ISS Expedition 40 crewmember Alexander Gerst captured this amazing photo of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-2 resupply craft re-entering Earth’s atmosphere today following its unberthing on August 15. This was the second contracted space station resupply mission for Orbital under its NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract.

Cygnus Orb-2 Quick Facts:

Orbital Sciences Corporation’s second contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station will deliver more than 3,000 pounds of science and research, crew supplies, vehicle hardware and spacewalk tools to the orbital complex and its crew. The scientific payloads on the Cygnus spacecraft include a group of small nanosatellites that will capture imagery of Earth, an investigation that will be used to help develop a devise that could enable small sample returns from the space station, and a suite of student-designed experiments that focus on studies ranging from food growth to the effects of microgravity on oxidation. Cygnus will spend approximately one month attached to the space station, at which point the crew will detach it from the Harmony module before its release. The spacecraft will dispose of approximately 3,000 pounds of trash during its fiery demise upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

On the Orbital-1 mission in January, Planet Labs of San Francisco launched an initial fleet of 28 CubeSats, individually known as Dove satellites, from the space station. This collective group of small, relatively inexpensive, nanosatellites, known as Flock 1, will be joined by 28 additional Dove satellites, Flock 1b, on the Orbital-2 mission. They will deploy using the NanoRacks Smallsat Deployment Program to launch from the space station’s Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) airlock. Once deployed, these two flocks will work in unison and capture imagery of the entire planet on a more frequent basis. These images can be used to help identify and track natural disasters and responses to them, as well as improve environmental and agricultural monitoring and management.

The satellite-related investigation TechEdSat-4 is part of a larger ongoing study, the Small Payload Quick Return system, which provides a means of returning small payloads in a temperature and pressure controlled environment from the space station. TechEdSat-4 will deploy using the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer. Its primary objectives are to further develop a tension-based drag device, or “Exo-Brake,” and demonstrate frequent uplink/downlink control capabilities. Engineers believe exo-brakes eventually will enable small samples return from the station or other orbital platforms to Earth.

The National Center for Earth and Space Science-Charlie Brown, in association with the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program (SSEP), is an initiative of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, held in partnership with NanoRacks LLC. This STEM education initiative provides numerous students across the U.S. the ability to propose and design real experiments to fly on the space station. This investigation consists of 15 independent studies that were selected out of 1,344 student team proposals. These individual studies range from food growth and consumption, to determining the effect of microgravity on oxidation, to even the production of penicillin on the space station.

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