Space station boosts orbit to prepare for heavy spacecraft traffic
The International Space Station (ISS) raised its orbit by about two miles on Wednesday, Feb. 17, to attain the correct altitude for the March 1 landing of Soyuz Commander Sergey Volkov and One-Year crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko. Station crew members also made preparations for the departure of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft on Friday and the March 19 arrival of a trio of Expedition 47 crew members aboard Soyuz TMA-20M.
The Cygnus spacecraft was filled with trash before being released by the station’s 57.7 foot-long Canadarm2 robotic arm on Friday morning. The spacecraft was then maneuvered to a safe distance from the ISS and then re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere where it burned up high above the Pacific ocean on Saturday.
The Cygnus spacecraft arrived at the station on December 9 as part of the $1.9 billion contract that Orbital ATK has with NASA. This flight marked the fourth resupply run to the orbiting outpost that the Virginia-based firm has carried out.
Kelly, Kornienko, and Volkov will prepare for their March 1 landing by packing the Soyuz TMA-18M with science experiments and personal items for the trip home. When they depart the station, Kelly and Kornienko will be completing 340 consecutive days in space, while Volkov will be finishing up 182 days on orbit. The departure of their spacecraft will clear the Poisk module’s docking port for the next Soyuz to arrive at the station two-and-a-half weeks later.
British astronaut Tim Peake, along with American Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, will prepare the station for the March 19 arrival of cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka along with astronaut Jeff Williams aboard the Soyuz TMA-20M.
The busy month of March will wrap up with a pair of cargo resupply missions to the ISS. Cygnus ORB-6 is scheduled to launch atop an Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 on March 20 and Progress MS-2 is scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 31.
Video courtesy of NASA.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.