Tag: ESA

Moving Leonardo

Update: Leonardo is now firmly in place attached to the Tranquility node.

Don’t panic! The International Space Station is getting some redecoration as the ~10 000 kg Leonardo module will be moved to a different location today.

The Italian-built Leonardo, also known as the more mundane Permanent Multipurpose Module, will be moved from the Unity module to the Tranquility module from 14:00 CEST. The Canadian-built Canadarm2 will grab Leonardo and transfer it to its new berthing place.

They closed the hatch between Leonardo and Unity yesterday and made sure there were no leaks. The partners that run the International Space Station are moving Leonardo to make extra room for visiting cargo ferries. Two types of vessels can visit the Space Station, spacecraft that dock automatically and ferries that need to be berthed using the Station’s robotic arm. Moving Leonardo will free up an extra docking port for spacecraft that require berthing with the robotic arm such as Dragon, Cygnus and the Japanese HTV.


Leonardo arrives at International Space Station in Space Shuttle cargo bay. Credits: ESA/NASA

Leonardo arrives at International Space Station in Space Shuttle cargo bay. Credits: ESA/NASA

The Leonardo module has an interesting history and is one of the reasons Samantha is currently on the Space Station. The module was designed and built in Italy by the Italian Space Agency and Thales Alenia Espace for use on NASA’s Space Shuttle. It’s first name was Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module as it performed a number of tasks in the Shuttle’s cargo bay. It flew to space and returned seven times between 2001 and 2010.

On its eighth spaceflight it was left permanently attached to the International Space Station in 2011. Since then it is used for storage and as extra space. Its name was subsequently changed to Permanent Multipurpose Module. In return for building and supplying Leonardo and other Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules, NASA agreed that the Italian Space Agency would send astronauts to the International Space Station. One of these astronaut flights arranged under this barter agreement is being filled by none other than Samantha Cristoforetti.

Watch the relocation live on NASA television from 14:00 CET today.

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Taming a monster: ESA MARES experiment

Some operations make us nervous because there is not much about we can do about them from ground. The MARES experiment in the Columbus space laboratory is one of these: it is large, highly complex, equipment and can sometimes be a bit of a problem child.

The Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise system (MARES) allows us to investigate muscle groups of astronauts and contributes to answering essential questions that arise during long space flights: how does the human body react to weightlessness? How fast to muscles degrade when they are not used in weightlessness?

Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES). Credits: ESA

Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES). Credits: ESA

We think of MARES as a bit of a monster as it fills half of the Columbus module –it takes a while to unpack so each experiment involving MARES takes a long time, afterwards it must be disassembled again. It looks a little like the torture devices that can be found in many fitness centres – this might explain why the flight controllers have so much respect for the machine. It is a mechanically very complex device and any problems astronauts have encountered in the past have proven difficult to solve over the radio…

So it was with a sigh of relief on my part that I was not on console when this was planned to be setup: many hours of astronaut crew time are designated in the timeline to work on MARES. I got nervous again when a colleague fell sick and I had to take over after all …

Ultimately, of course my colleagues and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti did excellent work: they had to replace a battery (a machine of this size requires more power than Columbus can provide on its own), install a new hard drive and finally test the device for the first time in orbit through by calibrating its servo-motors.

The machine was then put back where every monster belongs, in its “cage”, an experiment cabinet in Columbus – until next time…!  

Thomas Uhlig Columbus Control Centre

Cover picture:  Only in Space recommended: four years ago MARES was installed in Columbus – Astronaut Doug Wheelock and proves prowess … (Credits: NASA)

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Breathe in …the Airway Monitoring Experiment.

I remember clearly the long discussions we had when I worked as a lifeguard many years ago: should we give heart patients in need “nitroglycerine spray”? On the one hand, the nitro spray can provide fast relief to people suffering from heart conditions – on the other hand it can quickly drop a patient’s blood pressure, which should be avoided at all costs in an emergency. We decided against it – and we took the right decision.

A nitroglycerin spray acts on nitric oxide which is produced by the human body itself and is a good indicator of airway inflammation: a higher amount of nitric oxide in exhaled air indicates an inflammation. How this works exactly and how air pressure and gravity-influenced blood flow can affect readings were researched in the complex “Airway Monitoring” experiment last Friday on the Space Station.

The results are important for basic medical research and for future manned missions to other celestial bodies. Moon and Mars dust is very aggressive so not only do mechanical parts that are exposed need to be prepared, experts are also having headaches about how to protect the human respiratory tract. Inevitably dust will collect in air locks and spacesuits in the air of lunar or Mars stations. In these cases it will be important to get early signs of airway inflammation…

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA astronaut Terry Virts had begun preparations for the experiment on Thursday. They brought the equipment into the Quest airlock, which is usually used as a door to the outside of the International Space Station. Barry Wilmore as Crew Medical Officer was also briefed to standby his colleagues during the experiment.

On Friday, the experiment started with Samantha and Terry started to reduce the pressure in the American airlock. The complicated procedures for this were developed through international teamwork. The expertise of the Danish DAMEC Center worked with flight surgeons, the team in Houston that controls the airlock, and us at Oberpfaffenhofen. At the Columbus Control Centre Katja Leuoth and Marius Bach supported the astronauts from the control room. This support was important as the astronauts needed support for such a complex experiment. The ground team found solutions in real-time for some questions, others needed more in-depth study and analysis. Now it is over to the scientists: the data must be processed and evaluated – and a decision must be made to continue with more experiment runs. The Columbus Control Centre will be ready to put the astronauts back in the airlock to answer their questions and pave the way for future missions landing in “thin air”…


More information here: https://plus.google.com/+SamanthaCristoforetti/posts/MtNoDoiRMfZ https://plus.google.com/+SamanthaCristoforetti/posts/boWGMq3mPgX http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2015/03/Samantha_working_on_Airway_Monitoring

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Greetings, ATV!

Time for farewells!! The Dragon spacecraft left the International Space Station earlier this week and today ESA’s ATV spaceship with the catchy name Georges Lemaître detached from the Station and will plunge after several orbits into Earth’s atmosphere. Due to the enormous heat from friction caused by its deceleration through the upper layers of air layers the spacecraft will turn into a huge fireball –  a fitting end to the spacecraft that is named after one of the founding fathers of the Big Bang theory!

Unfortunately, this will be the last ATV – after five very successful missions, the project is now complete. At the Columbus Control Center (Col-CC) we provided for each flight the ground infrastructure and supplied our colleagues at ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, with data, video and voice connections to the International Space Station network. After ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev closed the hatches of ATV yesterday, the Space Station was prepared for the last hours of undocking of ATVs. We turned off our little amateur radio station [http://www.ariss.org/] in Columbus as well as the external Rapidscat experiment [http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/iss-rapidscat/], any radio interference with ATV’s navigation from the International Space Station should be avoided.

Slowly the Space Station turned to an appropriate orientation for undocking. When the moment arrived the Space Station’s active position control was turned off completely: Georges Lemaître needs to push away from the Space Station without the mothership trying to compensate for this force.

Afterwards all that remained was for the astronauts to wave good-bye … atv foreverATVs are part of a large space fleet that supplies the International Space Station. When the American Space Shuttle withdrew from service the Russian Soyuz spacecraft became the only way to get people to the Space Station and back on Earth. Three astronauts share a small space – and so there is little room for other supplies.

Despite this there is enough transport capacity to supply the International Space Station with vital cargo: The Russian unmanned Progress cargo has been flying for years as well as the Japanese HTV and the European ATV. Relatively new in the family of cargo ferries are two unmanned American commercial vehicles: SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital Science’s Cygnus. While the ATV and Progress ships fly to the International Space Station and dock on their own accord, the others need assistance from the Station’s robotic arm. They approach the Station and fly in formation together – not so easy with complex orbital mechanics to calculate – before being gently captured by the robotic arm and moved securely to a docking port. Only then can the astronauts enter and start unloading cargo. It is much more complicated to bring something from the International Space Station back to Earth. The ATV, HTV, Progress and Cygnus spacecraft have no heat shield or other systems that are needed to survive a reentry into Earth’s atmosphere: they are designed to burn up in the upper layers of the atmosphere of Earth. Because of this the astronauts load them full of trash from the International Space Station and they serve as cosmic garbage disposal. Aside from the manned Soyuz only the Dragon is designed to withstand the tremendous energy from decelerating at speeds of 23 faster than the speed of sound. Paradoxically it is more difficult to get things from the Space Station to Earth than vice versa.

Tom Uhlig, Columbus Flight Director at the DLR center in Oberpfaffenhofen/Germany

Cover image by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti: https://www.flickr.com/photos/astrosamantha/16546104212/ .

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