Tag Archives: Cygnus

ISS Status Update: Cargo Craft Coming and Going

The ISS is going into another busy period with upcoming cargo ship movements.  First off, the latest Cygnus spacecraft, SS Gene Cernan, was unberthed and released to fly on its own.  SS Gene Cernan now moves into the second part of its mission: deploying nanosatellites, conducting another fire test (Saffire-III, the third and final in the series), and then deorbiting itself safely over the ocean.

The next bit of news is SpaceX preparing for their next flight to the ISS.  This will mark the return to flight of LC-40, the Cape Canaveral launchpad that was badly damaged in a Falcon 9/Dragon mishap last year.  Liftoff is currently scheduled for December 12, and their traditional pre-flight test fire was conducted yesterday, reinaugurating LC-40’s flame trench (skip ahead two minutes for the fire):


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Cygnus will fly in 360 degrees tomorrow!

United Launch Alliance has earned a reputation for some impressive video production efforts post-launch, and tomorrow, in collaboration with NASA, they’ve decided to up their game.  The 360 launch videos they’ve posted before aren’t enough — this time, for the first time ever, they’re going to stream a launch live in 360.  (This will also be the first 360 video of an Atlas launch; ULA’s previous 360 videos featured Delta IVs, including a Delta IV Heavy.)  So grab your Oculus Rift or your smartphone cardboard VR goggle adapters or just a 360-compatible browser (psst — I use Opera) and tune in to NASA’s channel on YouTube tomorrow.  The stream will start around 11AM Eastern Daylight Time.

If you don’t know what a 360 video is, it’s a video that you can pan around in over a 360 degree range while it plays.  It’s pretty incredible, and makes it feel so much more alive!

If you want a taste of what it will be like, or if you just want to make sure your equipment will show it in 360, here are ULA’s past 360 videos.  If it’s working, it’ll look just like a normal video — except if you click and drag, you’ll move around.  If it’s not working, you’ll see it all warped and weird looking, and you should try a different browser or player.


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Space updates: Soyuz MS-02 returns, John Glenn to fly again, Chinasat 16, and Cassini’s next step

I’ve been way busy the last few days, so I regret I have not posted as often as I’d like.  But I’ll start making up for that.  😉  First off, the landing of Soyuz MS-02 from the ISS!  The imagery is great; you even get to see the capsule venting hydrogen peroxide as it descends under parachute (at which point the thrusters are no longer useful, so they dump the propellant to make it safer on the ground).  This completes the Expedition 50 mission.  On board were Sergey Ryzhikov, Andrey Borisenko and Shane Kimbrough.  Two crew will launch on the next Soyuz, due to funding constraints at Roscosmos which has forced them to make the difficult decision to reduce their crew size.  On a positive note, the commander of Expedition 51, who took command upon this crew’s departure, is Peggy Whitson, and NASA has just decided to extend her mission by three months.  She currently holds the female spaceflight endurance record, and by the end of her extended mission, will also capture the American spaceflight endurance record.

Meanwhile, in Florida, crews are preparing the next Cygnus vehicle, named for astronaut John Glenn, to be launched aboard an Atlas V to the ISS.  This trip will carry experiments to create new targeted chemo drugs in microgravity for Oncolinx (an experiment which will consume a lot of crew time; it’s stuff that cannot be done anywhere else), a crystal growth experiment that goes beyond the basic science of previous experiments and aims to build new radiation detectors, a mini greenhouse (the most sophisticated sent to space to date) with wheat and Arabidopsis seeds, 34 Cubesats in the pressurized compartment (to be deployed later from Kibo), and 4 Cubesats to be deployed by Cygnus itself after departing the station.  Finally, there are two experiments to be carried after Cygnus has completed its primary mission — the third SAFIRE test to better understand fire in microgravity, and three small reentry bodies that will be ejected prior to Cygnus’ reentry, a process which they are expected to survive.  They will splash down in the ocean and sink, however, so they aren’t expected to be recovered.  Instead, they will be continuously transmitting temperature data via the Iridium constellation, allowing testing of new heat shield materials under real-world circumstances.  Note: launch was delayed from March to April 18 due to a launch vehicle technical issue which has been resolved.

And although Falcon 9 has taken a lot of business away from Chinese launch vehicles, they still have a solid lock on their burgeoning government program.  A Long March 3B blasted off from Xichang with the Shijan 13 (Chinasat 16) communications satellite on board.  This is the highest-bandwidth spacecraft that China has launched, and in addition to acting as a technology demonstrator for several projects (including ion propulsion and laser communications), it will provide high-bandwidth Internet service to airline, ship, and train passengers in and near China.

And lastly, on a bittersweet note, yesterday JPL uploaded the instructions for Cassini’s next Titan flyby.  In six days the Cassini spacecraft is moving towards a major milestone — the last flyby of Titan.  This flyby will be used as a gravity assist to move the spacecraft from its current ring-grazing phase to the final phase of the mission, called the Grand Finale.  It will fly closer to Saturn that anything ever has before, completing several orbits before impacting Saturn in September.  But it will return astonishing data that could not be captured any other way, including passes through the tenuous outer atmosphere of Saturn and through the D ring itself.

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ISS arrivals; Soyuz MS-02 and Cygnus “SS Alan Poindexter”

The ISS is a busy place!  They’ve had two arrivals in the past few days.  First off, Soyuz MS-02 arrived following a two-day chase.  It docked to the Poisk module located at the zenith port of Zvezda’s forward compartment.  This lovely time-lapse has the perfect musical score to go along:

And now, the Cygnus OA-5 mission, with the spacecraft “SS Alan Poindexter”, has arrived at the ISS.  Crews on board captured the spacecraft with the SSRMS; ground controllers later took over and completed the berthing remotely while the crew slept, mating the spacecraft to the nadir port of the Unity node of the ISS.

Orbital ATK names each of their cargo vehicles, and the tradition they’ve chosen is to name each for a deceased astronaut.  Alan Poindexter, this spacecraft’s namesake, joined the astronaut corps in 1998, later flying on two missions, STS-122 and STS-131.  The latter was the longest mission for the Space Shuttle Discovery, at 15 days 2 hours, 47 min, 11 seconds.  Poindexter retired from NASA in 2010, one of many realizing they would never get another chance to fly into space.  He tragically passed away at the age of 50 in 2012 in a personal watercraft accident.  But thanks to Orbital ATK, his name at least can fly in space one more time.

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Antares has returned to flight, and Schiaparelli has been released!

Two exciting moments in spaceflight today!  First off, the much-anticipated return to flight for Antares, launching from Wallops Island in Virginia and delivering the Cygnus “SS Alan Poindexter” on the OA-5 mission to the International Space Station.  Alan Poindexter has since deployed its circular solar arrays, a lightweight design making its third flight on this mission, and is making its way towards the ISS.  Capture and berthing is expected Sunday.  Antares had a spectacular failure on its last flight, using 1960s legacy NK-33 engines.  The new Antares has brand new RD-181 engines from NPO Energomash in Russia on its first stage; the first stage tankage and plumbing, meanwhile, are still built by the Ukrainian company Yuzhnoye, while the upper stage is a Castor-30 solid fuel rocket built in house by Orbital ATK.

Cygnus OA-5 is named for Alan Poindexter.  Orbital has established a tradition of naming their cargo vessels for deceased astronauts.  Poindexter was an accomplished naval aviator and test pilot, who after joining the astronaut corps went on to make two missions into space aboard the Space Shuttle.  Upon retiring from the astronaut corps, he returned to the Navy as an educator.  However, he tragically died just two years later at the age of 50 in a boating accident.

Meanwhile, millions of miles away, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has released the Schiaparelli lander.  This is ESA’s first attempt to land on the red planet.  (Beagle 2, which piggybacked on Mars Express, was a purely British enterprise.)  The Trace Gas Orbiter then performed a Mars avoidance maneuver; at the time of release, it was on a Mars collision course, which was necessary in order for the lander to end up on the right trajectory.  TGO will enter Mars orbit in two days, while Schiaparelli will be entering the atmosphere the same day — there will be some very tense controllers in Darmstadt for sure.  ExoMars is a European-Russian joint program that actually spans two missions — this one, launched by the Russians in exchange for carrying some Russian instruments originally designed for the Phobos-Grunt mission, and a second one in 2018 that will feature a rover.  It’s an ambitious move in Europe’s planetary program; cross your fingers for them!

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Stuff going up and down again: PSLV and Cygnus!

First off, India’s PSLV made another successful flight, racking up its quota of successful low-cost launches to Earth orbit!  In fact, it set a domestic record, carrying 20 satellites to orbit on this mission, easily a record for India, for customers in Indonesia, Canada, Germany, and the United States, including a Google payload.

Secondly, the Cygnus spacecraft from Orbital Sciences has completed its mission at the ISS and its post-ISS mission to conduct a fire experiment called SAFIRE.  There will be more SAFIRE tests on future Cygnus flights, to better understand how fire propagates (or doesn’t) in weightlessness at scales not possible inside of crewed spacecraft for safety reasons.

Here’s raw video of the actual flames observed inside of Cygnus’ SAFIRE experiment module:

Then, yesterday, Cygnus fired its engines one last time to auger itself in over the South Pacific, carrying one last experiment: REBR, a Re-Entry Breakup Recorder, a device that has been flown on a few other returning disposable spacecraft such as ATV and HTV, to better understand how the breakup happens during reentry, with an eye to improving safety for the vehicles we want to actually survive the process.  Waste not, want not.  😉

This particular Cygnus was named the SS Rick Husband, in honor of the late commander of STS-107, the final flight of Columbia.

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Cygnus CRS-6 “Rick Husband” Has Reached the Space Station

The second (and possibly final, pending the Antares return to flight) launch of Cygnus aboard an Atlas V was successful yesterday evening, and Cygnus has arrived at the International Space Station.  Like all Cygnus, this one was named for a deceased astronaut, in this case Rick Husband.  During his career, Husband made two flights, the first one being as pilot aboard STS-96, an ISS resupply mission aboard Discovery, and the other being as commander aboard STS-107, the tragic final flight of Columbia, which broke up during its return on February 1, 2003.

As with the last flight, the greater capacity of Atlas V allowed them to stretch the Cygnus into the “Enhanced Cygnus” design.  (The redesigned Antares 200 will also be able to lift the Enhanced Cygnus.)  This mission is carrying 3,513 kg of payload: 1,139 kg of crew supplies (clothing, food, etc., including items for the Russian crewmembers; both American and Russian cargo providers share duties routinely), 1,108 kg of ISS gear (fresh filters, toilet parts, circuitboards, etc.), 777 kg of scientific experiments, 98 kg of computer gear, and 157 kg of US spacesuit parts.  Additionally, Cygnus is carrying a unique experiment called Saffire-1 which will not be left on the station.  It’s an experiment which will deliberately start a fire inside the Cygnus’ pressurized module and see how it behaves and how well various materials stand up to it.  The experiment will be entirely autonomous and will only occur after the spacecraft had departed the station and is ready to deorbit.

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