STS 129: Stocking the International Space Station
Besides taking spare parts to the International Space Station (ISS) this coming Monday, the space shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) will deliver the module antennas for Columbus -- the laboratory built by the European Space Agency (ESA) and host of two Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) antennas.
"Lou McFadin, W5DID, a member of the AMSAT Board of Directors and a key volunteer for ARISS, showed the astronauts the best ways for them to safely unpack and assemble the antennas and associated cables once they and the hardware reach the ISS," said ARRL ARISS Program Manager Rosalie White, K1STO. "They reviewed how to maneuver and install the antennas during the spacewalk. Lou also oversaw the re-packing of the antennas and the onboard flight kit that accompanies shipments going to the ISS."
Astronauts will install and deploy our ARISS antennas during the second spacewalk of STS-129. The ham team will monitor the spacewalk activity via a NASA real-time teleconference call. "The new antennas will increase opportunities for the many hams who covet making contacts with astronauts and cosmonauts," White explained. "Frequencies available for transmission to and from Columbus will be 2 meters, 70 centimeters, L-band and S-band. To start, the two Ericcson radios (2 meters and 70 centimeters) that are already on the ISS (but seldom used) will be moved and installed in Columbus."
The upcoming mission -- set to launch at 2: 28 PM (EST) on Monday, November 16 -- will be the last shuttle mission to bring personnel to the ISS. There will only be five more shuttle flights to the ISS after this one; the last shuttle flight on the launch manifest is STS-133, on board Discovery, with a launch target of September 16, 2010. STS-133 will be the 134th and shuttle flight and the 36th shuttle mission to the ISS. "You'll see this theme in some of the flights that are going to come after ours as well," said Brian Smith, the lead space station flight director for the mission. "This flight is all about spares -- basically, we're getting them up there while we still can."
NASA ISS Ham Radio Project Engineer Kenneth Ransom, N5VHO, told the ARRL that the new VHF/UHF Amateur Radio antenna is currently stowed in the bay of the space shuttle Atlantis and will be installed during the second extravehicular activity (EVA) of the shuttle mission; EVA is NASA’s term for a spacewalk. "The antenna -- along with another VHF antenna -- was developed by ARISS in cooperation with the ESA to support an experiment involving the maritime Automatic Identification System (AIS)," Ransom explained. "Both antennas will be installed on the Earth-facing starboard edge of the Columbus module. The AIS antenna will be forward and the ARISS antenna will be aft. The ARISS team is planning to migrate some stowed Amateur Radio gear to take advantage of the new antenna."
STS-129 will carry Commander Charlie Hobaugh, Pilot Barry Wilmore, Mission Specialists Bobby Satcher, Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin; Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space. Atlantis will bring back Mission Specialist/ISS Flight Engineer Nicole Stott, KE5GJN, who has been on board the ISS since August 2009.
Starting to Stock Spares
The space shuttle program is turning its attention to helping the space station build up a store of replacement parts. As the only vehicle large enough to carry many of the big pieces of equipment into space, several of the shuttle flights are devoted to the task. This is the first, however, and as the first this mission is dedicated to taking up the spares of the highest priority. "We're taking the big ones," Smith said. "And not only are they the big ones -- they're the ones deemed most critical. That's why they're going up first."
After the shuttle stops delivering parts and people to the ISS, smaller Russian spacecrafts will take over. ISS Program Deputy Manager Kirk Shireman compared the shuttle's delivery service to a tractor-trailer: "What you've done is take away the 18-wheeler and replace it with a bunch of small pickup trucks."
For STS-129, Atlantis' cargo hold will be full of spares to keep the ISS going after the shuttle stops making trips to the ISS. According to NASA, Atlantis will carry a spare control moment gyroscope, a spare nitrogen tank assembly and a spare ammonia tank assembly. A spare latching end effector for the ISS's robotic arm, a spare trailing umbilical system for the rail car that the arm travels on, a spare antenna and a spare high pressure gas tank will also make the trip on Monday. In all, that's 27,250 pounds worth of spares to keep the ISS going long after the shuttles retire.
NASA said that some of those spares would be used to replace failed components of the systems that provide the station power or keep it from overheating or tumbling through space. Others, in the case of the latching end effector and reel assembly, are essential parts of the robotics system that allow the astronauts to replace the other parts when they wear out. "It was a long-term goal to have the full power production capability and all the international partners present and six person crew capability," said Mike Sarafin, the lead shuttle flight director for the mission. "These are the spares that will allow us to utilize the investment that we've put in."
In addition to the complex robotics work required to get the spares into place, there are three spacewalks scheduled to go on outside and a complicated rewiring project planned for the crew inside. The focus for the work inside, and object of several tasks inside, will be preparing for the STS-130 mission, during which the last US space station module will be delivered: The Tranquility node with its attached cupola. During the spacewalks, that will mean routing connections and preparing the berthing port on the Harmony node that it will attach to. On the inside, the work is a little more extensive; originally, Tranquility was to be installed on the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node, but it's since been decided that it would fit better on the port side of Harmony. And changing the plans requires significant changes to the hardware. Data, power, cooling lines, air flow -- all of those connections need to be rerouted to the new location, and with double the manpower normally available at the station, a shuttle mission is a good time to get that done.
While recent station assembly missions have lasted up to 17 days, NASA said that Atlantis has only 11 to get to the station -- and back. "All that in 11 days," Sarafin said. "It's a lot to package into a finite period of time; it's a challenging mission."
Atlantis' Commander Charles O. Hobaugh concurred: "There's been a lot of work put forth to make it all successful, and it's just incredible to see how much has been accomplished and how successful it has become. The space station has been a long hard road, but it's been an extremely productive road. We've really been able to bring together a diverse national and international background of cultures for one common cause. It's all science and exploration and cooperation."
Liftoff of Atlantis' flight to the International Space Station is set for 2:28 PM EST on November 16. The countdown to launch begins 1 PM EST on Friday, November 13. -- Thanks to NASA for some information