Cygnus Set to Deliver Its Largest Load of Station Science, Cargo
by Steven Siceloff for KSC News
Kennedy Space Center FL (SPX) Mar 22, 2016
A new 3D printer and research projects examining everything from adhesive technologies to the behavior of large fires in space are packed inside an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft for launch Tuesday, March 22, at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends for 30 minutes.
Launching atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the Cygnus, which carries no crew, will steer itself to the station during the course of three days. Astronauts and ground controllers will use the station's robotic arm to grapple Cygnus and connect it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module. Cygnus will stay connected to the Earth-facing laboratory for about two months before being released to burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
Much of the science will be conducted by astronauts aboard the International Space Station as they continue landmark research above Earth for the benefit of those on the Earth and future astronauts making the journey to Mars. Other science, such as the fire research and reentry data collection, will be conducted at the end of the mission and only after Cygnus drops off its materials and is flying on its own far from the station.
Named the S.S. Rick Husband in tribute to the astronaut who commanded the STS-107 mission which was lost Feb. 1, 2003, this will be the second flight of an enhanced version of Cygnus which first flew in December on a successful return to the flight for the company. Able to carry about 25 percent more volume than its predecessor, the enhanced models also feature more efficient solar arrays and other upgraded systems.
While docked to the station, Cygnus will be unloaded by astronauts who will set up the experiments and stow the fresh supplies. Altogether, the mission's cargo manifest totals more than 3 0.5 tons, including experiments by government and private researchers. Two expeditions - 47 and 48 - will conduct the research in NASA's continuing drive to unlock the secrets of long-duration space exploration.
"It's like Christmas when a supply craft arrives," said Orbital ATK's Dan Tani, a former shuttle and station astronaut who is now senior director of mission cargo and operations. "It's always fun to watch another vehicle approach and then it's like opening a box of goodies and finding some stuff you've been wanting and some surprises you didn't know about."
This Cygnus will carry more to the station than any of the previous five missions, Tani said.
A few of the scientific highlights:
- Gecko Gripper, testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos' feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn't wear off,
- Strata-1, designed to evaluate how soil on small, airless bodies such as asteroids behaves in microgravity.
- Meteor, an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth's atmosphere. The instrument is being re-flown following its loss on earlier supply missions.
- Saffire, which will set a large fire inside the Cygnus in an unprecedented study to see how large fires behave in space. The research is vital to selecting systems and designing procedures future crews of long-duration missions can use for fighting fires.
- Cygnus is carrying more than two dozen nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science including Earth observations.
The station residents depend on cargo missions from Earth to supply them with daily clothes, food, water and air, along with the equipment they need to work in orbit. For instance, this mission is carrying a spacesuit for the crew and high-pressure cylinders to recharge the station's air supply.
As the Cygnus approaches the end of its time connected to the station, astronauts will pack it with trash, spent experiments and other equipment no longer needed. It will all burn up as the spacecraft blazes through the atmosphere to end the flight with a safe impact in the Pacific Ocean.
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