The International Space Station sometimes has to adjust its orbit in order not to fall to Earth. This process is called orbital reloading. During the maneuver in orbit, the engines on the ISS turn on, and the whole huge station rises a little. Tellingly, astronauts even like this process, because funny things start to happen inside. During the orbital reload due to weightlessness, the station begins to move around the astronauts, who, in fact, are in place and are not moving anywhere. The crew compares this event to riding a slide on the playground – everyone tries to get in line to “go down” again.
“It’s unusual to see how the whole station literally passes by you while you’re just in one place. It’s like the acceleration of a car or an airplane — it seems as if you are being pushed back into the seat, although in fact the seat is being pushed into you by the acceleration of the spacecraft,” the astronauts tell about this unusual experience.
In order not to cause discomfort to the crew, the adjustment is quite slow. In the video, the orbital reload took place for 12 minutes and 17 seconds, and the speed of the orbital maneuver (delta-V) is 1.34 m/s. Therefore, on the provided video of this process, all is accelerated eight times. But it still looks fun! The astronauts are clearly enjoying this experience.
The video shows how the 66th expedition, which includes NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Mark Vande Hei, as well as astronaut from the European Space Agency Matthias Maurer and cosmonauts of Roscosmos Anton Shkaplerov and Peter Dubrov, is experiencing a reload on the ISS.
Feature of the ISS orbit
The ISS usually rotates at an altitude of about 400 km above the Earth. But due to atmospheric resistance, the station can lose altitude up to 100 meters per day. Therefore, regular orbit adjustments are required, usually about once a month. There is no real reload schedule, because the density of the earth’s atmosphere is constantly changing depending on how much energy the Sun supplies to it. Therefore, the speed of descent from orbit is not a constant value. But the ISS descends to Earth faster than other satellites at a similar altitude due to its huge size and surface area.
Reloads are also performed to optimize the ISS orbital position for future vehicles arriving at the station. This particular reload was performed in March 2022 using the Russian Progress-79 cargo spacecraft. After starting the engines for a few minutes, the station was established at the right height for the incoming Soyuz with new crew members who arrived in March.
The problem with the engines for the ISS
NASA states that all ISS engines are provided by the Russian segment and Russian cargo spacecraft. Cargo spacecraft of the Russian segment and Progresses are reloading the orbit, orientation control, and wreckage prevention maneuvers.
However, due to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, cooperation with Roscosmos is on the verge of breaking. The International Space Station (ISS) has actually remained the only technological link connecting Russia with Western countries. Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus is the only U.S. commercial spacecraft currently available to perform a reload operation. Although it is currently still in test mode, the first Cygnus capable of performing reload arrived at the ISS in February 2022.
Recall that earlier we showed how astronauts communicate in space without words.
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