Expedition 56

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Began June 3, 2018; will transition to Expedition 57 on Oct. 4, 2018

First Part

Transferred from Expedition 55

Drew Feustel, NASA
     Commander
Ricky Arnold, NASA
     Flight Engineer
Oleg Artemyev, Roscosmos
     Flight Engineer

Launched: March 21, 2018, aboard Soyuz MS-08
Expected landing: Oct. 4, 2018

Second Part

Docked June 8, 2018

Sergey Prokopyev, Roscosmos
     Flight Engineer
Serena Aunon-Chancellor, NASA
     Flight Engineer
Alexander Gerst, ESA
     Flight Engineer

Launched: June 6, 2018, aboard Soyuz MS-09
Expected landing: Dec. 13, 2018


— Statistics —

Max. crew size: 6
Started: June 3, 2018
Planned end: Oct. 4, 2018
Expected duration: ~123 days
Orbits of Earth expected: ~1,950

Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Spacecraft: Soyuz-MS-08, Soyuz MS-09

Planned experiments: ~140
Spacewalks to date: 1
Total spacewalk time: 6 hours, 49 minutes
Visiting vehicle arrivals: 2
Visiting vehicle departures: 1

 Upon the docking of Soyuz MS-09 with its three-person crew, Expedition 56 increased to its full six-member crew complement. The front row includes Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, left, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, center, and NASA astronaut Aunon-Chancellor. The back row includes Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Drew Feustel, center, and NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold. Credit: NASA

Upon the docking of Soyuz MS-09 with its three-person crew, Expedition 56 increased to its full six-member crew complement. The front row includes Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, left, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, center, and NASA astronaut Aunon-Chancellor. The back row includes Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Drew Feustel, center, and NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold. Credit: NASA


— Mission Summary —

The six person Expedition 56 crew — NASA astronauts Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold and Serena Aunon-Chancellor; Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergei Prokopyev; and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst — is tasked with performing experiments that study the behavior of atoms in extreme conditions, explore microbial growth aboard the outpost and other tests to expand navigation capabilities for future travel beyond low-Earth orbit.


— Major Events —

Soyuz MS-07 departs, Expedition 56 begins

Expedition 56 officially began at 5:16 a.m. EDT (09:16 GMT) June 3, 2018, when Soyuz MS-07 undocked from the outpost's Rassvet module with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai. Those three were part of Expedition 54 and Expedition 55 with Shkaplerov serving as commander for the latter. 

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Just over three hours later, the Soyuz MS-07 capsule with its three-person crew landed on the Kazakh Steppe only several hundred kilometers from where they launched in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The parachute assisted touchdown occurred at 8:39 a.m. EDT (12:39 GMT).

Remaining aboard ISS were NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev.

Two days before undocking, Shkaplerov handed over command of the ISS to Feustel, who would serve as commander for Expedition 56. The "change of command" ceremony started at about 2:25 p.m. EDT (18:25 GMT) June 1, and allowed Shkaplerov, as well as his other two fellow Soyuz travelers, to focus solely on returning to Terra firma.

Soyuz MS-07 lands with its three person crew near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on June 3, 2018, after 168 days in space. Inside were Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Soyuz MS-09 arrival

Three days after the start of Expedition 56, Soyuz MS-09 launched with Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst to join the trio already aboard the space station. Liftoff took place at 4:12 p.m. local Kazakh time (7:12 a.m. EDT / 11:12 GMT) June 6 at Baikonur Cosmodrome. Propelling the trio into orbit was a Soyuz-FG rocket.

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Once in orbit, the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft spent about 34 orbits, roughly two days, catching up and rendezvousing with the ISS. Docking with the Rassvet module took place at 9:01 a.m. EDT (13:01 GMT) June 8. Over the next two hours, the space between the hatches of the spacecraft and station were pressurized and checked for leaks. The hatches were open officially at 11:17 a.m. EDT (15:17 GMT) while the complex was some 410 kilometers over the southern Pacific Ocean.

Once on board, the now six-person crew ventured to the Zvezda service module for a traditional welcoming ceremony and conference call with their Earth-bound friends and colleagues.

After that, Commander Feustel gave the fresh crew members a tour of the outpost and a safety briefing. The Soyuz MS-09 trio will stay aboard the outpost at the conclusing of Expedition 56 to form the first part of Expedition 57 in early October 2018.

 Soyuz MS-09 docked to the Russian Rassvet module. Credit: NASA

Soyuz MS-09 docked to the Russian Rassvet module. Credit: NASA

US EVA-51

A mere six days after the arrival of the second part of Expedition 56, two astronauts ventured outside via the Quest airlock to perform U.S. EVA-51. The nearly seven-hour long spacewalk was performed by Feustel and Arnold and saw the installation of new cameras in preparation for upcoming commercial crew flights.

At 8:06 a.m. EDT (12:06 GMT) June 14, the duo switched their spacesuits from station power to suit battery power, officially marking the beginning of the spacewalk.

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Specifically, high-definition cameras were added to the front of the Harmony module where two docking ports (one forward and one zenith) are being prepared for the upcoming commercial crew flights. Installation required running power and data cables across the Destiny laboratory and Harmony node.

Once that primary task was completed, Arnold began work to replace a camera on the starboard truss. It required the installation of a foot restraint on the robotic Canadarm2 so that he could ride the arm to his work area just below the S1 truss.

Meanwhile, took a foot restraint and made his way over to the exposed facility attached to the Japanese Kibo module. His task was to close an aperture on an experiment that is set to be removed and disposed of on one of the next Dragon cargo resupply flights. The Cloud-Aerosol Transport experiment, which was designed to fire a laser to study Earth’s atmosphere, failed. This meant that it could not close its aperture door. In order to safely remove it, the door had to be manually closed by Fuestel and wire-tired shut.

Once the three primary tasks were finished, the two worked on several get-ahead tasks before moving back to the airlock to begin re-pressurization, concluding the spacewalk officially at 2:55 p.m. EDT (18:55 GMT)—a total duration of 6 hours, 49 minutes.

 NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold, the lead spacewalker for U.S. EVA-51, works outside the International Space Station with NASA's Drew Feustel, not pictured, to install several high-definition cameras to provide "enhanced views" of the upcoming commercial crew flights by SpaceX and Boeing. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold, the lead spacewalker for U.S. EVA-51, works outside the International Space Station with NASA's Drew Feustel, not pictured, to install several high-definition cameras to provide "enhanced views" of the upcoming commercial crew flights by SpaceX and Boeing. Credit: NASA

CRS-15 Dragon arrival

For the third time in about six months, SpaceX sent a Dragon capsule to resupply the ISS. This particular spacecraft launched June 29 and rendezvous with the outpost three days later on July 2.

 The CRS-15 Dragon spacecraft rendezvous with the International Space Station on July 2, 2018. Credit: NASA

The CRS-15 Dragon spacecraft rendezvous with the International Space Station on July 2, 2018. Credit: NASA

Capture took place at 6:54 a.m. EDT (10:54 GMT) by the 17.6-meter Canadian-built robotic Canadarm2, which was under the control of Expedition 56 NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel at the robotics work station in the outpost's cupola window. The vehicle was grappled while the station was flying 412 kilometers over Quebec City.

This particular pressure vessel visited the complex once before during the CRS-9 mission in July 2016 and is the fourth time SpaceX has reused one of its capsules.

CRS-15 brought about 2,700 kilograms of supplies, hardware and experiments to the complex for the Expedition 56 crew. Among those experiments was the “Crew Interactive MObile companioN”—CIMON (pronounced “Simon”) for short.

The spacecraft is expected to remain berthed for about a month before returning to Earth.

 The CRS-15 Dragon capsule moments after being captured by the station's robotic arm. Credit: NASA

The CRS-15 Dragon capsule moments after being captured by the station's robotic arm. Credit: NASA

Progress MS-09 speed record

Following aborted attempts during the last two Progress cargo spacecraft missions, Russia's Progress MS-09 was sent to the space station via a new two-orbit rendezvous profile. In just three hours, 40 minutes, the spacecraft went from on the ground at its launch site in Kazakhstan to the Pirs module on the International Space Station.

Liftoff from Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome took place at 5:51 p.m. EDT (21:51 GMT) July 9, 2018. Once in orbit, the spacecraft began a series of automated burns to catch up with and dock to the station. Docking took place at 9:31 p.m. EDT (00:31 GMT July 10).

Achieving a 2.5-orbit rendezvous isn’t easy. In fact, it requires a lot of advanced planning both on the ground and at the ISS to ensure the station’s orbital plane crosses the launch site while the outpost is at a particular location above the planet. For this mission, it required a re-boost of the station—by Progress MS-08 attached to the Zvezda service module—on June 23 to bring the station just 595 kilometers southwest of Baikonur at the time of the Soyuz 2.1a’s launch.

Russian Progress and Soyuz spacecraft have regularly been utilizing a four-orbit, six-hour rendezvous profile since 2012, but even that requires precise alignments. For various reasons at the time of this cargo mission, the last time a Russian spacecraft successfully performed a sub-day launch to docking was in September 2017 during Soyuz MS-06.

Progress MS-09 was packed with 2.5 metric tons of supplies. This included 530 kilograms of propellant, 52 kilograms of oxygen and air, 420 kilograms of water and 1,565 kilograms of dry cargo, according to NASA.

 A Soyuz 2.1a rocket launched Progress MS-09 from Site 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos

A Soyuz 2.1a rocket launched Progress MS-09 from Site 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos

OA-9 Cygnus departure

After 52 days attached to the station's Unity module, on July 15, 2018, the OA-9 Cygnus was unberthed and released to begin a secondary two-week free-flight mission.

The Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) OA-9 Cygnus was unberthed in the early-morning hours of July 15, 2018, before being released at 8:37 a.m. EDT (12:37 GMT). Upon departure the cargo ship and ISS were flying 407 kilometers above the southeastern border of Colombia. Expedition 56 flight engineers Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (two of six people residing at the outpost) were at the controls of the station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) robotic Canadarm2 and commanded it to release the vehicle.

This Cygnus was loaded with 3,400 kilograms of cargo on May 21, 2018, atop an Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia. The crew of Expedition 55 began the process of unloading its cargo and science experiments. After the transition to Expedition 56, the craft was loaded with some 3,000 kilograms of unneeded equipment for eventual disposal by burning up over the Pacific Ocean.

Several days before unberthing operations were underway, a unique task was performed by Cygnus—a test of the spacecraft’s reboost capability. It was the first time a commercial vehicle performed this task, which is typically handled by Russian Progress spacecraft.

At 4:25 p.m. EDT (20:25 GMT) July 10, Cygnus’s main engine was fired for about 50 seconds. Although brief, it still raised the altitude of about 90 meters, according to NASA.

The space station flies some 400 kilometers above Earth. However, there is still a tiny amount of atmospheric particles that constantly slow the 400-metric-ton outpost down, gradually lowering its orbit. If reboosts every few months are not performed, eventually the station would fall out of the sky.

While the OA-9 Cygnus’s ISS mission was complete, it won’t perform a deorbit burn until July 30. That two-week free-flight will be used to deploy six CubeSats using an external NanoRacks deployer attached to the spacecraft. Once complete, Cygnus will be commanded to deorbit over the southern Pacific Ocean to burn up safely.

 A view of the OA-9 Cygnus before being unberthed on July 15, 2018. Credit: Alexander Gerst / ESA

A view of the OA-9 Cygnus before being unberthed on July 15, 2018. Credit: Alexander Gerst / ESA


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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.