European training for Russian cosmonauts

Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Yuri Malenchneko
Padalka and Malenchenko

3 February 2012
In the spirit of the international nature of the International Space Station, ESA’s Astronaut Training Division not only welcomes European astronauts: four Russian cosmonauts are also working hard at the European Astronaut Centre this month.
Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Yuri Malenchenko received training on docking Europe’s ATV-3 cargo vehicle last week. ATV Edoardo Amaldi will dock with the International Space Station in March, bringing supplies and fuel.

ESA astronaut André Kuipers is already on the Station and is thoroughly trained for the ATV-3 docking.

However, André will leave the Station and return to Earth before ATV’s mission comes to an end.

Padalka, the next Station commander, and crewmember Malenchenko, will work together to support the undocking of ATV-3 as well as controlling the vehicle’s departure.


Roman Romanenko and EAC instructor Ian Petersen
Roman Romanenko

This is the first time they have trained together at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC). However, the ATV training is not completely new to them: they trained for an earlier flight to the Station in 2008.

Their refresher course includes training and simulations on ATV docking. These skills will be required in case of an unscheduled ATV undocking and subsequent redocking.

Both cosmonauts also practised ATV emergency operations in the event of a fire or loss of pressure.

Roman Romanenko, another veteran cosmonaut, arrived at EAC this week for a refresher course on Europe’s Columbus research laboratory. During four days of intensive training and simulations, Roman will refresh his knowledge of all Columbus systems and operations.

Roman knows the Columbus module well, as he flew to the Station on Expedition 20/21 with ESA astronaut Frank De Winne.

The training will qualify Roman to live and work in the Columbus module. He will be fully prepared for any emergency situations on his next mission: Expedition 30/31 will be launched in November.


ESA coordinates international satellite reentry campaign

ESA's ESTRACK network will track the Phobos-Grunt mission
Phobos-Grunt orbiter and lander

An international campaign to assess the imminent atmospheric reentry of Russia’s Phobos–Grunt Mars craft has been put in place by the 12-member Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. The participants include NASA and Roscosmos, and the campaign is being coordinated by experts in ESA’s Space Debris Office.
ESA experts are working with international partners in a coordinated prediction campaign focused on Phobos–Grunt, a Russian Mars mission that is expected to largely burn up in Earth’s atmosphere in the next few days.

Phobos–Grunt was launched on 8 November 2011 into an initial Earth orbit of 206 x 341 km. The injection into an Earth-escape trajectory to Mars failed, and the spacecraft was declared lost by the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, on 13 December.

On 2 January, a comprehensive reentry prediction campaign for Phobos–Grunt was begun by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), a technical forum for the worldwide coordination of activities related to human-made and natural debris in space.


ESA/ESOC - Main Control Room
ESA/ESOC – Main Control Room

ESOC in Darmstadt hosts reentry database
ESA’s Space Debris Office, located at ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany, hosts the IADC reentry event database that is used to exchange orbit data and reentry predictions among IADC members.
Orbit data for Phobos–Grunt are provided mainly by the US Space Surveillance Network and the Russian Space Surveillance System. In addition, European radars based in Germany and France are also providing orbit calculations. Based on this, ESA is issuing reentry prediction bulletins to its Members States.

According to its Russian owners, Phobos–Grunt has a mass of 13.5 tonnes, including about 11 tonnes of propellant, and a body size of 3.76 x 3.76 x 6.38 m, with solar wings spanning 7.97 m.

Large number of uncertainties affect reentry
“Right now, due to the large number of uncertainties in the orbit and space environment affecting the satellite, the indications are that Phobos-Grunt could reenter between 13 and 17 January, between 51.4°N and 51.4°S,” says Prof. Heiner Klinkrad, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office.

Dr Heiner Klinkrad heads ESA's Space Debris Office
H. Klinkrad

He adds that this window will shorten as we approach reentry.

“Analyses by Roscosmos and NASA indicate that the fuel tanks, filled with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine – referred to as UDMH – will burst above 100 km altitude, release the propellant and largely demise thereafter.”

“This, combined with a relatively low dry mass of just 2.5 tonnes, means that Phobos–Grunt is not considered to be a high-risk reentry object.”

“Roscosmos expects that at most, some 20 to 30 fragments may reach Earth’s surface, with a total mass of less than 200 kg.”

Since the beginning of the space age, there has been no confirmed report of an injury resulting from reentering space objects.

IADC assesses potentially hazardous reentries
In recent years, IADC members have developed a data exchange network specifically supporting the assessment of potentially hazardous reentries, which allows members to enter and extract orbit data in order to refine reentry predictions.
IADC member agencies include ESA, NASA, European national agencies and the Russian, Chinese, Canadian, Japanese, Ukrainian and Indian space agencies.

Results from the Phobos–Grunt reentry campaign will be used by IADC members to improve reentry models and make future predictions more accurate.

Enhancing Europe’s observation capacity
In 2009, ESA launched the Space Situational Awareness Preparatory Programme, which, in part, aims to design a network of surveillance and tracking systems and novel data processing technologies that will enable Europe to build up a complete catalogue of orbiting objects.

This system will provide highly accurate data to reduce the threat from on-orbit collisions and improve predictions of where and when uncontrolled satellite re-entries could occur.

Soyuz dry-run (time-lapse)

Final testing of the Soyuz launch site at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana was completed in May with a simulated launch campaign. It ensured that the Soyuz and the new facilities work together perfectly, while allowing the teams to train under realistic launch conditions. It also validated all the procedures during the final phase before launch.
This time-lapse shows the vehicle transfer from the preparation building to the launch zone. It is then raised into its vertical launch position. The mobile gantry is rolled out to the pad and the vehicle’s upper composite, comprising the Fregat upper stage and payload fairing, is hoisted on top of the launcher.

ISS Expedition 27 Prepares to Launch

The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft is seen on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Saturday, April 2, 2011. The launch of the Soyuz spacecraft with Expedition 27 Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyaev, NASA Flight Engineer Ron Garan and Russian Flight Engineer Andrey Borisenko is scheduled for Tuesday, April 5, 2011. The Soyuz, which has been dubbed ‘Gagarin,’ is launching one week shy of the 50th anniversary of the launch of Yuri Gagarin from the same launch pad in Baikonur on April 12, 1961 to become the first human to fly in space. The first stage of the Soyuz booster is emblazoned with the name Gagarin and the cosmonaut’s likeness.

Image Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi