Marking the beginning of regular supply runs to the International Space Station, Orbital Sciences Corporation sucessfully launched its Cygnus cargo craft aboard Antares rocket January 9 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Following a delay of several days due to record-breaking cold and a powerful solar flare, Antares blasted off on time at 1:07 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 0A and deployed Cygnus in orbit approximately 15 minutes later.
After separation from Antares, Cygnus deployed its solar arrays and prepare systems for rendezvous maneuvers. Cygnus will perform a series of thruster firings over the next three days to catch up to the International Space Station and set up for rendezvous with the station on the morning of the 12th. As Cygnus orbits the Earth, it will increase its altitude and moving closer to the space station on each orbit.
The launch of Antares was scheduled for Thursday after a launch attempt on Wednesday was scrubbed due to an unusually high level of space radiation that exceeded constraints imposed on Antares. Overnight examination of the space weather environment, Orbital’s engineering team, in consultation with NASA, determined that the risk to launch success was within acceptable limits established at the outset of the Antares program.
When the vehicle reaches the capture point about 12 m (39.4 ft.) from the complex, Cygnus will stop, at which point Expedition 38 Flight Engineers Mike Hopkins and Koichi Wakata will command the spacecraft into free drift mode. After receiving the “go” from NASA ground controllers, they will use Canadarm2, the station’s 57-foot robotic arm, to reach out and grapple Cygnus at 6:02 a.m. The crew then will use the robotic arm to guide Cygnus to its berthing port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node for installation beginning around 6:20 a.m.
The hatches between Cygnus and ISS are scheduled to be opened the next day so that unloading operations can begin in earnest. Already nearly a month late, Cygnus is carrying both critical crew supplies as well as sensitive experiments that need to be installed in he ISS laboratory quickly. In particular, the “ants in space” experiment requires power and consumables from the station to keep the ants alive more than a few days to a week.
The insect study isn’t the only cargo on board Cygnus. For its first official commercial resupply mission, designated Orbital-1, Cygnus is delivering 2,780 pounds of supplies to the space station, including vital science experiments for the Expedition 38 crew members aboard the orbiting laboratory.
“Ants in space” is technically referred to as the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus Science Insert – 06: Ants in Space (CSI-06). Students in grades K-12 will observe videos of the instect and conduct their own ant interaction investigations in their classrooms as part of a related curriculum.
The Ants in Space study examines the behavior of ants by comparing groups living on Earth to those in space. The idea is that ant interactions are dependent upon the number of ants in an area. Measuring these interactions may be important in determining behavior of ants in groups. This insight may add to existing knowledge of swarm intelligence, or how the complex behavior of a group is influenced by the actions of individuals.
A second investigation launching with the Orbital-1 mission is the SPHERES-Slosh study. SPHERES-Slosh will use the existing space station facility of free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES). The goal is to look at how liquids slosh around inside containers in microgravity, showing how applied external forces impact the contents of those containers. The experiments simulate how rocket fuels move around inside their tanks in response to motor thrusts used to push a rocket through space.
A third investigation aboard the Cygnus spacecraft is a study of drug-resistant bacteria. Drug-resistant bacteria are of increasing concern to public health. As bacteria grow more resistant to antibiotics, there are less effective pharmaceutical treatment options for people with bacterial infections. Researchers for the Antibiotic Effectiveness in Space (AES-1) investigation aboard the space station look to determine gene expression patterns and changes using E. coli.
Small, relatively inexpensive satellites, collectively referred to as CubeSats, will provide a variety of technology demonstrations using the NanoRacks Smallsat Deployment Program to launch the satellites from the station’s Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) airlock. The NanoRacks CubeSats are deployed using the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD). View the illustrated simulation to see how these small satellites are deployed into space.
Using crowdsourcing methods for funding, the NanoRacks-ArduSat-2 investigation will test advanced electronics and hardware in the space environment with only minimal adaptation. Built and operated by NanoSatisfi of San Francisco, sensors on the NanoRacks-ArduSat-2 are set to determine potential commercial applications for CubeSat data collection and commercial off-the-shelf electronics. Testing these sensors through this mini-satellite format may contribute to technological information that helps lower the cost of applications that use low-Earth observation techniques.
Another small satellite investigation, the NanoRacks-Planet Labs-Dove Flock-1, will use a fleet of 28 CubeSats – individually known as the Dove satellites – to capture imagery of Earth for use in humanitarian and environmental applications. Built and operated by Planet Labs Inc. of San Francisco, imagery from these CubeSats will help pinpoint areas for disaster relief and improving growth of agricultural products in developing countries around the globe. In addition, information from the Dove CubeSats will focus on environmental protection measures, such as monitoring deforestation and changes to polar ice caps. The data collected by Planet Labs’ CubeSats will be freely available for anyone to use.
A third example of some of the CubeSats launching with the Orbital-1 mission is the NanoRacks-SkyCube, developed by Southern Stars Group LLC of San Francisco. NanoRacks-SkyCube will provide an educational demonstration of the capabilities of CubeSats. To get the attention of the public, NanoRacks-Skycube will tweet from space via Twitter, capture imagery in orbit and use a balloon during its de-orbit and reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Cygnus will remain at the station until mid-February when it will be unberthed from the station for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean. That departure will clear the way for the arrival of Space Exploration Technologies’ SpaceX-3 commercial cargo mission aboard the Dragon spacecraft. These two back-to-back resupply missions by U.S. companies will mark a milestone in NASA’s ability to deliver critical new science payloads to the only laboratory in space.
(Article by Matthew Travis with source from NASA ISS Program Science And Public Affairs Office)