October 2022 was again a busy month aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Several spacecraft movements completed the transition between Expeditions 67 and 68 and saw new supplies delivered to the Russian orbital segment. Against this backdrop, the station’s essential work – deepening humanity’s understanding of science – continued with the crew carrying out a diverse range of research.
The first half of October saw a crew changeover on the American side of the station, completing the transition of the station’s Expedition 67 crew to Expedition 68. This transition had begun in September with the departure of Soyuz MS-21 , marking the official start of Expedition 68, with the remaining Expedition 67 crew members remaining on board as a temporary part of the new expedition until their replacements arrive.
crew dragon Endurance lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on October 5, docked with International Docking Adapter-Forward (IDA-F) on Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA-2) to the Harmony Module’s forward port the following day. Endurance is piloting the Crew-5 mission, with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata and cosmonaut Anna Kikina of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos , on board.
EnduranceThe arrival of began an eight-day transfer as new crew members acclimated to the space station and began to take over from those they replaced. Mann, Cassada, and Kikina are all on their first space missions, while Expedition 68 marks Wakata’s third long-term stay aboard the ISS and fifth spaceflight overall. Wakata first flew in 1996 aboard the Space Shuttle EffortThe STS-72 mission to recover the Space Flyer unit. He visited the ISS during its construction as part of the Space Shuttle’s STS-92 crew Discovery in October 2000, before a permanent human presence was established aboard the outpost.
On October 14, astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Samantha Cristoforetti and Jessica Watkins boarded Crew Dragon Freedom for their return to Earth, 41 hours later than planned due to weather conditions at its landing site. This departure completed the Crew-4 mission, with Dragon undocking from the IDA Zenith (IDA-Z) port on PMA-3, the opposite-Earth side of the Harmony module, at 16:05 UTC. Freedom crashed into the Atlantic Ocean a few hours later. With Cristoforetti’s departure, command of the ISS passed to cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.
Towards the end of the month, a new Russian supply ship Progress arrived at the station. In preparation, on October 23, Progress MS-19 undocked from the Poisk module’s zenith port, where it had been since its arrival in February, before being desorbed for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean. Progress MS-21 lifted off atop a Soyuz-2-1a rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 26, successfully docking in Poisk two days later.
Two other spacecraft remained docked at the station throughout the month. Soyuz MS-22 brought Prokopyev, along with fellow cosmonaut Dmitry Petelin and Francisco Rubio from NASA, in September. Located at the nadir port – or facing the Earth – of the Rassvet module, it will serve as a lifeboat for its crew throughout its mission and its return home at the end.
Progress MS-20, another Russian freighter, has been docked in the rear port of the Zvezda service module since June. The spacecraft docked at this port is often used to make adjustments to the space station’s orbit, and the MS-20 has been called upon to perform three such maneuvers in the past month. The first was performed on October 1, with Progress firing its thrusters for 719.5 seconds to give 1.36 meters per second of delta-v, increasing the ISS’s orbit by about 2.4 kilometers.
Another reboost was performed on October 17, this maneuver lasting 630.8 seconds for a total delta-v of 1.0 meters per second and an increase in orbital altitude of 1.75 kilometers. The two planned reboost maneuvers were conducted prior to the arrival of Progress MS-21, ensuring optimal conditions for the new Progress craft to dock after its two-day pursuit of the station.
The Progress MS-20 thrusters were also used for a Predetermined Debris Avoidance Maneuver (PDAM) on 25 October. This imparted 0.5 m/s of delta-v during a 305 second burn, increasing the orbit by 0.88 kilometer. PDAMs are performed when controllers identify debris in orbit that may come dangerously close to the station. By adjusting the orbit of the ISS well in advance, a PDAM ensures that such a conjunction cannot take place.
Aboard the station, the seven-member crew is responsible for inspecting and maintaining onboard systems, as well as supporting, supervising, conducting and participating in a wide range of research projects. scientific. Their roles can vary from setting up experiments to be run from the ground to changing samples and taking readings – or even serving as test subjects.
A major theme among research conducted at the station is the exploration of human physiology and the development of new technologies to enable future long-duration exploration missions. One technology that will be key to this type of mission is the ability of astronauts to grow plants for consumption, which the XROOTS (Exposed Root On-Orbit Test System) survey aims to help.
XROOTS is designed to test aeroponic and hydroponic techniques, allowing plants to grow without soil. The experiment uses the Plant Production System – or Veggie – plant growth system on board the station, with individual experiments lasting between 10 and 60 days. The crew is responsible for replenishing nutrients, recovering fluids, and inspecting and harvesting plants. A growth phase continued throughout October, with the fourth harvest of the experiment taking place on October 31. Crops, including pea and tomato plants, were packed up to be sent back to Earth.
What the crew eats is also the subject of scientific interest, with the Food Physiology experiment monitoring astronauts’ diet and its impact on their immune system, gut microbiome and nutrition to study how diet affects the adaptation of the crew to the space environment.
The adaptation of the crew to space is also studied in the GRIP and GRASP experiments. GRIP studies how astronauts’ ability to regulate grip strength and upper limb movement is affected by their time in space. The sessions take place in a sitting or lying position, with an object – or manipulandum – held and manipulated. These sessions are conducted at several points during an astronaut’s stay on board the station, as well as on the ground before and after launch, the results being compared.
GRASP, or Gravitational References for Sensimotor Performance, studies hand-eye coordination and the effect that gravity – or lack thereof – has on the subject’s ability to reach and grasp objects. During the experience, the astronaut wears a virtual reality headset that projects an object to reach out to, while a 3D tracking system records their movements.
Another experiment that will study how humans adapt to space is Rhodium Space Microbiome Isolates. This is cultivating bacteria of the types found in astronauts’ digestive systems, to develop new “astronaut gut-on-a-chip” platforms to facilitate research. By isolating and characterizing different species of bacteria, scientists hope to better understand how spaceflight affects this microbiome and the resulting impacts on the health of astronauts. The crew installed samples in Space Automated Bioproduct Laboratory 2 (SABL-2) on October 7 before transferring the science chamber to the minus eighty degree Celsius laboratory freezer on October 11.
Advancing science isn’t the only way the ISS contributes to the future of humanity. The station is also used for educational outreach activities aimed at inspiring a new generation of scientists and engineers, as well as giving students hands-on experience of the space program.
The last round of the Kibo Robot Programming Challenge (Kibo-RPC or Robo-Pro) took place aboard the Japanese experiment module on October 29. This was the third edition of a competition that gives teams of students the opportunity to upload code to control the free-flying robots Astrobee and Internal Ball Camera (Int-Ball) on board the ISS.
The teams were faced with a challenge based on a scenario where the space station had developed a leak following impact with space debris, and had to use the robots on two targets in the module before reporting the results to the crew. Ten teams from around the world competed in the final event aboard the station, with a team named “KIBO la na tsu bu KIBO / Robology Awesome Aliens” from Taiwan declared the winner.
As the International Space Station enters its 22nd year of uninterrupted crewed operations, Expedition 68 continues work that will push the boundaries of science and enable future exploration far beyond low Earth orbit.
(Main image: Earth and the aurora australis seen from the ISS on October 4. Credit: NASA)
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