Northrop Grumman ready to launch space station resupply mission – Spaceflight Now

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket rolls out from its launch pad February 15 in Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: NASA/Brian Bonsteel

An Antares rocket and a Cygnus spacecraft are scheduled to launch Saturday on Northrop Grumman’s 17th resupply mission to the International Space Station, carrying more than 8,000 pounds of research experiments and cargo from a launch pad in Virginia.

Ground crews from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the east coast of Virginia, spent Friday loading urgent cargo into the Cygnus spacecraft on the launch pad. Once final loading was complete, crews began steps to close the forward hatch of the Cygnus freighter and install the top of the rocket’s nose cone.

Launch Pad 0A technicians planned to raise the 139-foot-tall (42.5-meter) Antares rocket vertically overnight in preparation for the start of the five-hour countdown. Liftoff is scheduled for 12:40 p.m. EST (1740 GMT) Saturday, opening a five-minute launch window.

Forecasters predict a 75% chance of good weather for the liftoff of the Antares rocket on Saturday.

Two Russian-made RD-181 engines, burning kerosene and liquid oxygen, will fire for 3 minutes, 18 seconds, to launch the Cygnus freighter into space. The Antares rocket will lose its first stage, payload fairing, and interstage adapter before igniting a solid-fuel Castor 30XL second-stage engine to inject the Cygnus spacecraft into orbit.

The Antares upper stage will deploy the Cygnus spacecraft into a preliminary parking orbit at T+ plus 8 minutes, 49 seconds. The Cygnus spacecraft will deploy its fan-shaped solar panels in the early hours of the mission.

A series of thruster burns will guide the Cygnus spacecraft to the space station, culminating in the capture of the supply ship by the space station’s robotic arm at 4:35 a.m. EST (0935 GMT) Monday, assuming a launch at time Saturday.

NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Kayla Barron practice capturing the Cygnus freighter at the space station’s robotic workstation. Credit: NASA

NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Kayla Barron will use the space station’s Canadian-built robotic arm to grab the unmanned Cygnus spacecraft as it floats just 30 feet, or 10 meters, below the complex.

Ground crews will command the robotic arm to move the Cygnus spacecraft to a hardpoint on the space station’s Unity module, where it will stay for about three months.

The Cygnus resupply freighter will be the second freighter to arrive at the space station in less than a week, following the successful docking of the Russian Progress MS-19 spacecraft at the complex on Thursday.

The Cygnus mission, designated NG-17, will deliver more than 8,300 pounds (about 3,800 kilograms) of cargo to the space station. Here is a breakdown of the NG-17 cargo manifest:

• 2,980 pounds (1,352 kilograms) of crew supplies

• 2,883 pounds (1,308 kilograms) of vehicle material

• 1,975 pounds (896 kilograms) of scientific investigations

• 200 pounds (100 kilograms) of unpressurized cargo

• 132 pounds (60 kilograms) of spacewalk equipment

• 77 pounds (35 kilograms) of computing resources

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 resupply contracts cover 19 operational cargo missions through 2023.

The Cygnus spacecraft flying on Northrop Grumman’s NG-17 mission is named after Piers Sellers, a NASA astronaut and research scientist who died of cancer in 2016. Northrop Grumman announced that the spacecraft would be nicknamed “SS Piers Sellers” ahead of this weekend’s launch.

The mission patch for the NG-17 mission. 1 credit

The NG-17 mission will carry hardware for space station life support systems and support equipment to prepare for the arrival of new deployment solar arrays to the space station on a future SpaceX cargo mission. The new solar panels are smaller and more efficient than the station’s existing, aging and degrading solar panels.

The Cygnus spacecraft will deliver a Nanoracks deployer to jettison and dispose of space station waste through the company’s commercial Bishop airlock.

Along with the spare parts and equipment needed to keep the space station running smoothly, the Cygnus Cargo Freighter is loaded with over a ton of scientific research equipment.

Experiments heading to the space station on the NG-17 mission include investigating modified human skin cells to assess how they change in microgravity. Deterioration of skin tissue is part of normal aging. Similar changes occur in the human body in space, but they happen much faster.

Researchers will study skin cells in space in hopes of using them as a model for evaluating products to protect against skin damage from aging on Earth.

The Cygnus mission will also carry a combustion experiment to the space station to assess the flammability of different types of materials that could be used in future space missions, such as human expeditions to the Moon and Mars.

There is also a technology demonstration experiment to evaluate new sensors that can better detect hydrogen generated as a byproduct of the space station’s oxygen generation system.

Another experiment will examine the use of hydroponic, or water-based, and aeroponic, or air-based techniques to grow plants on the space station. Until now, astronauts have used conventional soil to grow vegetables on the station, but hydroponic and aeroponic systems could offer size and mass advantages for future deep space missions.

The Cygnus spacecraft will also launch with a Japanese technology demonstration of a new lithium-ion battery that could be used in future space missions, as well as two CubeSats for deployment from the space station’s Kibo module and at the exterior of the Cygnus freighter itself in the coming months. .

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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