Long duration ISS crew to lay the foundations for BEO missions

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NASA and Roscosmos have selected two of their best astronauts to spend a one year period on the International Space Station (ISS), providing vital data into how the human body copes with long duration space flight. The findings will help both agencies to prepare countermeasures to the effects crews may suffer from during long flights to Beyond Earth Orbit exploration destinations.

Preparing for BEO:

With NASA selecting Scott Kelly and Roscosmos choosing Mikhail Kornienko, the two veteran spacefarers will lay the foundations for future astronauts who hope to travel to deep space destinations such as a Near Earth Asteroid and Mars.

US Navy captain Kelly served as Discovery’s pilot on STS-103 in 1999 – for a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. He then commanded Endeavour on STS-118 in 2007 for a flight to the International Space Station that he then worked aboard as an engineer during Expedition 25 in 2010, before becoming commander of Expedition 26 in 2011.

Kornienko graduated from the Rocket and Space Corporation-Energia to become a test cosmonaut candidate in 1998 and trained as an International Space Station Expedition 8 backup crew member. He served as a flight engineer on the station’s Expedition 23/24 crews in 2010.

In total Kelly has logged more than 180 days in space, while Kornienko amassed 176 days on orbit. Both will now look forward to adding a full year to their tally when they launch on a Soyuz in the Spring of 2015 for their long duration mission on the orbital outpost..

The duo will begin a two-year training program in the United States, Russia and other partner nations starting early next year.

“Selection of the candidate for the one year mission was thorough and difficult due to the number of suitable candidates from the Cosmonaut corps,” said head of Russian Federal Space Agency, Vladimir Popovkin. “We have chosen the most responsible, skilled and enthusiastic crew members to expand space exploration, and we have full confidence in them.”

Data from the 12-month expedition will help inform current assessments of crew performance and health and will determine better and validate countermeasures to reduce the risks associated with future exploration as NASA plans for missions around the moon, an asteroid and ultimately Mars.

“Congratulations to Scott and Mikhail on their selection for this important mission,” added William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations. “Their skills and previous experience aboard the space station align with the mission’s requirements.

“The one-year increment will expand the bounds of how we live and work in space and will increase our knowledge regarding the effects of microgravity on humans as we prepare for future missions beyond low-Earth orbit.”

And it will be Mr Gerstenmaier’s job to play a key role in deciding the roadmap for those future locations, as the wait continues for the exploration roadmap that has undergone a huge amount of work behind the scenes, but appears no closer to becoming finalized, or public, any time soon.

As such, mission duration times are currently deemed as estimates in Concept Of Operations (CONOPS) and Design Reference Mission (DRM) documentation (L2), leaving the 2009 Flexible Path Presentation (L2) as the only reasonable indicator of an actual NEA target and the expected time a crew would be required to spend in space.

Per the Flexible Path, a mission to Near Earth Object 1999AO10, requiring a mission launch date of January 2, 2026, is the first case example examined by the NASA authored study.

The NEO 1999AO10 deep space mission would last 155 days, around half of the mission length for the alternative candidate mentioned in the Flexible Path approach – 304 days – for a mission to NEO 2001 GP2.

How to get both the crew and the considerable amount of hardware to a NEA destination is also still under evaluation, with multi-launch SLS campaigns the baseline approach, and the use of an Exploration Gateway – as the centrepiece of several exploration pathways – the main alternative.

However, using the evaluations based on a conceptual approach involving the EML2 Gateway, Boeing produced a surprisingly expansive document at last year’s Global Exploration Workshop. Under this Boeing plan, Solar Electric Propulsion would be used by NASA for NEA missions – a technology also cited by Aerojet.

This new propulsion system would be gradually developed over the next 10 years, although a demonstration flight would be capable of readiness by 2014.

A NASA docking system, Spacecraft boom, triple panel SEP module, Solar Array mast, and Alpha-joint (similar to the ISS’ Beta joint) would be developed between 2016 and 2020 – all leading to the creation of a 320 kW SEP operational spacecraft for NEA missions by 2022.

Under the Boeing notional plan, a 2024 NEA mission to NEA2008EV5 would depart not from Earth but from the ISS-EP at the Earth-Moon L2 (EML2) point.

Using the new SEP technology, transit from the EML2 point to the NEA of interest would take approximately 100 days with SLS’ third stage used to “kick start” the stage and shorten the trip. SLS would be involved with the Gateway plan.

Investigations at the NEA would last for approximately 30 days before a ~235-day trip back to Earth for a total mission duration of roughly one year – ironically the duration of Kelly Kornienko’s next mission to the ISS.

There is some hope the exploration plan will begin to filter out of the depths of NASA centers now the key issue of political direction appears to be less of a problem since the election period concluded.

(Images via L2 and NASA).

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