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JAXA Astronaut Activity Report

JAXA Astronaut Activity Report, August, 2013

Last Updated: October 25, 2013

This is JAXA's Japanese astronaut primary activity report for August, 2013.

Astronaut Koichi Wakata trains for emergency situations

Astronaut Koichi Wakata, assigned as a crew member for the Expedition 38/39 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), underwent training for a long-duration mission at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in the beginning of August, and then at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in the second half of the month.

At the GCT, along with Wakata, his crewmates Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio underwent training to be prepared for an emergency such as fire or rapid depressurization in the ISS Russian segment.

The trio calmly responding to simulated fire (Credit: JAXA/GCTC)

During the training that simulated fire in the Russian segment, they cooperatively responded to fire under the direction of Wakata.

The crew practiced the procedure for extinguishing the fire and escaping from the ISS with the Soyuz spacecraft in the event of a life-threatening situation. Through the training, they confirmed the procedure for dealing with such situation, and it also strengthened their teamwork.

The training was opened to the press. In the press conference held on the same day, they reported that their preparation for the mission had been going smoothly.

In addition to the above training, they were also trained for rapid depressurization in the Russian segment. They further operated hardware in the simulated Soyuz spacecraft with gravitational acceleration of 8-9G (generated by a large centrifuge accelerator) that occurs if the spaceship is forced to make ballistic re-entry.

Wakata (right) and Mastracchio (left) practice EVA preparation (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

At the JSC, Wakata joined meeting(s) to discuss EVA training, planned experiments to be performed during his ISS stay and ISS system related tasks.

Further, their emergency response training including response to fire, rapid depressurization, and toxic spill in each module of Japan, US, and Europe were opened to the press.

On August 28, Wakata and his fellow crewmates held a press conference and commented that their preparation to the flight is perfect and their aspiration for the mission.

Astronaut Kimiya Yui continues training for an upcoming long-duration ISS mission

Astronaut Kimiya Yui, assigned as a crew member for the Expedition 44/45 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), underwent training for a long-duration mission. He first underwent training at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in the beginning of August, and then at the GCTC in the second half of the month.

Yui donning training EMU nearby the NBL pool (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

At the JSC, Yui attended lectures on Extravehicular Activity (EVA) simulation training and Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) that is donned during EVA.

For the EVA simulation training that was held in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), Yui and his fellow crewmate who is also assigned to the ISS Expedition 44/45 mission, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren donned EMU. They dived into a large pool containing a submerged full-scale ISS mockup and learned about the maintenance operations for the exposed equipment installed on the exterior of the ISS.

In addition to EVA training, Yui confirmed how to transfer experiments or system racks and handle the failure of hatches of each module.

At the GCTC, Yui received lecture for Soyuz docking system and attitude control system, descending control system for reentry, and training operation using the Soyuz spacecraft simulators.

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi participates in the SEATEST training preparation

At the JSC, astronaut Soichi Noguchi participated in a lecture that provided overview of the Space Environment Analog for Testing EVA Systems & Training (SEATEST) and the seabed laboratory called Aquarius, where he would stay for 5 days in September.

SEATEST training is conducted in Aquarius, which has been used for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO). The purpose of SEATEST is to make technical assessment toward EVA in the future manned space exploration as well as to improve teamwork skills through such activities in a severe environment similar to those of space missions.

JAXA astronauts support HTV4 mission

At 4:48 am on August 4, the H-II transfer vehicle "KOUNOTORI4" (HTV4) was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC).

Prior to the launch, astronaut Satoshi Furukawa arrived at the launch site to explain about KOUNOTORI's international contribution to the press and reported the pre-launch status.

Onishi (back) serves at CAPCOM (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

Six days after the launch, as a member of the NASA flight controllers, astronaut Takuya Onishi was at a capsule communicator (CAPCOM) console. He is the person who communicates with the astronauts on the ISS. Onishi served at CAPCOM when HTV4, captured by the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), was berthed to the ISS.

While engaging in training at the JSC to be assigned to an ISS long-duration mission, Onishi is in charge of CAPCOM as a part of the job in the NASA Astronaut Corps. He contributed to the success of the HTV4 mission by facilitating communication between the NASA flight controllers on the ground and the crew onboard the ISS.

New Astronauts at the Front-Line

I would like to thank everyone for continuing to read our journals.

Those who follow my Twitter feed may be waiting to find out about the special topic in Russia that I mentioned. There may also be a lot of people who think that I write a lot about Russia. To be honest, it’s the truth. I intentionally write a lot of things about Russia. This is because I believe that it is important to relay information about Russia to people in Japan as it is more difficult to access than information about America.

The special topic that I alluded to was an event that was held in Moscow. During this most recent training period, I was lucky enough to be able to attend MAKS, the international aviation and space salon. People who are interested in cars might go to motor shows - this is the aviation and space version of those. In addition, there is also the Self-Defense Force air show aspect and many aeroplanes are on display. Of course, the main aim of my visit was to learn about space cooperation between Russia and the ESA (European Space Agency) and to take a look at future Russian spacecraft. However, it must have been because of my old job that my eyes kept wandering to the planes. The sight of a Japanese man with a single lens reflex camera round his neck intensely concentrated on taking photos of the planes and their equipment must have been rather suspicious!

The weather was really great! I was lucky because it seems that they had bad weather for the rest of the event.

The weather was really great! I was lucky because it seems that they had bad weather for the rest of the event.

When I first went to the US around 20 years ago, I felt a national power that overwhelmed that of Japan. (The US had invited overseas students from armies all over the world. I believe that the direct aim of this was, of course, to have them learn about US army strategy and tactics as well as information and technical skills for flying aircraft, etc., to make it easier for us all to cooperate and work together. However, on top of that, as well as training people who would have important positions in the armies of each country in the future in the US, I thought it may be to show these people the overwhelming national power of the US, to reduce their inclination to go to war with the US and to make them into allies.)

And now, in Russia, I get the same impression. Russia’s national power is strong. I was able to get a glimpse of this at MAKS. The performance of the weapons including the fighter aircraft is overwhelmingly superior to that of those in Japan. When you actually see this performance, you start to get a little worried about Japan. However, I am currently a member of the team that is involved with the International Space Station and I am being trained in Russia on a daily basis. And during that training, I come into direct contact with Russian people so I am simultaneously learning about the culture and history of Russia, not just about Russian space development. Moreover, by putting all my effort into my training, I am working hard to give Russian people an understanding of the spirit and national characteristics of the Japanese. I wrote this in my last journal entry too, but I am working hard to produce this kind of mutual understanding as I think that it is good for enhancing the peace and safety of Japan and the world.

So, I will talk about more complicated things later on but I would first like to talk in a little more detail about what I saw at the aviation and space salon. The venue was so big that it was not possible to see everything in one day! So I made the utmost effort to prioritise the things that I was interested in. My last job was as a test pilot for fighter planes so I can’t help but look at the displays with a professional eye. The planes that I had wanted to see for a long time, in particular, were Mig, Sukhoi, Tupolev and Kamov fighters, bombers and helicopters, etc. and, despite myself, I analysed them in a fair amount of detail. I took photos thinking, ‘This is such and such. I heard it can do such and such... ‘’The reason why this equipment is installed here much be such and such... But there must be such and such effect from an aerodynamics point of view.’ Furthermore, I caught myself being unable to take my eyes of the aeroplanes on display and thinking, ‘Oh, this is the model that does that famous manoeuvre! It can do that because it is equipped with such and such... ‘’You need such and such to be able to go up against this aircraft…’ and then I admonished myself thinking, ‘Oops, this is not my job anymore!’

People may have doubts about whether I did the work I was supposed to do when they read me merrily writing about this but please do not worry! I also did what I was supposed to do properly! As well as cooperative ties between Europe and Russia in the space development field being close, precisely because it has a history of more than 20 years, there has been more cooperation that I had imagined. I feel that it is really magnificent that, even though there are various differences in culture, there is cooperation to work on mutual understanding and bringing out the best in each other. I am repeating myself here, if we think about just how much this kind of cooperation and furthering mutual understanding contributes to peace, it means that it is producing many good results not just limited to cooperation in the space development field. On the other hand, cooperation between Japan and Russia in the space development field has just begun and I feel that there is room for growth in the future.

I was also able to board a mock-up of a future manned spacecraft that is being developed in Russia and take a look at the internal design. The design of the controls and the display of information are a little different from those in the US and I was able to personally evaluate which one is easier to use. (I think the fact that I feel the need to evaluate things as soon as possible also stems from my old job as a test pilot...)

*Photo supplied by: JAXA

However, in actual fact, the thing that captivated the most people at this aviation salon was the combat exhibition. Each country is putting a lot of money and the latest technology into fighters, fighter helicopters, missiles and electronic equipment for these and was making great efforts to sell them. Do you have difficulty understanding why money is being used for such tools of war? If we just look at the ideal of realizing world peace, then that may be true. But, just as it is necessary to look straight at reality after first seeing the ideal in order to achieve the dream so it is essential to look straight at the stark reality in order to realize the ideal of world peace!

It is not a simple issue to decide whether to prioritise if it is better to develop weapons or to cooperate in the space development field. It is a reality that both are important in keeping the peace.

The reason that I believe that I am blessed is that, being aware of this stark reality, I am able to work towards world peace. This is because, if I don’t look at the ideal and make efforts towards this in the same way as I would in achieving my own personal dreams, being aware of this reality, it will be a simple idealistic thought or an empty theory. It’s not really for me to say myself but recently, I get the impression that there are not many people in Japan who are as informed about maintaining peace as me. (This might be a bit conceited.)

During my long-term stay on the ISS which is planned for 2015, I will, of course, make a success of my activities such as experiments and equipment maintenance, etc., but I also want broaden my horizons a little and to be able to do great work that takes the raison d’etre of the ISS into consideration. I would appreciate your continued support.

And to conclude, this is my wife’s reaction to my ‘special topic’...

My wife: What’s so special about this? It’s too difficult and I don’t understand it at all!
Me: So what should I have talked about?
My wife: The food in Moscow’s restaurants or something!
Me: …(That’s got nothing to do with space, has it? And anyway, I don’t have any time to re-write it... I hope everyone will forgive me if I add a lot of photos!)

写真 写真

The Sukhoi 35 and Mig 29 flying displays were really magnificent. I remembered with nostalgia the times when I did flying displays in an F-15.

写真 写真 写真

There were so many great displays on the ground, too! It’s such a shame I can’t show you them all.
My wife: Normal people aren’t interested in this kind of thing!
Me: That’s not true! Don’t you think they’re beautiful?

(Sorry to all the people who were looking forward to my special topic...)

【Summary of my last journal entry】The space station transfer vehicle HTV4 (nickname: Kounotori) which was launched from Tanegashima Space Center, progressed smoothly and got to the 30m point below the International Space Station at around 10:30 GMT on the 9th of August. For details, click here.

In the mission control center of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, America, the FCR-1 control room (pronounced ‘ficker-one’) that continuously operates the ISS 24/7/365 is installed with multiple consoles and each of these has its own abbreviation. There is the CAPCOM console that communicates with the ISS where I sit with fellow astronaut Mike Fincke and to the left of that is the Flight console where the ISS flight director, who is in charge of FCR-1, sits and gives directions for the operation of the ISS.

Astronaut Mike Fincke who was in charge of capture communications (the photo is of the HTV separation from the ISS)(Photo: JAXA/NASA)

Astronaut Mike Fincke who was in charge of capture communications (the photo is of the HTV separation from the ISS)(Photo: JAXA/NASA)

We are positioned close enough to be able to talk directly to the ISS flight director but we use an audio line to communicate with other consoles. It is possible to simultaneously listen to the various conversations on different lines with the device installed in the console but when I chose the line that the Tsukuba HTV control team uses, I heard familiar Japanese communications. The main person in this communication was the lead flight director for HTV4, Maki Maeda.

She is the person responsible on-site for the operation of the HTV, coordinating cooperation with NASA, preparatory training for the control team and preparation of operations procedures expressly for this day. I had a chance to talk to Maeda-san when she visited Houston a few weeks ago for final adjustments. The nervousness she was talking about then just before the mission seemed hard to believe as she talked in a calm and dignified voice.

The preparation for the final approach of the HTV that had arrived at 30m below the ISS continued. Instructions for the setting of the robot arm console for HTV capture were given from the CapCom microphone to the astronauts on the ISS. As all the screens in the control room were relaying the images of the ISS external camera, it was not possible for us to see the crew directly but the 3 astronauts, including Karen Nyberg who has recently been in charge of capture on the ISS, would have been following these instructions to set up the robot arm console and to double-check the capture procedure and so on.

Each item was properly checked one at a time according to the procedure book. At the control team training in which I participated a number of times, this was the situation that the training instructor team targeted as it was easy for eventualities such as part of the ISS electrical system suddenly shutting down or the camera required for operating the robot arm breaking down to occur. The training instructor team, which is trying to hinder the control team that is trying to achieve capture, feels that this is a fiercely competitive time slot. However, these kinds of malfunctions do not occur so easily in the real world so the time passed without incident.

The confidence of having come through difficult training seemed to pervade the whole control room. The Tsukuba HTV control team was probably the same.

Before long, the crew made contact to say preparation was completed and when checking had finished on the ground, the final approach of the HTV to the ISS began. In other words, the approach to approx. 10m below the ISS. Actual capture was conducted at this point.

The glistening gold of the HTV body became gradually bigger on the screen. I touched on this in my column last month but, it is actually very difficult for the HTV to approach the ISS in a straight line because it is at a different elevation. During this time, the HTV propulsion device should be repeatedly giving out small jets but it seemed so stable on the screen that it was difficult to imagine it moving. In the control room, there was nothing to do but watched over this stage and I was fascinated by the precise approach of the HTV. I honestly thought at that moment that the Japanese technology that made this possible was incredible. A number of controllers took out their cameras and took photos of the HTV on the screen. I could hear voices of wonderment. The NASA specialists, who have led the world in space development, were holding their breath and watching a Japanese spacecraft. I wanted people all over Japan to see this spectacle.

This is a slight digression but I would like to briefly touch on something called orbit dynamics.

Spacecraft including the ISS and the HTV basically fly in a circular orbit with earth at the centre.

If we leave aside difficult calculations and just summarize the main points, the closer the craft is to the earth (low elevation), the faster the air speed is and the further it is away, the slower the air speed is.

If we apply this to the relationship between the ISS and the HTV, the HTV is below the ISS, in other words, the HTV is moving faster than the ISS. This means that if we left the HTV to its own devices, it would gradually edge out in front of the ISS. Therefore, when trying to approach the ISS from underneath in a straight line, it becomes necessary for the propulsion device to send out small jets in the direction that controls this tendency to gradually edge in front.

Sorry, that got a bit complicated... but I would be happy if you were able to understand a little about the technological difficulty of what the HTV is doing. On top of that, I intentionally made things simple this time but trajectory control is much, much more complex in reality!

...Now, let’s get back to the main topic.

The HTV has finally reached the capture point by 11:10. The distance from the ISS was only around 9m ? within waving distance. The screen in the centre of the control room was filled with the image of the HTV sent from the camera attached to the end of the robot arm. And near the centre was the pin that the robot arm would catch. This pin was attached to the surface of the HTV body and capture was achieved by drawing it in to the end of the robot arm.

It was almost impossible to perceive the movement of the HTV on the screen with the naked eye, it was so totally still. I recalled memories of the robot arm training that I underwent last year.

Training in which the robot arm pursued and captured the HTV that moved around a lot on the screen... during that training session, the HTV was just like a runaway horse..(Click here for an example of the training.) What about the real HTV? It was so well-behaved. It was as though it was sitting waiting for capture.

Karen on the ISS must also have undergone that training. And the confidence that she obtained from getting through it must be supporting her now through nervousness of the real operation.

By now, I have already gone over my usual limit for writing but if I say ‘continued next month’ here, I imagine there will be a rush of complaints so I will keep going! Even so, I wonder how many people read my column. It would be good if there were enough people reading to generate a rush of complaints...

Putting that aside...we finally come to the grand HTV capture finale.

A command was sent from the Tsukuba HTV control team. I mentioned before that the robot arm was to capture the pin that is attached to the HTV. In fact, this pin has the function of being able to separate itself from the HTV. If there is a malfunction during the process of the robot arm capturing the pin, it is not possible to continue with capture and usually capture is aborted and the pin is set free but if there is an eventuality in which even that cannot be done, it is a function that is prepared as a last resort to prevent the robot arm from being damaged.

The separation of the pin can only signify the end of the HTV mission. This is because it will never be possible to capture the HTV again.

As it is such an awesome and critical function, usually the function itself is overridden. It is activated just before capture begins.

The last command from the ground before capture was sent. Then the final decision about capture was made in both the HTV and ISS control rooms. Shortly after this, Maeda-san, the HTV flight director contacted the ISS flight director through the audio line and said:

「HTV is GO for capture.」

Having received the go signal from both sides, capture commencement was relayed from the CapCom microphone. When it got to this stage, on the ground there was nothing more to do except watch and wait. Each controller reported the implementation of each procedure that the crew made one by one by attentively observing the on-screen data. Apart from these voices, the control room was completely silent.

‘Switch to robot arm manual mode ? check!’

‘Switch to ISS posture control mode ? check!’

‘Prepare to transition to HTV free drift mode ? check!’

Everyone was watching the screen intently. Then, at last,

‘Robot arm operation commenced.’

We could see the arm begin to move slowly on the centre screen with the images from the camera on the end of the robot arm. It seemed that Karen was first checking the alignment up and down, left and right. Her aim must be to precisely line up with the HTV then to close the distance. Just at that moment...

...all the screens relaying images from the ISS turned blue.

The communication lines that link the ISS and the earth are, in actual fact, not always high-speed. There are certain times when it is not possible to communicate at all and there are other times when communication can only be achieved at a low speed. This is because the part of the US communications satellite network that we use is limited. Usually on days like this when HTV capture and so on are happening, it is arranged in advance that the ISS will have priority use but even then it is not always possible to guarantee high-speed data transmission.

We had come upon one of those times when it was not possible to use high-speed transmission and the live images were not reaching us.

Of course, the control team had expected this and they had even brought the procedures forward a little and, in truth, they had a faint hope that they may be able to see the capture live.

Straight away, the ISS flight director gave instructions to switch the screen display to computer graphics. We did not receive images but we could still receive the necessary data for operation with low-speed transmission so that, on the ground, we were still aware of the position of the robot arm, etc. This data was shown in CG, in other words, it showed us virtual relay images.

Soon the screen was showing the HTV and the robot arm that was slowly moving towards it in CG.

But the sight of the CG was so characterless... To give an example, it’s like when the live coverage of a baseball match stops just when the 4th batter steps up to the plate in the 9th inning with the bases loaded with 2 outs and the team is only 1 point down. And then you hear on the radio that the batter has made a great homerun-like hit and the announcer is yelling, ‘It’s huge...this is huuuuuuge!’ There’s really nothing you can do about it, is there?

The most important thing, after all, was the HTV capture.

Just after that, the crew, who knew nothing of this little drama on the ground, completed the capture perfectly, at 11:22.

‘Pin in robot arm ? check!’

The robot arm controller’s voice conveyed the success of the capture. I could hear the HTV control team applauding in my headset. I am sure that, in the middle of this circle of joy, Maeda-san was smiling with relief.

HTV Flight Director Maeda celebrating the successful HTV capture (centre) (Photo: JAXA)

HTV Flight Director Maeda celebrating the successful HTV capture (centre) (Photo: JAXA)

In my mind I was cheering and applauding the great job that my colleagues in Tsukuba had done while also focusing on the second shift of which I would be a member and on which I would be responsible for the joining of the HTV to the ISS.

The mission of the second shift team is to join the HTV that the first shift has captured safely to the ISS and our 9 hour shift to accomplish that was just about to start.

For a video of the capture, click here.

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