Latest Cygnus mission to ISS includes new features

WASHINGTON — The following Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo mission to the Worldwide Area Station will show two new capabilities, one earlier than launch and the opposite after the spacecraft departs the station.

The Cygnus spacecraft, flying a mission designated NG-11, is scheduled to launch at 4:46 p.m. Jap April 17 on an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. Throughout a pre-launch press convention April 16, officers reported no issues with launch preparations and glorious climate, with a 95 % probability of acceptable circumstances on the scheduled liftoff time.

The Cygnus is carrying greater than 3,400 kilograms of cargo on this mission to the station. Of that whole, 1,569 kilograms is for quite a lot of scientific investigations, with 936 kilograms of crew provides. The rest is cut up amongst car {hardware}, miscellaneous tools and a satellite tv for pc deployer for NanoRacks.

For the primary time, a few of that cargo might be loaded onto the Cygnus simply 24 hours earlier than launch. The NG-11 mission is the primary to show a “late load” functionality of cargo after the car has been rolled out to the launch pad. Six cargo baggage might be loaded onto the Cygnus at the moment, mentioned Andrew Zarechnak, Cygnus car supervisor at Northrop Grumman, at a pre-launch science briefing.

“It permits us to do extra science on this car and permits extra sorts of science to get to the station,” he mentioned. That features a rodent analysis experiment that options 40 mice, the primary time such an experiment has flown on the Cygnus. Comparable experiments prior to now needed to fly on SpaceX’s Dragon, which already has the flexibility to load cargo into the car inside a day of launch.

That late load makes use of a brand new “pop-top” payload fairing for the Antares, whose prime may be eliminated to permit entry to the Cygnus. A cell payload processing facility is moved into place across the fairing whereas the rocket is horizontal on the pad in order that crews can entry the Cygnus to load that cargo.

The Cygnus is scheduled to be berthed to the ISS by the station’s robotic arm April 19 and stay on the station for about 90 days. After being unberthed, it can maneuver into a better orbit to deploy satellites.

On previous missions the Cygnus has deorbited inside a couple of weeks of departing the station, however on the NG-11 mission Northrop Grumman plans to maintain Cygnus in orbit for months to check its skill to function a free-flying analysis platform.

“We’re going to begin an prolonged length mission for Cygnus the place we’re going to show the flexibility of Cygnus to fly lengthy durations of time in area, the place it may be a superb testbed for scientific experiments,” mentioned Frank DeMauro, vice chairman and normal supervisor of area programs at Northrop Grumman.

To allow that prolonged mission, the Cygnus now has a management second gyro to deal with the angle management of the spacecraft, lowering the necessity for it to make use of thrusters. That saves gas that may as a substitute be used to take care of its orbit and carry out different maneuvers, extending the spacecraft’s lifetime in orbit.

DeMauro mentioned the corporate hopes to show that the Cygnus, as a free-flying spacecraft, could be a platform for scientific analysis and expertise demonstrations. “We need to show the actually pristine microgravity setting that Cygnus will present,” he mentioned. That might embody, on future missions, flying away from the ISS to carry out experiments for a time earlier than returning in order that the experiments may be retrieved.

The corporate hasn’t set a agency timetable for that prolonged mission. DeMauro mentioned the corporate wish to maintain the NG-11 Cygnus in orbit at the least till after the launch of the NG-12 Cygnus a while within the fall. That might permit Northrop Grumman to show the flexibility to function two Cygnus spacecraft concurrently from the identical management middle.

“We’re pondering one thing on the order of six to seven months at the least mission length,” he mentioned. “As soon as we obtain that purpose, if we’ve achieved all the opposite objectives, then we’ll regroup and decide how for much longer we would need to fly the car.”

The NG-11 Cygnus mission is the primary of two industrial cargo spacecraft set to fly to the ISS this month. SpaceX is scheduled to launch its newest Dragon cargo spacecraft to the station April 26 from Florida. That back-to-back scheduling, mentioned Joel Montalbano, deputy supervisor of the ISS program at NASA, was a results of when the missions had been able to fly.

“Will we plan missions per week aside? Typically we don’t do this,” he mentioned. “Our plan is to fly when the purchasers are prepared.”

This mission can also be the final one from the unique Industrial Resupply Companies (CRS) contract awarded to what was then Orbital Sciences Company in 2008. The NG-12 mission would be the first of at the least six missions for the follow-on CRS-2 contract awarded in 2016.

“Once I suppose again to once we first began this, waiting for what can be our final mission, looks as if so way back,” DeMauro mentioned. “However right here we’re.”

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