Expedition 54

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Began Dec. 14, 2017; transitioned to Expedition 55 on Feb. 27, 2018

First Part

Transferred from Expedition 53

Alexander Misurkin, Roscosmos
     Commander
Mark Vande Hei, NASA
     Flight Engineer
Joe Acaba, NASA
     Flight Engineer

Launched: Sept. 12, 2017, aboard Soyuz MS-06
Landed: Feb. 28, 2018

Second Part

Docked Dec. 19, 2017

Anton Shkaplerov, Roscosmos
     Flight Engineer
Scott Tingle, NASA
     Flight Engineer
Norishige Kanai, JAXA
     Flight Engineer

Launched: Dec. 17, 2017, aboard Soyuz MS-07
Landed: June 3, 2018


— Statistics —

Max. crew size: 6
Started: Dec. 14, 2017
Ended: Feb. 27, 2018
Duration: 76 days
Orbits of Earth: ~1,200

Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Spacecraft: Soyuz-MS-06, Soyuz MS-07

Experiments conducted: ~90
Spacewalks: 3
Total spacewalk time: 21 hours, 34 minutes
Visiting vehicle arrivals: 2
Visiting vehicle departures: 1

 The Expedition 54 crew watch a special screening of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" in the station's Harmony module. Credit: NASA

The Expedition 54 crew watch a special screening of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" in the station's Harmony module. Credit: NASA


— Mission Summary —

Expedition 54 consisted of Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov; NASA astronauts Mark VAnde Hei, Joe Acaba and Scott Tingle; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai. Over 2.5 months, the increment worked on science experiments that studied bacteria, the manufacture of fiber optics in microgravity, and gathered data about space debris in low-Earth orbit, to name a few. The crew also supported three spacewalks and oversaw the arrival and departure of a couple cargo spacecraft.


— Major Events —

Expedition 54 begins

When Soyuz MS-05 undocked at 05:14 UTC Dec. 14, 2017, Expedition 54 officially began. Departing the International Space Station in that spacecraft were Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky of Roscosmos, astronaut Randy Bresnik of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency. They left behind cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos and astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA to form the first half of increment 54.

Commanded of the outpost was transferred to Misurkin from Expedition 53 Commander Bresnik on Dec. 13.

CRS-13 Dragon arrival

The first major event to occur under this new expedition was the arrival of SpaceX's CRS-13 Dragon capsule with more than 2,200 kilograms of cargo.

Launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket occurred Dec. 15, 2017 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida with a rendezvous and berthing two days later at 13:26 UTC Dec. 17. This was the second time this particular Dragon pressure vessel made its way to the outpost. The hull is the same one used during the CRS-6 mission in the spring of 2015.

CRS-13 was attached to the station's Harmony module. Inside Dragon were various research experiments including an investigation that was to demonstrate “the benefits of manufacturing fiber-optic filaments in a microgravity environment.," according to NASA. The Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity investigation was designed by Made in Space and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.

Inside the unpressurized trunk of Dragon was 645 kilograms of external hardware, including the "Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor" and "Space Debris Sensor" experiments.

 CRS-13 is attached to the International Space Station's Harmony module. Credit: NASA

CRS-13 is attached to the International Space Station's Harmony module. Credit: NASA

Soyuz MS-07 arrival

Expedition 54 only comprised of three people for about five days before they were joined by three additional crew members to fill out the six-person compliment.

Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, and Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai launched Dec. 17, 2017 inside their Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft atop a Soyuz-FG rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Two days later, the trio rendezvous and docked with the ISS, docking with the outpost's Rassvet module at 08:39 UTC Dec. 19.

Two hours later at 10:55 UTC, the hatches between the Soyuz and station were opened and the six people greeted each other before moving to the Zvezda service module for a post-docking conference with family and friends.

After launching, Soyuz MS-07 took a longer, 34-orbit rendezvous profile to reach the ISS. Although the flight was originally planned for Dec. 27, according to NASASpaceflight, the U.S. space agency asked for the launch to be pushed forward to avoid having NASA personnel at Baikonur or in transit over the holidays. This necessitated the longer transit time, rather than the shorter four-orbit, six-hour rendezvous profile.

This was Shkaplerov’s third flight in space. His previous two were also long-duration missions. From 2011 to 2012, he was part of Expeditions 29 and 30, spending some 5.5 months at the complex. Then from 2014 to 2015 he was part of the Expedition 42/43 crew increment, spending just over six months on orbit. Tingle and Kanai, on the other hand, were on their first flight.

 Soyuz MS-07, bottom, approaches the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos

Soyuz MS-07, bottom, approaches the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos

Progress MS-06 departure

The final major visiting vehicle activity in 2017 was the undocking of the unpiloted Progress MS-06 spacecraft. It departed the station at 01:03 UTC Dec. 28, having been attached to the aft-end of the Zvezda service module on the Russian Orbital Segment of the ISS for more than six months.

The docked vehicles attached to the ISS after Progress MS-06 departed. Credit: Derek Richardson/Orbital Velocity

Having launched in June 2017, it brought some 2,700 kilograms of equipment, food, water and fuel to the outpost. It was subsequently emptied before being reloaded with trash and unneeded equipment that was to burn up in Earth's atmosphere upon the deorbit of the one-time use spacecraft.

Once safely away from the ISS, Russian flight controllers transmitted commands to Progress MS-06 to fire its engines for a three-minute burn to deorbit the freighter, sending it on a destructive re-entry over the southern Pacific Ocean. At 04:43 UTC, the spacecraft reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. According to ballistics calculations, the disintegration of the cargo craft’s structure occurred at 04:51 UTC.

While docked, Progress MS-06 was used for several space station reboosts. The first occurred on Aug. 9, 2017, and a second not long after on Aug. 27. A third, fourth, and fifth orbit-raising burn took place on Sept. 27, Nov. 2, and Nov. 29, respectively.

 Progress MS-06 is seen attached to the ISS during a Russian spacewalk in 2017. Credit: Roscosmos

Progress MS-06 is seen attached to the ISS during a Russian spacewalk in 2017. Credit: Roscosmos

CRS-13 Dragon departure

Two weeks into 2018, the first major visiting vehicle activity at the ISS occurred with the unberthing, departure and splashdown of SpaceX's CRS-13 Dragon. It spent nearly a month at the outpost and was the second time the Hawthorne, California-based company utilized a refurbished Dragon capsule.

The crew of Expedition 54 spent the last four weeks unloading the capsule and reloading it with unneeded equipment as well as experiments to return to Earth for data collection. According to NASA, approximately 1,860 kilograms of cargo, science and technology demonstration samples loaded inside Dragon.

Once the hatches between Dragon and the ISS were closed, ground-based robotics operators utilized Canadarm2—the station's 17.6-meter robotic arm—to unberth and move the capsule to a staging point some 10 meters below the Destiny laboratory. At 9:58 UTC, it was released to begin a series of burns to safely move away from the space station.

This was the first ground-controlled release of a visiting vehicle. However, NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Scott Tingle—two of six people residing aboard the ISS—monitored the departure inside the station’s Cupola window. Would it have become necessary, the two could have taken over control of the arm. However, everything went according to plan.

After Dragon moved safely away for several hours, the spacecraft was commanded to perform a 10-minute deorbit burn with the capsule's Draco thrusters. This occurred around 14:43 UTC. 

Just before entry interface, the trunk of Dragon, which had the solar panels attached to it as well as a defunct external experiment that spent the last several years on the ISS, was jettisoned from the capsule. It was not designed to survive reentry and incinerated during the descent.

SpaceX confirmed via Twitter that the deorbit burn and trunk separation had occurred as planned with a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Baja California not long after that.

Recovery teams then worked to recover the spacecraft via ship and take it to Long Beach, California, just south of Los Angeles. There, time-sensitive cargo was removed for an immediate return to NASA. After that, the capsule with the rest of the cargo was transported to the company’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, where it underwent final post-mission processing.

 CRS-13 Dragon as seen from inside the space station's Cupola window during its Dec. 17, 2017, arrival. Credit: NASA

CRS-13 Dragon as seen from inside the space station's Cupola window during its Dec. 17, 2017, arrival. Credit: NASA

US EVA-47: Replacing a robotic 'hand' in space

Adding to the already-busy 2018 schedule, NASA astronauts Vande Hei and Tingle ventured out on U.S. EVA-47 to replace an aging "latching end effector" on the International Space Station's robotic Canadarm2.

Canadarm2 has a latching end effector, also called a LEE, on either side of the 17.6-meter robotic arm to either grab onto the exterior of the station, move objects around the outpost, or grab visiting spacecraft.

Launched in 2001 during Space Shuttle Endeavour’s STS-100 mission, the Canadian-built arm was designed to be serviced and refurbished in orbit. As such, in 2015, both end effectors, LEE-A and LEE-B, were lubricated during several spacewalks to extend the life of the “hands” of the outpost.

But with the LEEs more than 15 years in age, it was time to replace them. LEE-A was replaced over the course of three spacewalks in October 2017.

LEE-B was replaced during this spacewalk, U.S. EVA-47. LEE-B was originally planned to be replaced first, but a motor stall in the latches of LEE-A prompted NASA to switch the order.

The spacewalk officially began at 11:49 UTC Jan. 23, 2018, when Vande Hei and Tingle switched their suits to battery power. Not long after the start of the outing, the first of several time-delaying issues cropped up. Vande Hei’s Display and Control Module on his suit locked up requiring him to completely reboot his suit.

After that was resolved, the duo began working on gathering equipment for the replacement process. The spare LEE was brought to the ISS during Space Shuttle Atlantis' STS-129 mission in 2009.

A diagram of a latching end effector for the robotic Canadarm2. Credit: NASA

The replacement of the old LEE-B required the arm to be turned off before bolts, cameras and insulation blankets were removed. The old "hand" was then detached and the new one was installed in a reverse fashion. However, difficult access to the bolts caused the timeline of the spacewalk to slip more than it already had.

Once fully installed, it was time to power Canadarm2 back up. Unfortunately, robotics controllers on the ground said the arm’s software wasn’t able to communicate with the new LEE-B. This necessitated the crew to cycle the mechanism that pushes electrical and data connectors in the LEE to attach to ports in the wrist-portion of the arm -- the spaceflight version of unplugging it and plugging it back in. It worked and the arm was powered on and reported in a healthy configuration.

This allowed the spacewalkers to make their way back to the Quest airlock after cleaning up their work area. U.S. EVA officially ended at 19:13 UTC after seven hours, 24 minutes.

Several days later, a problem was found with the newly installed mechanism that NASA said was preventing the grapple fixture from “transitioning to an operational state on one of two redundant sets of communications strings.

This prompted fears that the next planned spacewalk, U.S. EVA-48, would have to require the astronauts to undo the work done on U.S. EVA-47.

However, a software patch was all that was required by ground teams to get the device to communicate properly. Even so, that forced a delay to U.S. EVA-48 from its planned Jan. 29, 2018, date as other station activities were nearing that were of higher priority.

 Scott Tingle, along with Mark Vande Hei, not pictured, work to swap out the old LEE_B during U.S. EVA-47. Credit: NASA

Scott Tingle, along with Mark Vande Hei, not pictured, work to swap out the old LEE_B during U.S. EVA-47. Credit: NASA

Russian EVA-44

In the second planned spacewalk of 2018, two Russian cosmonauts went outside the International Space Station to upgrade an electronics box on the Lira high-gain antenna at the aft end of the outpost.

The goal for Russian EVA-44 was to install an upgraded electronics box—a high-frequency receiver unit—on the Lira antenna located at the aft-end of the 17-year-old Zvezda service module. It was never designed for on-orbit servicing.

Expedition 54 cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov opened the airlock hatch on the Pirs docking compartment at 15:34 UTC Feb. 2, 2018, officially starting the outing. The spacewalk was anticipated to last about 6.5 hours, however, problems with installation of the antenna prompted the outing to go into over time, lasting 8 hours, 7 minutes—the longest Russian spacewalk and fifth-longest in human space flight history, according to NASA. 

Replacing the high-gain receiver involved removing screws and connectors that were not designed to be worked on in space.

Lira had remained mostly dormant since it launched with Zvezda in 2000. It was supposed to communicate with the Russian Luch Satellite Data Relay Network, which is similar to NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, to allow for near-continuous communication with Russian mission control in Moscow via a space-to-space network. However, delays and degradation prevented Lira from being used for that purpose.

Luch is now operational with new satellites that have been launched between 2009 and 2014. As a result, the now-outdated hardware inside Lira had to be upgraded in order to be compatible.

 A view of one of the two cosmonauts during Russian EVA-44. Credit: NASA

A view of one of the two cosmonauts during Russian EVA-44. Credit: NASA

Progress MS-08 arrival

The first Russian cargo spacecraft of the year to launch was Progress MS-08. After a two-day launch delay, the autonomous spacecraft finally began its two-day trek to the ISS at 08:13 UTC Feb. 13, 2018. Liftoff was atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from pad 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Originally targeting a Feb. 11 launch, the countdown was scrubbed less than a minute before the flight was scheduled to get underway. Everything during the attempt appeared to proceed smoothly up to the abort. At around 35 seconds prior to the planned liftoff time, the first of two umbilical towers were retracted as planned. A second, smaller tower was supposed to retract around the 12-second mark to trigger the launch ignition sequence. This did not happen, and the engines did not ignite.

Roscosmos did not disclosed the cause of the scrub. However, a similar abort occurred on the previous Progress spacecraft launch in October 2017.

Also just like in October, this Progress was to test out a new fast-track rendezvous method. Rather than a 34-orbit, two-day rendezvous to the ISS, or even the newer four-orbit, six-hour profile, Progress MS-08 was to try a two-orbit profile to arrive at the outpost in about 3.5 hours.

This short rendezvous profile requires precisely-aligned orbits and the scrub meant the attempt had to be cancelled.

An autonomous docking of the 7.2-meter-long spacecraft with took place at 10:38 UTC Feb. 15 at the aft-end of the Zvezda service module while the duo were flying 406 kilometers above Earth just East of the Philippines, according to NASA.

Later in the day, Russian cosmonauts Misurkin and Shkaplerov opened the hatch to begin transferring supplies. The craft contained some 1,390 kilograms of dry cargo, 890 kilograms of fuel, and 420 kilograms of water, and 46 kilograms of oxygen.

US EVA-48

After a several week delay because of an anomaly with the newly-installed LEE-B, which was resolved via a software patch, U.S. EVA-48 finally got underway. Venturing outside to finish work that was started during the previous spacewalk was NASA astronaut Vande Hei and Japanese astronaut Kanai.

The duo switched their suits from station power to battery power at 12:00 UTC Feb. 16, 2018, and ventured outside the Quest airlock. The primary task was to shuffle the locations of the two old latching end effectors that were replaced on earlier spacewalks.

The old LEE-A, which was replaced in October 2017, was moved from its temporary storage location on the Mobile Base System to the Quest airlock to be brought inside for eventual return to Earth aboard a future SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. LEE-B, which was replaced last month, was moved from its temporary storage location on External Stowage Platform 2 to the spot on the MBS that LEE-A was occupying to be used as an emergency spare or as a temporary storage spot for equipment.

According to NASA, the old LEE-A was in worse condition than the old LEE-B and was going to be returned to Earth for refurbishment. It is unclear when, or if, it will be brought back to space. Both of the old effectors were the originals launched during STS-100 in April 2001, and have far exceeded their planned life expectancy.

Also performed during this spacewalk was the lubrication of LEE-B and the installation of a new tool on the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, also called Dextre.

Dextre is essentially an accessory to Canadarm2, which can “grab” onto it and use it for very delicate robotics operations. It can be used for activities that just a few years ago only spacewalking astronauts could. The tool that Kanai installed will allow Dextre to move various orbital replacement units (ORUs) around the stations exterior.

The spacewalk ended at 17:57 UTC after five hours, 57 minutes outside the complex.

 NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei takes a "space selfie" during U.S. EVA-47, the first spacewalk of 2018. He ventured outside the ISS a second time in 2018 with Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai for U.S. EVA-48 to continue work he and NASA's Scott Tingle started. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei takes a "space selfie" during U.S. EVA-47, the first spacewalk of 2018. He ventured outside the ISS a second time in 2018 with Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai for U.S. EVA-48 to continue work he and NASA's Scott Tingle started. Credit: NASA

Soyuz MS-06 departs, Expedition 54 ends

Expedition 54 ended when Soyuz MS-06 with Misurkin, Acaba and Vande Hei undocked from the space station's Poisk module. Separation occurred at 23:08 UTC Feb. 27, 2018, which marked the official transition to Expedition 55 for the three occupants remaining aboard ISS—Shkaplerov, Tingle and Norishige.

The Soyuz MS-06 trio had been in space for 168 days and were also part of Expedition 53. They launched Sept. 12, 2017, and helped perform hundreds of experiments, including a “record-setting week of research that surpassed 100 hours.” Moreover, the trio was involved in record-setting spacewalks and received cargo from four different visiting vehicles.

Before leaving Misurkin handed over commanded of the ISS to fellow cosmonaut Shkaplerov, who would remain in space until June 2018.

After drifting away from the ISS for about 2.5 hours, Soyuz MS-06 was ready to perform its de-orbit burn. This occurred at 01:38 UTC Feb. 28. Then, a 4-minute, 39-second firing of the Soyuz’s main engine slowed the spacecraft down by about 128 meters per second, enough to enter the atmosphere to drop out of orbit.

At 02:05 UTC, the spacecraft’s three parts—the orbital module, descent module, and service module—separated. Only the descent module, with its crew, is designed to survive reentry.

The parachute-and-thruster-assisted touchdown occurred at 02:31 UTC on the Kazakh Steppe, only several hundred kilometers from where they launched.

 The Soyuz MS-06 crew sits in reclining chairs after being extracted from their capsule. From left to right: Joe Acaba, Alexander Misurkin and Mark Vande Hei. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

The Soyuz MS-06 crew sits in reclining chairs after being extracted from their capsule. From left to right: Joe Acaba, Alexander Misurkin and Mark Vande Hei. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA


— News —

Derek Richardson

I am a space geek who loves to write about space.

My passion for space ignited when I watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on October 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, I soon realized that my true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

Currently, I am a senior at Washburn University studying Mass Media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism. In addition to running Orbital Velocity, I write for the Washburn Review and am the Managing Editor for SpaceFlight Insider.