On its way to provide additional capabilities to the International Space Station, the Russian Docking Compartment lifted off from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today. Pirs, the Russian word for pier, was successfully launched atop a Russian Soyuz rocket at 6:35 p.m. CDT.
Expedition Three Commander Frank Culbertson reported that he was able to see the rocket climbing into orbit as the station was orbiting 250 miles up, southwest of the Caspian Sea. He said it was the first time he had witnessed such an event from orbit.
Using its Progess-style instrumentation and propulsion stage, Pirs will navigate its way to the ISS for a fully automatic docking planned at 8:08 p.m. CDT on Sunday, September 16.
Culbertson and crewmates Pilot Vladimir Dezhurov and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin spent some time this week preparing for the arrival of Pirs. Preparation tasks included checking out the automated and manual docking systems and configuring the outside cameras to view the Docking Compartment's approach.
The crew also practiced using the manual docking system to complete the rendezvous, which would occur only if there were a problem with the automatic system. Thursday night, flight controllers in Houston and Moscow completed a ground-controlled docking test. In that test, Mission Control in Houston handed over attitude control authority to the Zvezda module’s motion control system. Russian flight controllers commanded the Zvezda control thrusters to fire and rotate the station to the docking attitude. After going into a free drift mode, the Russian control system then moved the station back to its normal attitude and handed control back to the U.S control moment gyroscopes.
The new Russian component will serve as an additional docking port for future Russian vehicles arriving at the station, an added stowage area and also as an airlock for the Russian segment. Three spacewalks are to be conducted in October from Pirs by the Expedition Three crew – two by Dezhurov and Tyurin and one by Culbertson and Dezhurov – to electrically mate the Docking Compartment to Zvezda and install more equipment on the outside of the module.
The crew will be shifting its sleep period, going to bed at 7:30 a.m. CDT Sunday, just six and a half hours after awakening. The crew will awaken again at 4 p.m. CDT and immediately begin final preparations for the docking about four hours later.
In addition to preparing for the arrival of the new component, crewmembers have been monitoring many science activities. Oversight of science investigations on the station from the ground is handled by the Payload Operations Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. the Human Research Facility is managed by the Johnson Space Center. Details on station science operations can be found at the center’s web site:
The International Space Station (ISS) is orbiting at an average altitude of 240 statute miles (385 km). Sighting opportunities from the ground for many cities around the world can be viewed at:
The next ISS status report will be issued Sunday, September 16, or earlier if events warrant.
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