Began March 15, 2019; transitioned to Expedition 60 on June 24, 2019
Transferred from Expedition 58
Oleg Kononenko, Roscosmos
Anne McClain, NASA
| Flight Engineer
David Saint-Jacques, CSA
| Flight Engineer
Launched: Dec. 3, 2018, aboard Soyuz MS-11
Landed: June 25, 2019
Docked March 15, 2019
Aleksey Ovchinin, Roscosmos
| Flight Engineer
Nick Hague, NASA
| Flight Engineer
Christina Koch*, NASA
| Flight Engineer
Launched: March 14, 2019 aboard Soyuz MS-12
Expected landing: Oct. 3, 2019
* Koch is expected to stay aboard the ISS for an additional four months. She flew into space March 14, 2019, aboard Soyuz MS-12 and should land with the Soyuz MS-13 crew in February 2020.
— Statistics —
Crew size: 6
Started: March 15, 2019
Ended: June 24, 2019
Duration: 102 days
Orbits of Earth: ~1,600
Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Spacecraft: Soyuz-MS-11, Soyuz MS-12
Total spacewalk time: 25 hours, 55 minutes
Visiting vehicle arrivals: 3
Visiting vehicle departures: 1
— Mission Summary —
According to NASA, the Expedition 59 crew, which consisted of NASA astronauts Anne McClain, Nick Hague and Christina Koch; Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Aleksey Ovchinin; and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, performed dozens of experiments in areas ranging from research on the human body, research on regolith simulants, the testing of free-flying robots inside the station and the study the complex dynamics of Earth’s atmospheric carbon cycle. Additionally, several spacewalks were performed to upgrade the outpost.
— Major Events —
Expedition 59 begins
Following a textbook launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz-FG rocket, the crew of the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft — Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin and NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch — rendezvoused and docked with the International Space Station. Contact and capture with the Earth-facing port of the Rassvet module occurred at 01:01 UTC March 15, 2019.
At the moment of docking, the Expedition 58 crew — which included Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques — formally ended and Expedition 59 began with all six as members.
At 12:01 UTC March 22, 2019, McClain and Hague ventured outside on a 6-hour, 39-minute spacewalk to replace aging nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion units.
Their task was to make their way to the P4 truss segment located on the port side of the outpost before beginning work to install three adapter plates and shuffle several batteries. This was to make way for ground-based robotics teams to continue work using the 17.6-meter-long Canadarm2 and Dextre robotic “hand” to do the heavy lifting of moving and installing most of the 136-kilogram batteries.
A total of 12 nickel-hydrogen units were being replaced with six lithium-ion batteries. Two spacewalks were required to finish the process of swapping the devices out—the first on the 4A power channel and the second on the 2A channel. U.S. EVA-53 would finish the process.
The new batteries, like the old units, power the ISS during each 45-minute orbital night and are charged by the station’s giant solar arrays during the 45-minute orbital day. Originally 48 nickel-hydrogen batteries were used when the truss was first assembled in the 2000s. Since 2017, NASA has been in the process of replacing these with newer, more efficient lithium-ion units. The first of four sets was brought to the outpost in 2017 aboard Kounotori 6 and installed on the S4 truss.
Last fall, Kounotori 7 brought six more batteries and adapter plates for the P4 truss. They attached to an external pallet and stored on the truss when the cargo ship left in November 2018.
The next spacewalk was performed on March 29, 2019, and finished the bulk of work to install the new lithium-ion batteries on the P4 truss segment. Tasked with the job were Hague and Koch, who exited the Quest airlock at 11:42 UTC for a 6-hour, 45-minute outing.
Hague took the place of McClain, who was initially planned to take part in the extravehicular activity, which would have been the first all-female spacewalk ever performed.
However, during last week’s spacewalk, McClain realized the medium torso she wore would have been a better fit, rather than the large she was expected to don for this EVA.
NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Units are modular. According to the space agency, there are three sizes of hard upper torsos, eight sizes of adjustable elbows, over 65 sizes of gloves, two sizes of adjustable waists, five sizes of adjustable knees and “a vast array of padding options for almost every part of the body.”
Because Koch was slated use that particular medium torso and another was not readily available, McClain recommended that Hague take her place and use the already-prepared large torso.
NASA said it would require some 12 hours of crew time to configure the other medium torso that was already aboard the outpost, but to keep with the timeline, it was opted by McClain to just swap places with Hague, who was initially planning to go outside during the next spacewalk on April 8.
For U.S. EVA-53, it was nearly identical to the previous outing. Where the first half was dedicated to the 4A power channel, the second was on the 2A channel.
After that work was completed, the pair performed several tasks to prepare the P6 truss, just a little farther to the port side of the station, for future astronauts when they continue the years-long process of upgrading the station’s power supply. This involved installing fabric handrails and inspecting foot restraint interfaces.
Progress MS-11 arrival
Between U.S. EVA-53 and the planned U.S. EVA-54, Russia’s Progress MS-11 spacecraft launched and docked to the ISS. The cargo freighter lifted off at 11:01 UTC April 4, 2019, atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from site 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
Less than three hours later, the spacecraft docked with the International Space Station’s Pirs module. Contact occurred at 14:22 UTC. According to NASA, the spacecraft brought with it 3,412 kilograms of supplies including about 1,530 kilograms of propellant, 50 kilograms of oxygen and air and 420 kilograms of water.
This two-orbit rendezvous profile was only the second time it had been performed successfully. The first time was during Progress MS-09 in July 2018. It is hoped this trajectory could be used during future crewed Soyuz flights to get astronauts and cosmonauts to the station even faster.
For the third spacewalk in just over three weeks, McClain and Saint-Jacques ventured outside for a 6-hour, 29-minute outing to help with the process of troubleshooting a lithium-ion battery failure and run new cables across the outpost.
During post-installation checkouts after the two previous spacewalks, one of the newly-installed batteries, as well as a battery charge-discharge unit, also called a BCDU, was having problems that ground teams could not correct. As such, it was opted to replace the failed BCDU with a backup unit and replace the initially-installed lithium-ion battery with two old, but still working, nickel-hydrogen units.
Much of that work was done remotely. However, astronauts needed to uninstall a battery adapter plate in order for a second nickel-hydrogen device to be installed next to the other one, which was the first task of U.S. EVA-54 on April 8.
Removing the adapter allowed for robotics teams to install a second nickel-hydrogen battery, as one lithium-ion took the place of two nickel-hydrogen units.
The faulty BCDU will be returned to Earth, likely aboard the next SpaceX Dragon capsule. A new lithium-ion battery will have to be flown up to the station on a future cargo flight in order to replace the two older batteries.
For the remainder of the spacewalk, cabling work was expected starting with the routing of ethernet cables at the forward end of the Destiny module. This was done to allow for better wireless connectivity for external science instruments.
Finally, the last main item on the spacewalk was to connect an additional backup power line for the Canadarm2 remote manipulator system. This involved McClain running a power line from the Unity module to the S0 truss.
Meanwhile, Saint-Jacques worked to install “slip-off preventers” on the trunnions on the European Columbus module that will prepare them for a commercial experiment platform called Bartolomeo to be installed sometime next year. The trunnions were used to hold the module in the Space Shuttle’s payload bay when it was first brought to the outpost more than a decade ago.
However, problems occurred during the installation and the job wasn’t able to be finished. Saint-Jacques photographed the area, which should allow ground teams to figure out a solution and add it to a future spacewalk.
Cygnus NG-11 arrival
Once the battery work was completed, the next major event was the launch and arrival of Northrop Grumman’s NG-11 Cygnus cargo ship. Liftoff took place at 20:46 UTC April 17, 2019. Two days later, the vehicle rendezvoused with the outpost.
Capture of Cygnus by the space station’s Canadarm2 remote manipulator system took place at 09:28 UTC April 19 while the outpost was flying about 409 kilometers over northeast France. At the controls of the arm were Saint-Jacques McClain.
Following this, ground teams remotely commanded the arm to move the spacecraft to berth to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module, which took place around two hours later at 11:31 UTC. The six-person Expedition 59 crew then began the process of unloading the 3,450 kilograms of supplies and experiments later that day.
Inside the NG-11 Cygnus includes experiments ranging from a colloidal study to a new bio-analyzer. Additionally, a new robot helper is aboard.
Named “Astrobee,” this robot helper can work autonomously or remotely and is hoped to help astronauts in the U.S. Orbital Segment of the outpost by flying around using fans and perform routine chores. The NG-11 Cygnus spacecraft is expected to remain attached to the ISS until July 2019.
Continuing the busy visiting vehicle period, SpaceX’s CRS-17 launched at 6:48 UTC May 4, 2019, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. Two days later, the spacecraft rendezvoused with the outpost and was captured at 11:01 UTC May 6, 2019.
Aboard the commercial cargo spacecraft was about 2,500 kilograms of crew supplies, equipment and experiments. Despite the nominal capture, there was one off-nominal issue during approach, an unexpected appearance of a cable extruding several feet from the capsule.
To be on the safe side, ground teams had the Expedition 59 crew enter a few extra lines to the abort procedures, just in case the cable interfered with robotic arm capture operations.
It appears the mystery line may have been a connector from the Transporter Erector that improperly separated from the Dragon capsule during liftoff.
At 13:32 UTC, the spacecraft was in its final berthing position at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module and several bolts were commanded to turn, firmly attaching the CRS-17 Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.
Over the course of its month-long stay, the pressurized cargo was unloaded and its unpressurized equipment in the trunk section was removed and attached to exterior sections of the ISS.
Inside the trunk were the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 and Space Test Program-Houston 6 experiments.
At the conclusion of its mission, Dragon was loaded with un-needed equipment and trash for return to Earth. It was unberthed and released at 16:01 UTC June 3, 2019. Several hours later, it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Baja California.
A week before the CRS-17 Dragon departure, Kononenko and Ovchinin performed a spacewalk based out of the Russian orbital segment of the ISS. The outing began at 15:42 UTC May 29, 2019, and lasted 6 hours and 1 minute. The duo exited using the Pirs module as their airlock.
According to NASA, the primary tasks included the installation of a handrail on the Russian side of the space station, retrieving several science experiments from the Poisk module’s hull, removing and jettisoning a plasma wave experiment, and conducting general maintenance work on the exterior of the outpost, which included cleaning a window on the Poisk module.
This was the fourth spacewalk of 2019 and 217th in support of ISS assembly and maintenance.
Soyuz MS-11 departure, Expedition 59 ends
At 23:25 UTC June 24, 2019, it was time for three of the six people aboard the ISS to return home. Kononenko, McClain and Saint-Jacques undocked in their Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft after 204 days in orbit. Their departure formally ended Expedition 59.
Ovchinin, Hague and Koch, who launched in Soyuz MS-12 in March, then began Expedition 60 with Ovchinin serving as its commander.
Several hours after leaving the ISS, the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft and its crew landed in Kazakhstan. The parachute-assisted touchdown occurred at 02:47 UTC June 25.
The initial three-person Expedition 60 crew is expected to be joined by three additional crew members on July 20 when Soyuz MS-13 launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome with Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov, NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano.