ISS unter debris hit threat!

In case you have not yet heard it on the twittersphere, here is something you should really look into: there is a so-called “red” threat that the ISS is being hit by debris. The ISS crew is currently closing hatches and preparing to move to the attached Sojuz return vehicle, in case this should be required. The full story is at I also strongly recommend to dial in to NASA mission audio. The critical time is 5 minutes around 11:39am CDT.

I think I found the following two interesting links to track the debris and the International space station.

Thankfully, the event is now over and nothing happend (no news is good news :-)).

Here is a picture of the two satellite trackers around the time of the close encounter. Have a look at latidue, longitude and elevation in the trackers.

Expedition 18 on the Way to ISS

A new crew that will live and work aboard the International Space Station rocketed into orbit early Sunday aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. U.S. astronaut E. Michael Fincke, Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov and Richard Garriott, a U.S. computer game developer, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:01 a.m. CDT.

Fincke, the only American to launch twice on a Soyuz, will serve as commander of the six-month Expedition 18 mission. The mission’s main focus will be preparing the station to house six crew members on long-duration missions.

The Expedition 18 crew is scheduled to arrive at the station Tuesday, with docking to the Zarya module scheduled for 3:33 a.m. After the hatches are opened, Expedition 17 Commander Sergey Volkov and spaceflight participant Garriott will become the first children of previous space fliers to greet each other in orbit. Garriott is the son of former NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, who was a member of the Skylab-3 crew in 1973. Volkov is the son of veteran cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, who flew three Soyuz missions.

Garriott will spend nine days on the station under a commercial agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency. He will return to Earth on Oct. 23 with Volkov and Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko, who have worked aboard the station since April 10.

Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff, who arrived at the station in June, will be replaced in November by NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus. Space shuttle Endeavour will deliver Magnus and return Chamitoff to Earth.

Endeavour’s November STS-126 mission also will deliver equipment to the station necessary for supporting a six-member crew, including a water recycling system, sleeping quarters, a new kitchen, a second toilet, and an advanced exercise device.

Although they will be in space on Election Day, Chamitoff and Fincke have arranged for the chance to cast their ballots from the station.

Reproduced from JSC News. To obtain it directly, follow the procedure outlined below:

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ISS SARJ inspection spacewalk has begun

Picture taken shortly after the begin of the ISS SARJ inspection spacewalk on December, 18th 2007.The international space station ISS crew has headed outside of the orbiting complex to check the contamination of the starboard solar array rotary joint (SARJ). They are performing this task while I am writing. First results are expected during the course of today, with a detailed analysis to follow some time later (depending on the findings).

Side-Note: Atlantis tanking test will begin in roughly an hour from now. Final preparations are underway.

Tuesday: ISS Spacewalk and Shuttle Fueling Test…

Tomorrow is a busy day for NASA – both on earth as well as in orbit. Seems to be “troubleshooting Tuesday”: The international space station crew performs a spacewalk to check out what is wrong with the orbiting laboratory while the ground crew at Kennedy Space Center checks out their supply vessel. Both activities are in support of the international space station program. Let’s hope everything turns out well.

But now let me quote a mail that I received from NASA, it is an excellent wrap-up of tomorrow’s activities, including ways to experience them first hand:

NASA Television will provide simultaneous live coverage of a spacewalk by the International Space Station crew and a shuttle fueling test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Expedition 16 Station Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani are set to venture outside the station at about 6 a.m. EST to perform a detailed inspection of a giant rotary joint where contamination was found last month. The joint is used to rotate the starboard solar arrays of the complex to face the sun. The astronauts also will devote part of the spacewalk to an inspection of a device that tilts the starboard arrays toward the sun. The device, known as a Beta Gimbal Assembly, experienced unrelated electrical problems last weekend.

NASA TV’s public channel will begin coverage of spacewalk activities at 4:30 a.m. A briefing will follow the spacewalk, originating from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, no earlier than 1:30 p.m.
Reporters will be able to ask questions from participating NASA sites. The briefing participants are:

— Mike Suffredini, International Space Station Program manager
— Ginger Kerrick, International Space Station spacewalk flight director
— Tomas Gonzalez-Torres, International Space Station spacewalk officer

At 7 a.m. EST, Tuesday, NASA TV’s media channel will begin coverage of a fueling test of space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39A. The fueling test will assist engineering efforts to resolve a problem with an engine cutoff sensor system that prevented Atlantis’ launch attempts earlier this month. Reporters will be notified of any plans to hold a news briefing following the test’s conclusion.

For NASA TV streaming video, schedules, and downlink information,visit:

For more information about the space station and the Expedition 16 crew, visit:

For more information about space shuttle Atlantis’ upcoming STS-122 mission, visit:

STS-122 now set to Launch January, 10th 2008

The target launch date for space shuttle Atlantis STS-122 mission to the international space station has now been moved to January, 10th. Originally, it was set for January, 2nd when an ECO sensor problem made it impossible to lift off during the December 2007 launch window. The January, 10th date has now been selected to allow NASA workers to get some rest. They have been extremely busy. The holiday period is now a perfect time to make sure everybody is in a great shape when it comes to the next launch attempt.

As far as I know, launching exactly on January, 10th will not affect the overall shuttle launch schedule for 2008. However, I suspect even a further one day delay means trouble for the flight plan.

And finally, this is what the NASA shuttle home page has to say:

NASA’s Space Shuttle Program managers have targeted Jan. 10 for the launch of shuttle Atlantis’ STS-122 mission to the International Space Station.

“The workforce has stepped up to and met every challenge this year,” said Wayne Hale, Space Shuttle Program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “Moving the next launch attempt of Atlantis to Jan. 10 will allow as many people as possible to have time with family and friends at the time of year when it means the most. A lot has been asked of them this year and a lot will be asked of them in 2008.”

The liftoff date from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, depends on the resolution of a problem in a fuel sensor system. The shuttle’s planned launches on Dec. 6 and Dec. 9 were postponed because of false readings from the part of the system that monitors the liquid hydrogen section of the tank.

ISS Spacewalk on Tuesday

The International Space Station is viewed from space shuttle Discovery after undocking during the STS-120 mission.The international space station ISS crew will put the time until the next space shuttle visits the orbiting complex to good use. A spacewalk is scheduled for next Tuesday. It is part of the ongoing troubleshooting of the solar array rotary joint (SARJ) problem problem that troubles the station for some weeks now.

The SARJ issue reduces power generation from the solar array. This is currently no issue, but when more modules are added, it becomes a constraint. The Columbus module, to be delivered by Atlantis whenever STS-122 is ready to launch, can operate with currently available power. However, the Kibo module, rocketed into space with STS-123, will probably exhaust current power availability. As such, it is vital to solve the issue with the rotary joints.

An international space station's solar array rotary joint (SARJ) shown inside a NASA presentation.
Previous spacewalks found some material on the race ring, a result of abrasion. There is a backup race ring available, but it will not be activated until the root cause of the problem is understood.

And now let me quote the NASA ISS home page:

Station Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani will perform the 100th spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly on Tuesday, Dec. 18. The spacewalk will focus on the starboard solar arrays. Whitson and Tani will examine the starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ) and return a trundle assembly to the station’s interior.

Whitson and Tani also will examine the Beta Gimbal Assembly (BGA). It tilts solar wings for optimal power generation. The starboard BGA has been locked since some power feeds to it were interrupted last Saturday.

While spacewalk preparations are under way, the docked Progress 26 cargo ship is being loaded with discarded items and readied for undocking on Dec. 21. Progress 27 will arrive at the station with supplies on Dec. 26.

No Space Shuttle Launch in December 2007…

NASA has waived off any further space shuttle launch attempts for the December launch window. NASA’s shuttle home page has a quick note about that:

The launch of space shuttle Atlantis has been rescheduled for no earlier than Jan. 2, 2008. The postponement will give engineers time to evaluate false readings from the engine cutoff sensor system that measures liquid hydrogen in the external tank.

As far as I know, a January, 2nd launch will be around 5:45am ET.

It is actually no surprise to me, given the new sensor problems. There is not much more news available as of now, I will keep you posted as I get updates.

STS-122 Launch Scrub Press Conference…

Actually, it was a quick status briefing and not a press conference. There is not yet much information, so they had not to tell a lot. The scrub of Atlantis STS-122 launch attempt on December, 6th has been confirmed once again. Neither Atlantis nor Columbus, its primary payload, will launch into space today. The next launch attempt will be no earlier than tomorrow, but may be farther delayed.

The problem is related to two ECO sensors which had invalid readings. This type of problem is typically discovered late in the countdown, while tanking (that same type of problem prevented me from seeing the STS-115 launch in 2006…). There are four of these sensors.

Space Shuttle ECO Sensor during Testing.
ECO Sensors in a Test Setting
Troubleshooting is currently underway. They will send out an inspection team to do a quick evaluation of the external tank status. This will take around an hour and a half. There is a technical meeting at noon, where options will be discussed. At 2pm, there is a mission management team meeting, which will decide on how to continue forward. A press conference on the outcome of that meeting is expected no earlier than 4pm.

The firing room guys will work on a routine that provides a 24-hour turnaround. From their point of view, a December, 7th launch is a possibility. However, it is yet uncertain if it is also a possibility when looking at the big picture. So if the missing management team gives a “go” for Saturday, this can be done. If that would be the case, the launch attempt will be at 4:09pm tomorrow (each attempt is roughly 30 minutes earlier than the previous one).

Space Shuttle Atlantis sitting at the Pad after the December, 6th launch scrub.
Atlantis sitting at the Pad after the December, 6th launch scrub

STS-122 unfortunately has a very narrow launch window. It extends just 7 days and possibly one more day if the mission duration is shortened by one day. Even more unfortunate, NASA was hoping for a two-day mission extension to help troubleshoot solar array problems on the international space station.

I will post any updates when I receive them.
But I guess I won’t have much more solid information before the end of the 4pm press conference. BTW: all times are EST.

STS-122: ISS Ready…

The international space station ISS reports it is ready to welcome the STS-122 mission. Astronaut Daniel Tani is spending his last days at the station. He will return to earth aboard Discovery. ESA astronaut Léopold Eyharts will take his seat on the ISS. He will work in the Columbus lab module and start its scientific experiments. Eyharts is set to return with the STS-123 mission.

The ISS crew has also completed all leak checks, with the ISS in a top condition to receive the Colubus module.

Some more details from the NASA homepage:

The Expedition 16 crew members aboard the International Space Station are completing final preparations for the arrival of space shuttle Atlantis, set to launch Thursday from Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

On Wednesday, the Expedition 16 crew spent time reviewing spacewalk procedures and detailed timelines for joint operations with the STS-122 crew. Atlantis is scheduled to dock with the space station on Saturday.

During the STS-122 mission, the shuttle crew will conduct three spacewalks to install the Columbus Research module on the orbital outpost. STS-122 will also deliver a new station crew member, European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts.

Flight Engineer Dan Tani, who arrived at the station in October with STS-120, will return home aboard Atlantis.

Commander Peggy Whitson, Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko and Tani will enjoy an off-duty day Thursday.

Columbus – Europe’s lab at the International Space Station ISS

Columbus at the ISS - Artist's viewColumbus is Europe’s space lab at the international space station. It is ESA‘s most important European mission to the ISS to date and the cornerstone of Europe’s contribution to this international endeavour. Once Columbus is launched, assembled to the Space Station and verified, ESA will become an active partner in the operations and utilization of mankind’s only permanent outpost in space.

It will be launched on December, 6th onboard space shuttle Atlantis (STS-122 mission). Columbus will be transported into Earth orbit in the Shuttle’s cargo bay, pre equipped with five internal rack. Two of its external experiment facilities will be stowed separately in the Shuttle’s cargo bay and attached to the outside of the laboratory module structure in orbit. German ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel will play a key role in two of the three spacewalks or EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) scheduled for the mission. During the mission’s first EVA, Schlegel will help to install and power up the laboratory.

As the first European laboratory devoted to long-term research in space, Columbus will further expand the science capabilities of the ISS. In its interior, the Columbus laboratory will provide accommodation for experiments in the field of multidisciplinary research into biology, physiology, material science, fluid physics, technology, life science and education. In addition, its external payload facility hosts experiments and applications in the field of space science, Earth observation and technology.

Columbus before launch in the ISS processing facility
Columbus waiting for its flight in the
ISS processing facility at Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Columbus is manged from its control center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany (near Munic). The center is operated by DLR under a contract with ESA. The Columbus Control Center will work together with mission control in the US and Russia and provide operational oversight, data transfer facility and all other essential services to the Columbus module.

Columbus was built by Bremen, Germany based EADS Astrium, which coordinated 41 suppliers from 14 countries. Its development cost roughly 880 Million Euros. The Columbus module is scheduled to last at least 10 years in space. It was originally scheduled to be delivered to the ISS in 2004, but delayed after the space shuttle Columbia accident.