Russian Cosmonauts Deploy Satellite with 3D Printed Casing During Livestreamed Spacewalk

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(L-R) Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy in the Orlan spacesuits they are wearing during today’s spacewalk. [Image: @SergeyISS]

We bring you news from the International Space Station (ISS) today, as two Russian cosmonauts stepped into outer space this morning to begin a planned six-hour spacewalk, also known as an EVA (extravehicular activity). According to NASA, Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy and Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, both with Russian space agency Roscosmos, left the Pirs airlock at approximately 10:46 EDT this morning, and NASA Television will be live-streaming the whole EVA.

At 11:10 am, Yurchikhin manually jettisoned the first of five satellites that will be deployed during the EVA from a ladder outside the airlock. Each satellite weighs about 11 lbs, but the first one deployed today (circled in black in the NASA TV image below) was the first ever satellite with a fully 3D printed casing.

According to the NASA TV announcer, the satellite was sent to the ISS last March on a progress resupply mission. During the live broadcast, it sounded like he was talking about the Tomsk-TPU-120 CubeSat, which was scheduled to be placed into orbit this summer.

Closeup of 4th satellite

The satellite with 3D printed casings will be testing the effects of low-Earth-orbit environment on the composition of 3D printed materials; another satellite commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Sputnik 1 launch, while another contained recorded greetings, in 11 different languages, to the people back home on Earth.

Yurchikhin and Ryazanskiy will also be collecting residue samples for research outside the Russian segment of the ISS, as well as installing struts and handrails. While this is the seventh EVA of the year, it’s the ninth of Yurchikhin’s career, and the fourth for Ryazanskiy.

I recently checked in on the live-stream of the EVA, and everything seemed to be going fine. But if something had gone wrong, and one of them had floated away from the ISS, the astronauts would definitely know what to do. The brave men and women who spend their lives working in the unforgiving atmosphere of space spend hours training before they go up, and in Building 9 at the Johnson Space Center, NASA astronauts work on their EVA skills in the Virtual Reality (VR) Lab.

The VR Lab, including mass handling robot Charlotte, on the left. [Image: Erin Carson, TechRepublic]

NASA astronaut Clayton C. Anderson said, “They play a GAME… you ask? Not hardly. While it may seem like a game, it is training of a significant nature, and a skill set we must master if we ever hope to perform a spacewalk in the first place.”

VR has been used as a training tool often, in the medical field and even the sports arena. According to TechRepublic, NASA’s VR lab just looks like a normal office, except it’s covered in posters of space missions and black sheets with glow-in-the-dark stars. A cart holds electronic equipment, head-mounted displays, and gloves with sensors, and there are two chairs for EVA trainees, which sit between two metal cubes that are hung from the floor and ceiling with wires; the cubes are actually a robot, dubbed Charlotte, which was designed by aerospace manufacturing company McDonnell Douglas, which merged with Boeing in the late ’90s.

Astronaut Terry Virts practices his SAFER training aboard the ISS. [Image: NASA]

The VR Lab got its start in the 1990s, after NASA realized it would have to repair the expensive Hubble Space Telescope. The organization had been looking for a way to introduce VR into its training activities, and the STS-60 repair mission offered a good reason. As of 2015, the graphics engine that powers the VR Lab is the Dynamic Onboard Ubiquitous Graphics, or DOUG for short.

In order for an astronaut to float away in space during an EVA, they likely have not tethered themselves appropriately to the space vehicle, and, according to Anderson, enough “force has been imparted to their spacesuit-clad body to send them tumbling away on any one of a million-plus possible trajectories.”

By 1994, the VR Lab had introduced Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER) training, and all astronauts are equipped with a SAFER jetpack, which gives astronauts one chance to make it back to the ISS.

Anderson wearing his SAFER backpack. Various dark circles on the backpack are thruster openings.

“Limited in fuel, and governed by the laws of orbital mechanics, it is not simply a leisurely task to fly back to safety,” Anderson explained. “That’s why we practice using VR. Multiple scenarios, each harder than the last, toss us from the ISS with varying degrees of (separation) velocity and directional tumbling.”

The SAFER VR training teaches astronauts to recognize their predicament and then turn on the hand controller to stop tumbling, then reorient themselves, using only directional yaw, to get the ISS in their sights. Using line of sight, the astronaut must establish attitude hold with the ISS again, and use only translational thrusts, with the hand controller, to get close enough to the ISS to grab onto something.

“Now that you are reattached, I’m guessing your heartrate is extremely high, along with your breathing rate,” said Anderson. “For me, it would be a good time to pause, take a deep breath, and recollect my thoughts. Then, having done all that, it would be time to apologize to the Mission Control Center team profusely, thank the VR Lab and EVA for the awesome training, and begin to dejectedly head inside … all the while thinking about your upcoming retirement and moving to some secluded spot in Montana.”

Discuss in the ISS forum at 3DPB.com.

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