Science & Astronomy
2. December 2015

This is another edition of my now regular articles about the crew changes on the International Space Station – the ISS has been a very busy place in the last few months with a lot of crew changes in September and three spacewalks, but thankfully no major problems have come up so far. In comparison to the crisis a decade ago when the Columbia shuttle disaster had forced the permanent crew down to only two astronauts for quite a while, the ISS operations are today running very smoothly. The loss of three cargo flights in a row might have been inconvenient and uncomfortable, but ultimately was not the catastrophy it could have been. While Expedition 45, which ends in December, has not been much talked about in the media, it has certainly not been an unexciting time – but as usual, the press only likes to talk about the space station when something really goes wrong. Let’s see what’s going on this Winter!

Who is staying: Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko have been on the station since March 2015 and will be staying until early 2016 as part of their One-Year-Crew mission. They have been joined by Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov in September, who will be returning with them in Spring after his half-year stay on the ISS. Apart from doing a lot of science, spacewalks and other work, they more than occasionally use their Twitter accounts @StationCDRKelly and @Volkov_ISS to relay incredible photos from space.

Who is launching: The next Soyuz launch on December 15 will bring up an American-British-Russian crew to the station, consisting of Timothy Kopra from NASA, Timothy Peake from ESA and Yuri Malenchenko from Russia. While Kopra has been in space twice and Malchenko six times, it will be Peake’s first flight and the first time a British astronaut is coming to the ISS – although he is not the first briton in space, as often falsely is claimed. The BBC is planning some special coverage for this launch, with Stargazing Live launch and docking shows and a Horizon documentary. There will probably a lot of social media activity, because both Kopra and Peake are active Twitter users as @Astro_Tim and @Astro_TimPeake, replacing @Astro_Kimiya and @Astro_Kjell as tweeters-in-space.  All three will be staying until March 2016. Expedition 46 also has a nice movie poster, but it pales a bit in comparison to the earlier efforts – maybe there was just no time for something more original.

Who is leaving: On December 11, four days before the next crew arrives, Kjell Lindgren, Oleg Kononenko and Kimiya Yui will be going back to Earth. The departure of the second half of Expedition 45 was originally planned for December 22, which would have meant a crew of nine instead of six between December 15 and 22, but this was probably re-scheduled to make the space station less crowded.

Cargo Flights to the ISS have launched from Baikonur on October 1 and November 21 – those two Progress flights were the last ones from Russia for this year. [Update: I failed to notice that the November 21 launch has been delayed to December 21, which will be the first flight of the upgraded Progress MS]  SpaceX has announced that their first Falcon-9 flights after the June launch failure will not yet bring a new Dragon transporter to the ISS in December, but a bunch of satellites in two separate launches – the reflight of the CRS-8 mission to the ISS is targeted for early 2016 instead and will include the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. OrbitalATK has, however, announced that they will launch their Cygnus transporter on top of an ULA Atlas V rocket on December 3 with a December 6 arrival after the explosion of their October 2014 launch from Wallops, so there will be one more cargo flight to the ISS this year.

Nothing much new has happened around Roscosmos except what I had already written in the previous post – the reorganization into a state-owned agency seems to have been completed, but there are news reports of severe long-term budget cuts and the Russian government also seems to worry about competition from private companies like SpaceX cutting into their commercial launch activities. The work on the new Vostochny Cosmodrome also seems to be coming along, but it won’t be fully completed until 2018. In connection with Vostochny, there are also some news about a possible Russian crewed moon mission, although with some very lofty goals. Meanwhile NASA is going on with its business as usual, although there was some concern with the selection of the old Shuttle engines for the Space Launch System – this also somewhat concerns the space station because the SLS could be used for cargo and freight transports to the ISS, but only as a backup possibility. NASA’s focus for space station access is fully on the commercial partners while the SLS is primarily designed to go to Mars.

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