Cygnus supply ship arrives at space station with four tons of cargo – Spaceflight Now
Concluding a 36-hour flight from a launch pad in Virginia, a Northrop Grumman Cygnus freighter arrived at the International Space Station on Thursday with a host of biomedical experiments, supplies for a 3D printing technology demonstration, fresh food and spare parts.
The automated freighter completed a final laser-guided approach to the space station and maintained its position within 12 meters (40 feet) below the complex. Astronaut Megan McArthur used the lab’s Canadian-built robotic arm to reach and capture the Cygnus spacecraft at 6:07 a.m. EDT (1007 GMT) on Thursday as the space station flew over Portugal over 260 miles (420 kilometers).
The arrival marked the 16th delivery of supplies to the space station by a Cygnus spacecraft since 2013, continuing a twice-yearly cargo streak by Northrop Grumman’s unmanned freighter.
The Cygnus spacecraft for Northrop Grumman’s NG-16 cargo mission is named after NASA astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who became the first Asian American in space in 1985. Onizuka has died along with six teammates. on the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.
“On behalf of the crew of Expedition 65, I am pleased to bring the Cygnus ‘SS Ellison Onizuka’ spacecraft aboard the International Space Station today,” McArthur said from the station Thursday. “Our congratulations to the combined teams of Northrop Grumman and NASA for the success of the mission so far. This mission enables groundbreaking research, through which we hope to meet Colonel Onizuka’s challenge, to enable the next generation to watch from a higher plateau.
Ground controllers took command of the robotic arm to dock the Cygnus supply ship to the space station’s Unity module a few hours later. The astronauts planned to open the hatches and enter the freighter to begin unpacking the supplies stowed inside the ship’s Italian-built pressurized module.
The mission was launched on Tuesday aboard an Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia.
The Cygnus spacecraft is expected to stay in the space station for about three months. Astronauts will release the freighter using the robotic arm in November after filling the ship with trash and other unnecessary equipment.
The supply ship will re-enter the atmosphere and largely burn over the South Pacific Ocean.
NASA has multi-billion dollar contracts with Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada Corp. to transport cargo to and from the space station. Northrop Grumman’s two replenishment contracts, valued at up to $ 6 billion, cover at least 19 operational cargo missions through 2023.
The cargo delivered to the space station aboard the Cygnus spacecraft includes a technology demonstration to see how future space explorers could 3D print materials from lunar soil.
Northrop Grumman’s freighter Cygnus is now firmly held by the Canadian-built robotic arm of the International Space Station.
– Spaceflight now (@SpaceflightNow) August 12, 2021
The 3D printing demonstration, developed by Redwire, will use a “lunar regolith simulant” with physical properties and chemical composition similar to those of the moon’s soil, said Howie Schulman, project manager for the Redwire Regolith Print mission .
The simulant is a fine gray powder, which will be combined with a thermoplastic binder to create the raw material for the 3D printing experience.
The experiment, developed in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, will use Redwire’s commercial additive manufacturing facility on the space station. Redwire says it’s the first time that a material designed to mimic lunar soil has been used for 3D printing in space.
The hardware launched on the NG-16 mission for the 3D printing demonstration includes three custom-designed printheads and three print bed surfaces, according to Redwire.
The material samples printed during the technical demonstration will be returned to Earth for analysis.
NASA and commercial companies are interested in 3D printing technology that could help make components and infrastructure on the moon’s surface. Future lunar explorers could make their own gear instead of bringing materials from Earth or relying on expensive freight shipments.
The NG-16 mission also delivered spare parts for the space station’s toilet, a storage rack for the laboratory airlock, and cooling fans for the station’s life support system.
The Cygnus spacecraft also delivered a “modification kit” to configure the space station’s solar power truss for the arrival of the next pair of new solar panels to be deployed in late 2022. The first two new solar panels were delivered to the station in June by a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule, beginning an upgrade that will expand the lab’s power generation capacity for another decade of operations.
Astronauts will install the “modification kit” on the station’s massive power beam during a spacewalk before the next two deployed solar panels arrive.
Other payloads for the NG-16 mission include a biomedical research investigation into microgravity muscle loss and an experiment to test a more efficient thermal control system that could be used to dissipate heat on future spacecraft.
One of the last experiences of the mission will be a heat shield technology test using three small capsules stowed inside the Cygnus spacecraft.
When the Cygnus breaks during re-entry, the capsules dive deeper into the atmosphere protected by heat shields made of different types of materials.
Led by engineers at the University of Kentucky, the experiment will collect data from sensors built into the heat shield of each capsule. The measurements will be transmitted to the scientific team via the Iridium satellite network.
The developers of the re-entry experiment say the data will help validate the computer models used in the design of spacecraft.
Here’s a breakdown of the NG-16 mission cargo:
- Crew supplies: 3,078 pounds (1,396 kilograms)
- Scientific investigations: 2,346 pounds (1,064 kilograms)
- Vehicle hardware: 2,286 pounds (1,037 kilograms)
- Unpressurized cargo: 106 pounds (48 kilograms)
- Spacewalk equipment: 33 pounds (15 kilograms)
- Computer resources: 98 pounds (44 kilograms)
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