The APP module was launched on February 14, 2017, with a mini #Ariane6 launcher equipped with two solid rocket boosters. The initial orbit of the APP module was an highly elliptical Earth orbit. The ion propulsion system of APPM is being used to stretch the elliptical orbit even more until the gravity of the Moon is pulling the module towards the Moon. When this will happen the APP module will perform a maneuver sideways to get into an orbit around the Lagrange point #1 between Earth and Moon. Afterwards APPM will slowly close in to MoonDotStation.
I will be on-board of the station when the APP module is arriving. My task will be to grapple the module with the help of the mini CanadArm and to latch it to the station.
During my 4th MoonDot-Mission to the MoonDotStation I will have to fulfill these main tasks:
- NEW: Approaching the APP module for a visual inspection for damage
- Loading of the Cygnus cargo ship with trash
- Unmate and release the Cygnus
- Capture and mate the APP module to the MoonDotStation
- Assist the docking of the Dragon-2 cargo ship
- perform a spacewalk for refuelling the Xenon tanks of the APP module
This challenging MoonDot mission will last at least three weeks – in the case that all is going as planned. You never know what really will happen. You all know what is being said about space: „Space is hard“!
In the following I will list all highlights of the mission after they have happened. Please check from time to time for updates!
Launch attempt #1: March 23, 2017
Woohoo! Finally I successfully launched to my new mission. The launch attempt was almost scrubbed due to violation of weather constraints for launching. There were some strong gusts violating the weather constraints. Fortunately the gusts were becoming very infrequent at the end of the launch window. Thus the launch director was able to sign a waiver for the wind gust rule. Signals were going to green:
The countdown resumed. The service tower of the launch pad was retracted after a final check of the ignition system:
Finally, at 4:42 pm UTC my journey to MoonDotStation begun with the roaring launch of my mini version of the Ariane 6 launcher.
Ariane 6 will be the new launcher of the European Space Agency ESA optimized for low launch costs. More information about the Ariane 6 can be found here.
All remaining phases of the launch all went very well – similar to what can be seen in this Ariane 6 launch animation by ESA:
At 7:24 pm UTC I was able to report a successful TransLunar Injection (TLI) maneuver. I was on the way to visit MoonDotStation.
Please check back later for updates including replays of my stunning launch like the following one. Thank U.
That is a lot of smoke and fire, right? Therefore we plan to develop a flame trench for this mini Ariane 6 launcher. Actually, we want to build an entire mini launch complex. I am sure the kids will enjoy that complex!
Are you interested how these stunning mini launchers are constructed? If yes please go to Twitter and look for the hashtag #htbAR6. You will find a sequence of tweets showing the construction of this particular Ariane 6 model. Enjoy! And if you have questions please ask me or my mission director @SpaceHolgar ! Thank you.
Mission day #2 March 24, 2017: The flight plan is changing
Under the original flight plan an inspection of the exterior of my MoonDot spaceship with help of a mini satellite was foreseen for this day. But this plan was dropped as a course correction was ordered by mission control. The new first destination of this mission is now the APP module already launched back on February 14, 2017.
The APP module is on a slow trajectory to MoonDotStation. It has a powerful ion propulsion unit that will allow to relocate the entire MoonDotStation after docking with the APPM to an orbit around the Moon. That assumes that the huge Solar panels of the APPM deliver full power to the ion thrusters.
Last week something happened to the APP module. For a short while contact was lost. After contact was resumed the power level generated by one of the Solar panel was 20 percent lower than expected. It is not understood if the panel itself is damaged or the electronics for control. That is why I was ordered to change the course to go to the APP module asap to do a visual inspection. If I can determine what exactly happened to the module there may be one way to repair the APP module, hopefully during this mission. Let us keep the fingers crossed that we will find a quick solution to avoid longer delays for going to Moon orbit.
Mission day #3 March 25, 2017: Inspecting the exterior of the MoonDot spaceship
This day of the mission was a relatively relaxed one in the middle of the cruise towards the APP module. My main task was to release a small satellite equipped with a camera to take pictures from the exterior of my #MoonDot spaceship.
With help of these pictures we are looking for anomalies of the systems of the ship. Additionally, the exercise is a good first test for the camera satellite as we want to take many more stunning pictures during the entire mission with it.
This is the fifth time (and the final time according to current plans!?) that I have the pleasure to fly this kind of spaceship. For this mission we have made an important upgrade to the ship. I will tell you more about it later during the mission.
After finishing the imaging session I commanded the mini satellite back to the Service Module of my ship. The satellite was fixed to the module with help of magnets as we do not want to loose the satellite during any course correction maneuvers.
By the way, we did not find any damage to the exterior of my spaceship. 🙂
Mission day #4 March 26, 2017: Breaking into an orbit around the EML-1 Lagrange point and approaching the APP module
This was a very exciting day as I was able to take a first look at the APP module in space. But first I had to perform a maneuver with my #MoonDot spaceship to break into an orbit around the Lagrange point 1 of the Earth-Moon system (EML-1). The APP module is already in this kind of orbit.
Let me explain what such a Langrange actually is. It is a point in space where the gravitational forces of the planets, moons and stars cancel each other out. You can put a satellite at this point and it would keep its position. Such a Lagrange point does exist between Earth and Moon in a distance of about 55,000 km to the Moon. Actually, you are not putting a satellite directly at a Lagrange point but in a wide orbit around it. This is to avoid the shadows by Earth and Moon to allow power to be generated by Solar panels without interruptions.
The first task of this day was to bring my #MoonDot spaceship into such an orbit around the EML-1 point in vicinity to the APP modul. For this I had to stop my spaceship from moving towards the Moon and then go a bit sideways into the desired EML-1 orbit. To achieve this I had to ignite the OME main engine of my European Service Module for 33 seconds. Interestingly, the OME engine was once an OMS engine of one the now retired Space Shuttle orbiters.
After the successful breaking into this EML-1 orbit the APP module was already relatively nearby. After a few minor maneuvers I was able to take a few first pictures of the troubled module. The pictures had quite poor quality as I was taking these through the very thick windows of my #MoonDot capsule from a safe distance. I did not see any damage to the APP module in these pictures. Nevertheless, one of the Solar panels of APPM is still generating less power than the other one. Mission control agreed to my idea to release the mini camera satellite for a close inspection. As we were running out of time (due to the not so funny 23 hour day as we were switching to Summer time 😦 ) this task is now planned for tomorrow.
Mission day #5 March 27, 2017: Close inspection of the APP module with the mini satellite
This was the day for identifying the root cause for the drop in electricity generated by one of the two gigantic Solar panels of the APP module. To achieve this I had released the mini satellite equipped with a camera for flying around the APP module.
The mini satellite took several pictures of the APP module covering all sides of the module. Here are some pictures of APPM for example:
After an analysis of HR versions of the pictures we detected 5 (!) holes in the defect Solar panel of APPM. It looks like the module had an encounter with a swarm of micrometeorites or space debris.
Now we have the very bold plan to replace the entire defect Solar panel during this mission at the MoonDotStation.
We will have to fit a replacement Solar panel into a mini Dragon 2 cargo ship and then launch the ship with a mini Falcon 9 launcher. After arrival of the Dragon ship at MoonDotStation I will conduct a risky spacewalk to replace the bad Solar panel with the new one delivered by the Dragon. Let us keep the fingers crossed that we will be successful with this very challenging plan.
Mission day #6 March 28, 2017: Arrival at MoonDotstation
This was the day I was waiting for quite a while already. After more than 7 months I had the task to return to MoonDotStation. A complicated docking maneuver was lying ahead of me. This was my fourth docking at MoonDotStation already, but no docking is the same. The MoonDotStation had grown a bit and its configuration was different. This time I had to dock my ship to a side port of the node module „Friendship“ for the very first time.
Additionally, I had to fly a very fuel saving docking maneuver because I had spent a lot of fuel during the inspection of the APP module already. That is why my approach was looking a bit strange coming sideways until I reached the final stop point for checking all systems of ship and station.
Finally, at 5:03 pm UTC the docking ring of my #MoonDot spaceship had first contact with the docking port of the station. Hooks were tightening the connection. Then I had to check if the connection was airtight and also linked some electrical and data connections between ship and station.
For this I had switched on a very special blue light in my MoonDot spaceship. Especially readers from Germany might have an idea what kind of light it is. 😉
After finishing the 2-hour checking process I finally entered the MoonDotStation. My first stop was in the Cupola to enjoy the billons of stars for a first time. Next, I was moving to the core module of the station where the main computer of the station was already waiting to take the official ingress photo. Here it is:
Woohoo! It is great to be back at the station! And in the next update I will tell you more about these boxes in the photo.
Mission day #7 March 29, 2017: The first day at MoonDotStation
This was a very busy, but not so exciting day. Basically, I had to move several bags with things not needed anymore from the interior of the station to the Cygnus cargo ship.
Most of these things to relocate are equipment and other stuff used by the previous crew – my two friends from America called Astros K. & S. For some reason they do not want to reveal their identity. They were spending record-breaking 6 months here at MoonDotStation leaving at the end of January 2017.
The Cygnus loaded with the unnecessary things the Astros left behind is expected to leave the station on Thursday.
Another important item on my agenda of the day was to greet some friends – the international organization „The Mars Generation“. By the way, you can join „The Mars Generation“ as a founding member. This is a perfect way to support space themed STEM education. Have a look here: http://www.themarsgeneration.org/membership/. Thank you.
Mission day #8 March 30, 2017: Departure of the Cygnus cargo ship
On this day the 5 month mission of this mini Cygnus cargo vehicle was coming to a successful end. The Cygnus had been launched on a mini Atlas 541 launcher in the end of October 2016. This „541“ actually explains the configuration of the Atlas launcher been used. „5“ means that a 5 (Mausonautic) meter diameter payload fairing is used. „4“ tells that 4 solid rocket boosters are firing during launch. Finally, „1“ explains that the upper stage has one engine (and not two).
You may ask why such a powerful booster is necessary to launch a Cygnus ship as the Atlas rockets used to launch Cygnus vehicles to the ISS did not had any boosters. Well, for launching a Cygnus to the MoonDotStation in about 325,000 km distance from Earth towards the Moon instead of a 400 km Low Earth Orbit (LEO) it is obvious that you need a much more powerful launcher.
The cargo of the Cygnus ship was very critical for the extension of the mission of my American friends Astros K. & S. to a total duration of breathtaking 6 months. The ship served that purpose very well. And now it serves an additional purpose. Unnecessary things will be removed from the tiny station to make room for new things.
The Cygnus is not designed to depart from the station by itself. We have the small manipulator from Canada called CanadArm 3 to release the Cygnus. I was controlling this arm from inside the Cupola as you have the best overview about the scene from here. I was grappling the grapple fixture of the Cygnus with the end effector of the CanadArm before I commanded the hooks of the station to set the Cygnus free. Slowly I was moving the Cygnus away from the station to the release position. The Cygnus was staying in that position for a while adopt to the new thermal conditions.
The next step was to release Cygnus by carefully retracting the CanadArm from it. After a while the cold gas thrusters of the mini Cygnus fired to make the Cygnus back away slowly from the station. The distance between station and Cygnus was increasing more and more. For a while I was thinking that I had seen a mysterious object in space but there was nothing at the radar. And the Cygnus was disappearing in the wide open space …
Eventually, the mini Cygnus will enter a wide orbit around the Moon for its final sleep. There was not enough fuel left for a controlled return to an Earth orbit.
And now, without the Cygnus, we have more space for the risky capture of the incoming large APP module.
Mission day #9 March 31, 2017: Arrival of the APP module – the transfer stage to Moon orbit
Finally, the day of the arrival of the APP (Advanced Power & Propulsion) module at MoonDotStation had come. Due to the low thrust of the Solarelectric propulsion system the APP module was only following my spaceship slowly on the way to MoonDotStation after the inspection on March 26./27. Towing the APPM to MoonDotStation was not possible as too much fuel of my spaceship had to be spent for that maneuver. And I need enough fuel for my spaceship to return to Earth. Therefore, the APPM and my spaceship had to fly on separate trajectories to MoonDotStation.
The arrival of the APP module was a lot of hard work for me anyway. The APP module is quite huge mainly due the two gigantic Solar panels. This was causing some challenges during the capturing process. The APP module was not flying a direct approach to the connection point with the node module to minimize the risk that the Solar panels of APPM and my spaceship were getting into contact during the approach maneuver.
I was surveying the APPM approach from the Cupola of MoonDotStation. You have a nice overview of the situation from the Cupola. Thus, I was taking over the control of the APP module during the final approach. For being able to capture the APP module with the mini CanadArm the APP had to be maneuvered very close to the node module – about one meter. That was the moment with the highest risk for collision. But I was successfully able to stop the approach right on time. Now the APPM was keeping the distance to MoonDotStation automatically. With one eye I was checking the distance, and the second one was needed to operate the CanadArm. I had to capture the APPM asap to end this high risk phase. And I was succeeding with the first try to capture the APPM by the CanadArm – yeah! What a maneuver- what a relief! From now on the CanadArm was keeping the APPM away from the station in that hold position. The module was staying in that position for about two hours to allow that any tensions that had been built up in the CanadArm during the capturing process could being released.
Next was to maneuver the APPM to the connection point with the node module of the station. With help of the Canadarm that is an relatively easy operation. After the contact between the docking rings of both modules some hooks were engaging to get an hard mate. Now the APP module was finally part of MoonDotStation. What a great success!
As almost always, the mini camera satellite had been released for free flight during this operation delivering stunning images for me and for YOU. I have created a short timelapse movie of the entire operation for you. Enjoy!
Mission day #10/#11 April 1 & 2, 2017: Weekend at MoonDotStation
The weekends here at MoonDotStation are a bit organized as the ones at the International Space Station ISS. Saturday is the day for cleaning the entire station with wet towels and a vacuum cleaner. Sunday is reserved for leasure time. You write your blog posts, write emails, watch movies or connect with your friends and family.
This time the weekend was a bit different as there was a „cheese crisis“. The next cargo ship with destination MoonDotStation is being prepared for launch. Our American partners have bought a Dragon-2 cargo ship from the company SpaceX commercially as well as the launch by a Falcon-9 launcher. Now there was a challenge to integrate additional cargo to that flight: a Solar panel as a replacement for the defect one of the APP module. Fortunately, the launch processing crew had found a way to stow the Solar panel in the trunk of the cargo Dragon ship. Unfortunately, now the cargo ship is to heavy for launch. Some other payloads need to be removed. Somehow an important item was removed from the list of payloads: my three cheese wheels! That is how the „cheese crisis“ has started.
Thus, I was brainstorming over the weekend where mass can be shelved from the launcher, the ship or the payload. The mini Falcon 9 launcher does not have landing legs or any other landing equipment. Thus, no mass can be saved. The Dragon-2 cargo ship is a leightweight version already. The landing legs of the capsule were removed as the capsule will not land anywhere as there is not fuel to fly back to Earth or to the Moon. The capsule is equipped with a heatshield. Most parts of the heatshield are also part of the aerodynamic shape of the vehicle during launch and therefore cannot be removed. But the central heatshield tiles at the bottom of the capsule can be removed! Bingo! That is the solution! Thus based on my hint these parts of the heatshield were removed from the Dragon capsule. This actually ended the „cheese crisis“ as now one cheese wheel is back in the Dragon! There is (almost) always a solution for any challenge!
P.S.: Please do not spread the news to SpaceX engineers how we have solved the „cheese crisis“. They probably do not like our solution to unmount parts of the heatshield of the Dragon. 😉
Mission day #12 April 3: Starting to prepare an exciting week with a Falcon 9 launch, spacewalk & the docking of the Dragon 2 cargo ship
One day before the launch of the mini Falcon 9 a final dress rehearsal was held at the launch site in Spain. Almost all procedures and processes leading to a launch were practized with the real hardware. The rehearsal was led by launch (and my mission) director @SpaceHolgar.
I was following the dress rehearsal for the launch from MoonDotStation and was reliefed that all went smoothly. The launch was set for the next day.
In the evening I used the opportunity to start taking pictures of the sky as seen from inside of the Cupola of MoonDotStation. Well, these were my firsts tries. The results were OK at best. I will try to improve my skills when I will have the opportunity again. Nevertheless, I think that the photos will never do justice to what you can really see with your own eyes.
And I hope that I can count one more star tomorrow, the launched Dragon 2 cargo ship. 😉
Mission day #13 April 4: Launch of the Dragon cargo ship with the mini Falcon 9
The day of launching the Dragon 2 ship with important cargo for MoonDotStation had finally begun. The replacement Solar panel and additional Xenon for the ion thrusterns of the APP module, water and food (especially my cheese) were sitting at the launch pad inside the Dragon ship waiting for liftoff.
My friends Astros K. and S. were visiting the launch. That was well deserved as they had contributed a lot to fasten the prelaunch processing of the Dragon ship and the Falcon 9 launcher.
The weather conditions were perfect at the launch site in Spain. There were no technical issues during the countdown. Thus, the mini Falcon 9 launcher was lifting off with loud roaring right at the beginning of the launch window at 3:13 pm UTC. All 9 first stage motors were working as expected as well as the single upper stage motor. Now the Dragon ship was right on a trajectory to MonDotStation. GREAT WORK!
I was watching and commenting the launch from MoonDotStation. That was great but any launch that you do not watch live in person is a missed opportunity because space launches are AWESOME IMHO. 😉
Several hours after the launch I got a bunch of very impressive photos sent up to MoonDotstation. I would like to share the most impressive ones with you. Here is the corresponding image gallery. Enjoy!
Mission day #14 April 5: Preparations for the first spacewalk
During this day I had to finish the final preparations for the first planned spacewalk on the following day. I was collecting all tools needed and some additional things. Among these things was the name plate for the „Friendship“ module. The module had the fancy name MPEM (Multi Purpose Exploration Module) when it was arriving at MoonDotStation during my last MoonDot mission. During my mission I made the call to my Twitter friends for proposing a new name. Many proposals were sent in. After a preselection of names a voting contest by the Twitter fans selected the great name „Friendship“ for the MPEM module. Many thanks to all contributors.
And now it is my task and honour to mount the „Friendship“ nameplate at the exterior of the module during my spacewalk.
Mounting the name plate will not be the main task of the spacewalk. The main task will be devoted to a different device. And this huge device I had to unwrap in the capsule of my MoonDot spaceship. That was quite a task. And tomorrow I will mount it at the exterior of the APP module you will see.
Mission day #15 April 6: The first spacewalk of this mission
This was my longest spacewalk I have performed so far with an duration of almost 4 hours. After leaving the Airlock me and an adpater were moved with the help of the CanadArm to the first worksite at the APP module. My task was to mount the adapter. That was complicated as I had to link several connections for power, data and cold gas. It took me more than 30 minutes to finish the task.
My next job was to extract the still secret device from my MoonDot capsule. That was complicated as the device was quite large. It was actually impossible to move the device through the station as several hatches were too small for it. Therefore I had to extract the device directly from my MoonDot capsule with the big squared hatch.
Now it was time to reveal what the device actually is: a supercool jet pack for me. We call it the Moused Maneuvering Unit MMU. It is a backpack with several nitrogen thrusters that I can control by my voice! It is like flying your own small spaceship. Sounds like fun? It really is I can confirm. My task was to test the MMU by doing a flyaround of the station. It was going very well and I decided to include some complications like flying through two Solar panels and flying in larger distance to the station. What a great job I have! I really enjoyed this task very much.
Next was the installation of the „Friendship“ nameplate after retrieving it from the airlock. This job I was also performing with the jet pack. To use the CanadArm would have been an alternative.
My final task for this spacewalk was next: storing the MMU by connecting it to the adapter I had mounted at the APP module as my first task today. Remember that the MMU does not fit through the hatch of the airlock. The operation went very smoothly.
A very successful spacewalk was coming to an end with a duration of almost 4 hours. That was my longest and best EVA so far. Great that I will have another one later in the mission.
More to come …
Live coverage via: https://twitter.com/Mausonaut
The tweets of the entire mission are connected as conversations. One conversion is in German only, the other one in English. This allows to see the entire mission on Twitter.
Live coverage in English only: https://twitter.com/MoonDotStation