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Sun, May 21, 2006

ISS Flies A Satellite Within A Satellite

ISS Report #25, 3:30 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 19, 2006

In space this week, a satellite flew within a satellite. International Space Station Flight Engineer Jeff Williams 'piloted' a unique spacecraft in three dimensions for the first time around the pressurized Destiny module. The demonstration tested the basics of formation flight and autonomous docking that could be useful in multiple spacecraft formation flying in the future.

That test flight culminated a week of experiment activity, maintenance, spacewalk preparations and packing of equipment slated for return to Earth aboard Space Shuttle Discovery following its next mission to the station. The shuttle's launch is targeted for July.

Along with Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vinogradov, Williams oversaw activities through the 50th day of their planned 180-day voyage aboard the station focusing on laboratory science experiments in the microgravity science glovebox. That facility hosted the final sample for the Pore Formation and Mobility Investigation experiment. This experiment uses a transparent modeling material to study how bubbles form and migrate during liquid solidification. This is important to understanding the formation of flaws in molten metals as they solidify.

Much of the attention, however, focused on a new experiment flying for the first time on the station called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Re-orient Experimental Satellites, also known as SPHERES.

Williams, also NASA's station science officer, performed a series of test flights with the first of what eventually will be a constellation of three small free-flying satellites designed to demonstrate the basics of formation flight and autonomous docking.

For the first tests, only one satellite and two beacons - one mounted and one hand-held - were used. The satellite is eight inches in diameter and has a mass of about seven pounds. It also contains internal avionics, software and communications systems and is maneuvered using compressed carbon dioxide gas thrusters.

Performed autonomously in Destiny, the first test flight consisted of a series of 10-15 pre-planned maneuvers each lasting up to 10 minutes. After Williams selected and loaded the appropriate software on the laptop, the satellite began its pre-programmed maneuvers to test attitude control, station keeping, re-targeting, collision avoidance and fuel balancing.

This technology is of interest in designing constellation and array spacecraft configurations and also could be used for free-flying robotic assistants, capable of helping astronauts on future spacewalks.

NASA's payload operations team at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., coordinates U.S. science activities on the station.

On the maintenance front, Vinogradov this week reconfigured ventilation lines associated with the Elektron oxygen generating system in the Zvezda module in preparation for a June 1 spacewalk. One of the spacewalk tasks will be to install a new external hydrogen vent line for the Elektron. Oxygen is being provided via storage tanks in the Progress supply vehicle. The Elektron will remain deactivated until after the spacewalk.

Early in the week, the carbon dioxide removal system, known as Vozdukh, in the Russian segment malfunctioned. Flight controllers activated the carbon dioxide removal system in Destiny until troubleshooting restored Vozdukh's operation. Both units will run in tandem until next week when a new gas analyzer is installed in Vozdukh.

On Thursday, the crew talked with school students in Wisconsin's Winter School District about life in space and experiments aboard the station.

FMI: www.nasa.gov/station

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