ISS Managers Conduct Expedition 29 FRR, Prepare Station for Post-Shuttle Ops

by Pete Harding

International Space Station (ISS) program managers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) have completed the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) for the upcoming ISS Expedition 29 on Wednesday. The FRR included a thorough review of all aspects of the Expedition 29 increment, the conclusion of which resulted in all groups issuing a Certification of Flight Readiness (CoFR) to support Expedition 29 and all associated operations.

ISS Expedition 29 FRR:

Expedition 29, which will be the first Expedition to occur entirely in the post-Shuttle era, is scheduled to begin on 8th September, when the Soyuz TMA-21/26S spacecraft, will undock from Mini Research Module-2 (MRM-2) “Poisk” and return to Earth, marking the end of Expedition 28.

Soyuz TMA-21 will be carrying NASA astronaut Ron Garan, and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev & Andrey Borisenko.

The 3-crew Expedition 29 “stage”, consisting of NASA astronaut and Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, will then last for 15 days until 24th September, whereupon Soyuz TMA-22/28S – which will be the last ever “analogue” Soyuz – will dock to MRM-2.

Aboard Soyuz TMA-22 will be NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov & Anatoly Ivanishin. The 6-person Expedition 29 “stage” will then last for 54 days until Soyuz TMA-02M/27S undocks from MRM-1 “Rassvet” with Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov on 16th November, which will mark the end of Expedition 29 and the beginning of Expedition 30.

 (The full set of Expedition 29 FRR presentations is available to download on L2.)

Visiting Vehicles and SpaceX Dragon demo flight preparation:

During Expedition 29, a number of Visiting Vehicle (VV) operations will be performed. On the 25th October, Progress M-10M/42P will undock from Docking Compartment-1 (DC-1) “Pirs”, and on 28th October, Progress M-13M/45P will dock to DC-1. But despite only having one actual resupply flight, VV preparation tasks will be at the very heart of Expedition 29.

Due to the currently planned launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft on 30th November and inaugural Dragon rendezvous, capture & berthing to the ISS on 9th December, Expedition 29 will be hard at work readying the ISS to receive Dragon, and also Orbital’s Cygnus freighter in February 2012.

Specifically, the preparation relates to ISS software upgrades that are necessary in order to enable to station’s software to support the new commercial vehicles.  The software upgrades were detailed in a software plan status presentation, available to download on L2.

The first software upgrade is called X2_R10 (the current version of ISS software is X2_R9), and is required to support the addition of new Enhanced Processor and Integrated Communications (EPIC) cards to the station’s three Command & Control (C&C) and two Guidance, Navigation & Control (GNC) Multiplexers/Demultiplexers (MDMs).

The next software upgrade, called X2_R11, cannot be uploaded to the ISS until X2_R10 has been successfully uploaded and checked out. X2_R11 is required to update the Canadian Mobile Servicing System (MSS) to software version 7.1, which in turn will allow the MSS to support Dragon’s capture and berthing to the ISS using the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), AKA “Canadarm2”.

The MSS 7.1 upgrades will fix the “hot backup” mode of the SSRMS by preventing the main string SSRMS Remote Power Controller (RPC – essentially a circuit breaker) from “opening” prior to the SSRMS transitioning to the “hot backup” Robotic Workstation (RWS) stationed in the US Lab.

Originally, some of these software upgrades were scheduled to occur in the current Expedition 28, but due to setbacks have been pushed into the Expedition 29 timeframe.

This could potentially be an issue for SpaceX’s inaugural Dragon visit to the ISS in December, since the station’s software upgrades must be successfully complete before Dragon can arrive at the ISS, and the delaying of the software upgrades into Expedition 29 has shortened the time between their deployment and checkout, and Dragon’s arrival.

Under the previous plan, the X2_R10/EPIC transition would have occurred from the 8th to the 12th August, and the X2_R11/MSS 7.1 transition from the 10th to the 18th October. This would have given X2_R10 ~2 months of runtime for checkout operations before the X2_R11 transition, and would have given X2_R11 ~6 weeks of runtime prior to Dragon’s arrival.

Due to the delay of the X2_R10 transition, and due to the fact that Dragon’s launch has not been slipped accordingly because of the strong desire to demonstrate commercial ISS resupply capability as soon as possible, the amount of runtime between software transitions has decreased.

The new plan is for the X2_R10/EPIC transition to occur from the 26th September to the 8th October, between the Soyuz TMA-22/28S docking and Progress M-10M/42P undocking. The transition will include a 7 day “dwell” in a “mixed configuration” of EPIC and non-EPIC C&C and GNC MDMs, in order to buy more time for problem solving in the event that the EPIC cards present issues.

On the 26th and 27th September, EPIC cards will be loaded into 2 C&C MDMs, which will then become the prime and backup C&C MDMs. Then, providing no issues arise, the remaining one C&C and two GNC MDMs will be transitioned to EPIC cards from the 5th to the 7th October.

The X2_R11/MSS 7.1 would then occur from 31st October to the 8th November. This would give X2_R10 30 days of runtime prior to the X2_R11 transition (a reduction of around 1 month), and X2_R11 3 weeks of runtime prior to Dragon’s arrival (a reduction of around 3 weeks).

The reductions in runtime places additional risks on the ISS, since there will be less time to solve any issues that may arise due to the software transitions. “ISSP is knowingly accepting risk by putting together a plan that collapses the windows between major MDM hardware updates, software updates, and visiting vehicles” noted the software plan status presentation (L2).

“Production plan is still built with the assumption that X2_R11/MSS 7.1 is complete prior to SpaceX Demo launch. X2_R11/MSS 7.1 is required to support Orbital Demo launch” continued the presentation.

“Take away: The elephant is still in the room. If there are major problems with the X2_R10 (EPIC) MDM upgrade resulting in rollback to X2_R9, there could be a large effort rebuilding production to support the SpaceX Demo and Orbital Demo missions” concluded the presentation.

Another piece of hardware essential to the Dragon demo mission that requires a software upgrade is the COTS UHF Communication Unit (CUCU), which enables the ISS to “talk” to Dragon. The CUCU software update to version R3 and related checkouts is required no later than 30 days prior to Dragon’s launch on 30th November.

Robotics operations:

Aside from software upgrades, a number of other relevant topics were discussed at the FRR, including the fact that no US or Russian EVAs are planned during Expedition 29.

Expedition 29 robotics operations were a topic that was reviewed in depth. The major robotics operations are the checkout of the MSS in support of Dragon’s capture and berthing, however a number of other small robotics operations will also be performed.

The SSRMS will be used by the ground to perform photogrammetry of Cargo Transportation Container-2 (CTC-2) on ELC-4, in order to verify that CTC-2’s lid would not impede the rotating thermal radiator on the S1 Truss if CTC-2’s lid became jammed open.

CTC-2 will be installed onto ELC-4 by the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (SPDM) “Dextre” in early September, after it is used in an upcoming Remote Power Control Module (RPCM) Removal & Replacement (R&R) the week of 29th August.

Another small robotics task to be performed during Expedition 29 will be a ground-controlled SSRMS survey of the Space Test Program-Houston 3 (STP-H3) payload, which resides on ELC-3 following it’s delivery to the ISS on STS-134 in May. The survey must be completed six months since the last survey, which occurred during STS-134 in May.

SSRMS Latching End Effector (LEE) snare cable fray viewing will also be performed during Expedition 29.

Although it won’t strictly involve any actual robotics operations, another robotics-related task that will occur during Expedition 29 is an On-Board Training (OBT) session with the Robotics On-Board Trainer (ROBoT), which is essentially a mock-up RWS that allows the user to control a virtual MSS for proficiency training.

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The ROBoT, which will also receive a software upgrade during Expedition 29, will be used by Dan Burbank to practice capture and berthing of the Dragon to the ISS. Burbank will perform the operation for real during Expedition 30 on 9th December, going down in station history as the first person to extend the station’s welcoming arm to shake the hand of a new commercial partner.

New hardware checkouts:

Hot on the heels of a recent period of extensive hardware checkouts in support of full station utilisation in the post-Shuttle era, a number of new pieces of hardware will be checked out during Expedition 29.

In recent weeks, the Expedition 28 crew aboard the ISS conducted Activation & Check-Out (ACO) activities on the Multipurpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR), which was delivered to the ISS on HTV-2 in January, and re-routed & checked-out cables to the second Ku-band Space to Ground Antenna (SGANT), which was placed atop the Z1 Truss during STS-132 in May 2010.

8th Floor ISS notes on L2 stated that “The crew performed the final internal cable reconfigurations required to bring the redundant antenna online and it is now working great. Until delivery of the new avionics design equipment over the next several years, swapping between the 2 Ku band antennas will require crew activity to move cable connections”.

Once the new avionics equipment is delivered to the ISS, the second SGANT will enable more science data to be downlinked to the ground, amongst other uses. “The Ku is the high speed antenna used to transfer video, payload data, large files, allow the crew to access the internet and phone services, etc.” stated the 8th Floor notes.

Coming up on the 22nd August will be the first on-orbit power-up of Robonaut 2 (R2). According to the Expedition 29 FRR presentations, R2’s “0G soak” will include activation of logic electronics, but no activation of motors for movement. The first motion operations (including limited free space manoeuvring) will occur during Expedition 29.

Following on from the recent checkout of the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEM RMS) Small Fine Arm (SFA), a ground-control ability checkout of the JEM RMS will also be performed during Expedition 29, as part of the “road-to” activities for the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehcile-3 (HTV-3) mission in January.

The reason behind the checkout of ground-control ability for the JEM RMS is due to the fact that, in an effort to increase the amount of crew time available for science activities, all VV supporting robotics operations other than captures and releases will soon be performed entirely by ground controllers.

The plan to ground-control all VV robotics was detailed in a recent Canadian Joint Operations Panel (CJOP) presentation, available to download on L2. On 9th December when SpaceX’s Dragon is planned to arrive at the ISS for the first time, the capture of the vehicle with the SSRMS will be performed by the crew, who will be controlling the SSRMS from the Cupola.

This is because capture operations are high-risk procedures that require visual inputs and rapid response to any issues from the on-orbit crew.

However, the Dragon (grappled by the SSRMS) manoeuvre to the berthing position and installation onto the Node 2 Nadir Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) will be controlled by the ground. Uninstallation from the Node 2 Nadir CBM in late December will also be ground controlled, however the actual release of the Dragon from the SSRMS will be performed by the ISS crew.

The same procedures will also apply for the Japanese HTV-3 mission in January, including Exposed Pallet (EP) operations – specifically EP extraction from HTV-3’s Unpressurised Logistics Carrier (ULC), and EP installation onto the Japanese Exposed Facility (JEF). For this reason, ground control of the JEM RMS is being checked out, since the JEM RMS is used to install the EP onto the JEF.

EP re-insertion into the ULC will be crew controlled for HTV-3, since a software update will be required to add ground-control support for SSRMS Force/Moment Accommodation (FMA), which will not be ready until HTV-4 in early 2013.

Another piece of new hardware to be used during Expedition 29 is the Advanced Recycle Filter Tank Assembly (ARFTA). According to a L2 FRR presentation, an ARFTA is “new reusable hardware that allows the UPA (Urine Processor Assembly) brine to be drained to another container on-orbit. Currently we have been using consumable RFTAs that are trashed or returned to Earth after use”.

Following the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the ISS has lost valuable upmass to launch replacements for RFTAs that have been disposed of. As such, STS-135 delivered two ARFTAs to the ISS in July. Following ARFTA checkout operations that will run from late September to late December, the remaining RFTAs aboard the ISS will be used up.

Although ARFTAs will be re-usable, which will decrease the need for upmass and stowage, ARFTAs will take more time to replace, and need to be replaced more frequently. ARFTAs will take 115 minutes to replace and will need to be replaced every 16 days, whereas RFTAs take only 85 minutes to replace and only need to be replaced every 30 days.

Scientific utilisation:

The desire to increase the amount of ISS crew time available for science comes amid a drive to shift the focus of ISS Expeditions away from the station construction and maintenance that dominated the Space Shuttle era, and toward scientific utilisation. In the past, station maintenance activities would have taken priority over science activities, but in the post-Shuttle era, science activities will take priority.

Future maintenance activities will now have to fit in around utilisation activities. In order to help support this, the Expedition 29 crew mentioned during their training that they “are interested in performing additional maintenance activities, potentially even during off hours (i.e. ‘Saturday morning maintenance’)”, stated an FRR presentation (L2).

This however presents issues for ground control teams, since they would have to be present on console to support any weekend maintenance activities. “OSO (Operations Support Officer) does not plan to change manning support for off-nominal hours” stated the FRR presentation. In the past, only science activities have been conducted during weekend off-duty hours (becoming known as “Saturday morning science”).

The previously planned 35 hours per week of science time has so far been met in the post-Shuttle era, per a note on L2: “Met commitment of 35 hours of science research this week, increasing to 40 hours next week”.

During Expedition 29, 43 crew hours per week will be devoted to science, although this is an average figure, since maintenance-heavy periods will have around 30 hours per week of science, and 3-crew periods will have as low as 9 hours of science per week. Other periods however will have as high as 70 hours per week devoted to science.

Now that the Space Shuttle era has come to a conclusion, ISS operations are beginning to transition into a new era, one which is focused on utilisation and long-term sustainability, as opposed to construction and maintenance.

(Images: L2 Presentations, NASA, Space X, Orbital and CSA) (As the shuttle fleet retire, NSF and L2 are providing full transition level coverage, available no where else on the internet, from Orion and SLS to ISS and COTS/CRS/CCDEV, to European and Russian vehicles. 

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