Spacewalk Succeeds in Getting ISS Ready for New Version of Russian Cargo Craft – UPDATE

Spacewalk Succeeds in Getting ISS Ready for New Version of Russian Cargo Craft – UPDATE

A hastily planned spacewalk by two NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) went smoothly today, getting the ISS ready for the docking of a new version of Russia’s venerable Progress cargo spacecraft.  Docking is scheduled for Wednesday. [UPDATE:  Progress MS successfully docked on December 23, 2016.]

Today was a busy day in the space business. 

It began with Russia launching a new version of the robotic Progress cargo spacecraft — Progress MS — at 3:44 am Eastern Standard Time (2:44 pm local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan).  Russia has used Progress spacecraft to resupply space stations since 1978.  Several iterations have been launched over the decades, most recently the Progress M__M series (for example, Progress M-28M, which just undocked from the ISS, and M-29M, which is there now).  The spacecraft has been upgraded again to Progress MS.  One of the improvements is that Russian ground controllers can communicate with the spacecraft at all points along its orbit through Luch communications relay satellites.  Previously, they could only talk to the spacecraft when it was over Russia.  Progress MS also has improved navigation systems and a compartment from which up to eight microsatellites can be deployed.  (NASA refers to the Progress spacecraft sequentially in terms of when they began supporting ISS.  Progress MS therefore is referred to by NASA as “Progress 62” because it is the 62nd Progress to be launched to the space station.)

A few hours after Progress MS launched, at 7:45 am EST, NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra began a short spacewalk to fix the ISS Mobile Transporter (MT).  The MT is used to position the robotic Canadarm2 for various tasks.  It became stuck on December 16 when ground controllers were trying to move it from one location to another.   It needed to be correctly positioned and latched into place before Progress MS docks at 5:31 am EST on Wednesday.

Kelly has been on ISS since March 2015 as part of a year-long mission (along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko) to assess how humans adapt to spaceflight conditions over longer periods of time than a typical 4-6 month ISS mission.  Kopra just arrived on December 15, but he has flown in space before.  This was the third spacewalk for Kelly and the second for Kopra.  The two made quick work of fixing the MT by releasing its brake handles.  They performed a few other chores — rerouting cables and retrieving tools — and were done in just 3 hours and 16 minutes. 

This evening, SpaceX succeeded not only in returning its Falcon 9 rocket to duty, but landed the first stage back on Earth at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.   This was the first Falcon 9 launch since a June 28, 2015 failure that destroyed a Dragon spacecraft loaded with supplies for the ISS crew.   Today’s launch was not directly related to the ISS or NASA, but paves the way for the next SpaceX ISS cargo launch (SpaceX-8 or SpX-8) in February.  The ISS is constantly resupplied by Russia’s Progress, Japan’s HTV, and two U.S. commercial cargo spacecraft — SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus.  A Cygnus is currently attached to the ISS.


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