Science & Astronomy
28. February 2016

This is another edition of my now regular articles about the crew changes on the International Space Station – I posted the last one at the beginning of December, but an early Spring update is now in order because March is going to be a very busy month on the station. On Tuesday, the One-Year-Mission of Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornivenko is coming to and end and they will be going back to Earth together with their fellow astronaut Sergey Volkov and then a new crew of three will arrive after slightly more than two weeks – but that is not all, because after that two uncrewed resupply flights, a Progress from Russia and a Cygnus from the US, will arrive in short succession. So there are at least two launches and one landing to watch out for in the next couple of weeks with more coming soon. Here’s the overview of what’s currently going on in space.

Who is staying: The second half of Expedition 46Timothy Kopra from NASA, Timothy Peake from ESA and Yuri Malenchenko from Russia, who have arrived on the station in mid-December, will stay until June for a half-year mission. For two and a half weeks between March 1 and March 18 they will be the sole inhabitants of the station until Expedition 47 starts with the new arrivals.

Who is leaving:  Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko have been on the station since March 2015 as part of their One-Year-Crew mission and will finally return to Earth on Tuesday, March 1. With them returning will be  Sergey Volkov, who has been on the station since September. There has been a lot of medie attention on Scott Kelly because his twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, is an important part of the yearlong mission to compare how his brother’s health has fared in space, but Mikhail Kornivenko has been almost neglected at least by the English-language media, which is a bit unfair.

Who is launching: After a two-and-a-half week gap with only three astronauts on the ISS, the launch of the second half of Expedition 47 is scheduled for March 18 at 21:26 UTC. Crew members are NASA Astronaut Jeffrey Williams, who had already visited the ISS with the Space Shuttle in 2000 on a 10-day-mission and later was part of the half-year expeditions 13 in 2006 and 22/23 in 2009 and 2010. He is joined by Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin on his first flight and Oleg Skripochka on his second stay on the ISS. Unlike his Russian colleagues, Jeffrey Williams is an active Twitter user at @Astro_Jeff and is already busy tweeting about the launch preparations – he was actually one of the first astronauts to use a live Twitter connection from space in 2009.

Cargo Flights to the ISS from Russia have been scheduled for March 31st, July 4 and October 20 (Progress 63P-65P), while the next freight flight from the US will be on March 23 with OrbitalATK’s Cygnus on top of an ULA Atlas 5. The next Cygnus flight is already scheduled for May 31 with Orbital’s new Antares rocket. SpaceX has no firm date with their return to flight of the Dragon transporter at the moment, but the reflight of CRS-8 is expected no later than April with at least two, if not three more flights following this year. SpaceX’s first CRS mission since last year’s failed launch will reportedly bring the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module up to the station, to which it will be attached for a limited time.

There are not much other news at the moment apart from some extended political fights around NASA and its overall direction, which is just to be expected in an election year. Russia has still not fully completed its new Vostochny Cosmodrome, but the first uncrewed launch of a Soyuz2 rocket may happen in April already.

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