Astronauts aboard the International Space Station Sunday used a robotic arm to capture and attach the Cygnus supply spacecraft, which carried dozens of new science experiments from across the country and the world to the orbiting laboratory. The arrival capped the first successful contracted cargo delivery by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., for NASA.
“Our first mission under the CRS contract with NASA was flawlessly executed by our Antares and Cygnus operations team, from the picture-perfect launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to the rendezvous, capture and berthing at the space station this morning,” said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts.”
After Cygnus was launched into orbit by Orbital’s Antares rocket on Thursday, January 9 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, it completed a series of thruster firings and other maneuvers bringing the spacecraft in close proximity to the ISS.
Final approach to the station began at about 3:00 a.m. EST. Astronaut Mike Hopkins of NASA grappled the spacecraft at 6:08 a.m. EST and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency attached Cygnus to the space station’s Harmony Node at 8:05 a.m. The Expedition 38 crew members aboard the station will begin unloading the 2,780 pounds (1,261 kilograms) of supplies aboard Cygnus following hatch opening planned for Monday.
The cargo is comprised of vital science experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and other hardware. This includes 23 student-designed science experiments. One newly arrived investigation will study the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight. Another will examine how different fuel samples burn in microgravity, which could inform future design for spacecraft materials.
Orbital’s Cygnus was launched on the company’s Antares rocket Thursday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Under a $1.9 billion CRS contract with NASA, Orbital will use Antares and Cygnus to deliver up to 44,000 pounds (20,000 kilograms) of cargo to the ISS over eight missions, including the mission currently underway, through late 2016.
Cygnus will remain attached to Harmony until a planned unberthing in February 18 sends the spacecraft toward a destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere.
Orbital Sciences is one of two companies that built and tested new cargo spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. COTS was completed late last year with an Orbital Sciences demonstration mission to the space station. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the other company that partnered with NASA under COTS, also is providing commercial resupply services for the agency. U.S. commercial cargo delivery flights to the station help ensure a robust national capability to deliver critical science research to orbit, significantly increasing NASA’s ability to conduct new science investigations aboard the only laboratory in microgravity.
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