minutes.

The primary goals were to replace a Ku-band communications transceiver, retrieve two science experiments that exposed material samples to space, install cables for Russia’s coming Nauka laboratory module, and carry out routine maintenance. Nauka will replace the Pirs module currently attached to the Station.

The highlight of the spacewalk for Luca was surely riding on the platform at the end of the Station’s Canadarm2 robot arm – this moment is shown in the image.

Operated by Karen Nyberg inside the Station, the arm moved Luca to the port side of the Station’s long central truss to remove a failed camera that will be returned to Earth for analysis.

Finally, Luca installed a multilayer insulation cover to protect the docking interface of the Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 on the Harmony module.

Luca and Chris will venture out to space again next week to continue work started during this spacewalk.

Luca’s extraordinary afternoon walk set for Tuesday

8 July 2013

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, living and working on the International Space Station, will venture out into space on Tuesday afternoon. This will be the first European spacewalk since 2009 and the first ever by an Italian astronaut.

The spacewalk will begin at 12:15 GMT (14:15 CEST) when his partner Chris Cassidy opens the Quest airlock hatch and ventures out into the void. Luca will follow a few minutes later.

“This is one of the prime objectives of [the mission] and it’s really an honour to be able to do this,” Luca told ESA mission controllers last Thursday while preparing for the adventure. “Siamo pronti ragazzi!” – “Guys, we’re ready!”

Spacewalk tasks

Before the sortie begins, Luca and Chris will spend several hours preparing their spacesuits and the emergency systems that would enable them to return to the Station in the event of a problem. Once everything is checked, the pair can begin their six-hour excursion.

Their tasks include laying cable routings for the future Russian Nauka laboratory module, installing and replacing communication and heat management systems, and retrieving a camera and experiments for return to Earth.

Part of his work will involve Luca standing on a work platform on the Station’s robotic arm under the control of NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg inside the Cupola observation module.

Their long day will finish around 18:00 GMT (20:00 CEST) when they return inside NASA’s Quest airlock. Their exertions will be followed by a quiet day to allow them to recover and begin preparing for their second spacewalk in mid-July.

Unique moment

Chris Cassidy is already a veteran of three Station spacewalks, spending more than 18 hours outside to outfit Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

For rookie Luca, the spacewalk will surely be one of his most memorable moments. “I am more than excited to perform a spacewalk,” Luca says with a broad smile.

He has been coached by experts at ESA’s astronaut centre and NASA, as well as by ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, whose five sorties are the European record.

Christer recalled that, “After all the training and simulations, the first real view we had out of the open airlock hatch was simply stunning. I had to stop for a while to admire the Earth and black space.”

Luca has promised to share his experiences with us as soon as possible after his walk on Twitter: just follow @astro_luca and fly with him on Volare!

Luca Parmitano – Perfect Sky

 
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A perfect sky

25 June 2013ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano is spending six months on the International Space Station conducting experiments and keeping the orbital outpost running with five colleague astronauts. 

In Luca’s spare time he photographs our world from 400 km high, looking out of the Station’s panoramic Cupola. Luca tweeted the picture above with the comment: “The sky is simply perfect.” Of course, for people living down below, the weather would have been described as “patchy, with sunlight coming through at times”.

Orbiting at 28 800 km/h, Luca is privileged to see our planet from a unique perspective. Here, Earth’s curvature is clearly visible, with the thin layer of pale blue atmosphere separating us from the harshness of space. Our atmosphere not only provides the air we breathe but also protects us from the Sun’s radiation.

Luca does not have much time to ponder the beauty and fragility of our planet – he has a busy schedule. ESA’s Albert Einstein supply ferry arrived at the Station last week with over 1400 items that Luca is now overseeing for unloading. Some 80 hours of astronaut crew time are needed to catalogue and store the cargo.

All of Luca’s pictures are available on Flickr.