Horizons Mission Highlights

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst from Germany will shortly be returning to Earth after a long-duration stay on board the International Space Station (ISS). The Horizons mission coincided with the 20th anniversary of the start of ISS construction in orbit. During the mission, Alexander carried out a wide range of scientific experiments and took part in ISS operations – as well as becoming the second European commander of a Station expedition.

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Horizons mission – Installing life-support system with astronaut aid mobiPV

In September 2018 ESA’s next-generation life-support system on the International Space Station was installed. The facility recycles carbon dioxide in the air into water that can then be converted into oxygen reducing supplies sent from Earth by half.

Installing the life support rack in NASA’s Destiny laboratory is no easy task as the facility is larger than a human being and weighs over 650 kg on Earth. In addition many cables and pipes need to be connected to the Station’s infrastructure – including a pipe that vents waste methane from the recycling process directly into space.

Alexander set up the air and water drawer of the facility, including part of the Sabatier reactor on 10 September but was given an extra helping hand from ground control with an operational aid called the ‘mobile procedure viewer’ or mobiPV.

Usually an astronaut would have a computer nearby with step-by-step instructions to follow, but anybody who has tried repairing their car or even assembling furniture will agree this way of working has room for improvement – laying down tools to consult instructions is time-consuming and interrupts the work flow.

ESA’s solution to this problem sees astronauts wearing a smartphone on their wrist that connects to the Space Station’s procedure library and shows the instructions on-screen. Alexander could concentrate on the work at hand, without going back and forth to the computer.

Three sites in Germany were all connected and had full awareness of the installation as Alexander progressed step-by-step: the Columbus Control Centre near Munich, the European Astronaut Centre near Cologne and the facilities’ manufacturer Airbus in Friedrichshafen.

The mobile procedure viewer might seem simple but space operations allow little room for error and overcome technological challenges.

As the Space Station orbits Earth it loses radio contact for periods of up to eight minutes at a time. Alexander continued working during the periodic loss of signal but once communications were reestablished, mobiPV automatically and quickly brought all four teams up to speed.

As humans venture farther from Earth such as to a lunar gateway, life-support and communication with ground control will only become more challenging but last week’s operations on the Space Station are paving the way for exploration of our Solar System where greater autonomy and hands-free operations are important for planetary operations.

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Soyuz spacecraft launch time-lapse seen from space

This is what three astronauts being launched into space looks like – seen from space. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst took this time-lapse sequence from the International Space Station’s Cupola observatory on 3 December 2018.

Inside the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft were NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Roscosmos astronaut and Soyuz commander Oleg Konenenko. The trio blasted into orbit at 11:31 GMT from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and docked with the International Space Station just six hours later.

Spacecraft are launched after the Space Station flies overhead. This allowed Alexander to set up a camera to take regular pictures at intervals that are played back to create this video.

The rocket leaves behind a trail of exhaust as it gains altitude and passes through the layers of Earth’s atmosphere.

Download the video from ESA’s space in videos: http://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2018/12/Soyuz_spacecraft_launch_timelapse_seen_from_space

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Credits: ESA/NASA.

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Horizons science – Cimon

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst welcomed a new face to the Columbus laboratory, thanks to the successful commissioning of technology demonstration Cimon. Short for Crew Interactive Mobile CompanioN, Cimon is a 3D-printed plastic sphere designed to test human-machine interaction in space.

Developed and built by Airbus in Friedrichshafen and Bremen, Germany, on behalf of German Space Agency DLR, Cimon uses artificial intelligence software by IBM Watson. Its scientific aspects are overseen by researchers at Ludwig Maximilians University Clinic in Munich.

This video shows Alexander’s first interactions with Cimon on board the International Space Station. After introducing himself, where he comes from and what he can do, Cimon tests his free-flying abilities, helps Alexander with a procedure and even plays Alexander’s favourite song ‘Man Machine’ by Kraftwerk. In fact, Cimon likes the music so much, he does not want to stop.

Happy with his initial outing, both Cimon’s developers and Alexander hope to see Cimon back in action again soon. While no further sessions are planned during the Horizons mission at this stage, it could mark the beginning of exciting collaboration between astronauts, robotic assistants and possible future artificial intelligence in space.

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Progress launch timelapse seen from space

Timelapse of the Russian Progress MS-10 cargo spacecraft launched on 16 November 2018 at 18:14 GMT from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, taken by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst.

Alexander was circling Earth on the International Space Station when this timelapse was taken. The cargo spacecraft docked with the Station two days later on 18 November.

Some notable moments in this video are:
00:07 Rocket booster separation.
00:19 Core stage separation.
00:34:05 Core Stage starts burning in the atmosphere
00:34:19 Progress separates from rocket

Credits: ESA/NASA.

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Space Station 20th: longest continual timelapse from space

Since the very first module Zarya launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on 20 November 1998, the International Space Station has delivered a whole new perspective on this planet we call home. Join us as we celebrate 20 years of international collaboration and research for the benefit of Earth with ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst’s longest timelapse yet.

In just under 15 minutes, this clip takes you from Tunisia across Beijing and through Australia in two trips around the world. You can follow the Station’s location using the map at the top right-hand-side of the screen alongside annotations on the photos themselves.

This timelapse comprises approximately 21 375 images of Earth all captured by Alexander from the International Space Station and shown 12.5 times faster than actual speed.

Music is Orbital Horizons, an original composition by Los Angeles-based musician Matt Piper.

Participate in further Space Station celebrations via social media using hashtag #SpaceStation20th.

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Horizons science – soft matter dynamics

In the absence of gravity, foams and granular materials stick together for longer. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst shares how researchers are studying the properties of these materials in space to help innovation on Earth.

ESA’s Soft Matter Dynamics experiment was transported to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule in June 2018 and installed in the Columbus laboratory on 19 July. It is one of over 50 experiments Alexander has direct involvement with, with many more taking place on board the International Space Station throughout his Horizons mission.

Alexander took over as commander of the International Space Station for Expedition 57 on 3 October 2018. Follow Alexander and the Horizons mission on social media via http://bit.ly/AlexanderGerstESA and on http://bit.ly/HorizonsBlogESA.

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Horizons mission – exercise in space

We all know the importance of exercise, but in space it is even more important to keep astronauts alive and healthy. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst explains how crew members on the International Space Station exercise for 2.5 hours a day to maintain muscle and bone strength.

From the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilisation (CEVIS), to the Treadmill 2 (T2) and Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED), Alexander shows how the exercise equipment astronauts use in space is similar to what you might find in a gym on Earth – with a few important changes for microgravity.

Alexander took over as commander of the International Space Station for Expedition 57 on 3 October 2018 and will remain on the Station until December 2018 as part of his Horizons mission.

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Horizons science – robotics

Flying at 28 800 km/h, 400 km above Earth, from the International Space Station, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst controlled a robot called Justin on 17 August 2018. Justin was stationed at the DLR German Aerospace Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.
ESA has run multiple experiments from the Space Station with robots to test the network, the control system and the robots on Earth. This is a new area for everybody involved and each aspect needs to be tested. This is the third in a series of SUPVIS-Justin orbital experiments. The first was carried out by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli in August 2017.

The SUPVIS-Justin experiment took around four hours in total. This included set-up, software updates and two hours of interaction between Alexander and Justin.

The tests were chosen to enact future scenarios in which astronauts orbiting distant planets and moons can instruct robots to do difficult or dangerous tasks and set up base before landing for further exploration. The experiment fits in ESA’s strategy to prepare for further exploration of our Universe.

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Horizons mission time-lapse – from Alaska to the Andes

Ever wondered what it feels like to fly from Alaska to the Andes in 260 seconds? ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst captured this timelapse footage of Alaska, the USA and South America while orbiting Earth on board the International Space Station.

This timelapse is made up of 6,375 images shown 12.5 times faster than actual speed. Music is Our Oasis by Miriam Speyer, sourced from Audio Network Limited.

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