Space station cargo resupply missions from U.S. soil resumed today with the successful return to flight of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft on the OA-4 mission. Delayed three days due to inclement weather at Cape Canaveral, Cygnus blasted off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 4:44 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41, quickly disappearing into the low cloud deck on its way to orbit and rendezvous with ISS early Wednesday morning.
“NASA is delighted at the continued progress made possible by our investment in commercial space,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. “As we celebrate Orbital ATK’s success with its fourth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station, we look forward to the next milestones of our other commercial partners, including commercial crew launches from American soil in the near future. All these missions are critical to our journey to Mars – a journey we have already begun.”
The mission is Orbital ATK’s fourth cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. This is the first flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft to the station. The cargo freighter now features a greater payload capacity, new UltraFlex™ solar arrays and new fuel tanks. Cygnus’ pressurized cargo module has been extended and increases the spacecraft’s interior volume capacity by 25 percent, allowing up to 50% more cargo to be delivered with each mission. It’s also the first Cygnus mission using the Atlas V launch system.
“This launch marks the completion of the critical first step of our go-forward plan for the CRS-1 contract to meet our commitments to NASA,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space System Group. “Everything looks great in this early stage of the mission. I congratulate the combined NASA, ULA and Orbital ATK team for its hard work to get us to this point, and I look forward to completing another safe and successful flight to the ISS in several days.”
The OA-4 mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and no solid rocket boosters. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.
“Congratulations to the team on today’s successful launch! Partnering with Orbital ATK to launch the Cygnus resupply vehicle to the ISS for NASA, a first for ULA, marks a great achievement for the team, and has provided a critical service to the nation and to the crew on the ISS,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “This mission is delivering more than 7,000 pounds of cargo including supplies for the crew and critical materials supporting science and research investigations.”
“In the 12 months since this launch was ordered, the ULA and Orbital ATK teams worked very closely together to integrate the Cygnus with the Atlas launch system, including development of a new structural adapter and also a mission design that includes a 30-minute launch window for this ISS rendezvous mission,” said Sponnick.
The Cygnus spacecraft will be grappled at approximately 6:10 a.m. on Wednesday, December 9. Cygnus will remain attached to the station for approximately 50 days before departing with roughly 5,050 pounds (2,300 kilograms) of disposable cargo for a safe, destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean.
Like most Orbital ATK spacecraft, Cygnus is compatible with multiple launch vehicles. This capability, combined with the flexibility of ULA’s Atlas V, enabled Orbital ATK to carry out the mission on a shortened schedule to be responsive to NASA’s ISS logistics requirements. Another Cygnus mission on an Atlas V will be launched in March, after which Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket will launch at least two ISS resupply missions in the second and fourth quarters of 2016.
“This launch begins a high tempo of cargo resupply missions supporting the International Space Station,” said Culbertson. “With our enhanced Cygnus spacecraft and upgraded Antares rocket, we are prepared to continue delivering vital cargo to the ISS for the foreseeable future.”
Under the CRS contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 62,000 pounds (28,000 kilograms) of cargo to the ISS over 10 missions through early 2018. For these missions, NASA will manifest a variety of essential items based on ISS program needs, including food, clothing, crew supplies, spare parts, laboratory equipment and scientific experiments. Orbital ATK also provides a critical service by providing large-volume pressurized disposal cargo.
The Cygnus system consists of a common service module and a pressurized cargo module. The service module is built and tested at Orbital ATK’s Dulles, Virginia manufacturing facility. It uses avionics systems from Orbital ATK’s LEOStar™ and GEOStar™ satellite product lines, plus propulsion and power systems from Orbital ATK’s GEOStar™ communications satellites. The pressurized cargo module is based on the space shuttle Multi-Purpose Logistics Module developed by Thales Alenia Space for NASA.
Science payloads delivered by Cygnus will support science and research investigations that will occur during the space station’s Expeditions 45 and 46, including experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that impacts life on Earth. Investigations will offer a new life science facility that will support studies on cell cultures, bacteria and other microorganisms, a microsatellite deployer and the first microsatellite that will be deployed from the space station, and experiments that will study the behavior of gases and liquids and clarify the thermo-physical properties of molten steel and evaluations of flame-resistant textiles.
The Space Automated Bioproduct Lab is a new space life science facility that is designed to support a wide variety of fundamental, applied and commercial space life sciences research, as well as education-based investigations for students from kindergarten through university. The facility will support research on microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeast, algae, fungi, and viruses, as well as animal cells and tissues and small plant and animal organisms.
NanoRacks-MicroSat-SIMPL is a modular, hyper integrated satellite designed to provide complete satellite functionality in a nanosatellite scale. It will be the first NanoRacks microsatellite deployed from the space station and the first propulsion-capable satellite deployed from the NanoRacks-MicroSat-Deployer known as Kaber. The commercial deployer system aims to address the growing market of customers wanting to deploy microsatellites in orbit.
The Packed Bed Reactor Experiment studies the behavior of gases and liquids when they flow simultaneously through a column filled with fixed porous media, which is of interest in many chemical and biological processing systems, as well as numerous geophysical applications.
BASS-M (Burning and Suppression of Solids – Milliken) will evaluate flame retardant and resistant textiles as a mode of personal protection from fire-related hazards. Studying flame retardant and resistant behavior of different materials in microgravity will aid in better designs for future textiles and benefit those who wear protective clothing, such as military personnel and civilian workers in the electrical and energy industries.
The Nodes satellites, sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and developed by the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, consist of two CubeSats weighing 4.5 pounds each and measuring 4 inches by 4 inches by 6.5 inches. They are an example of how technology drives innovation, as they will test new network capabilities for operating swarms of spacecraft in the future.
In addition, Cygnus will deliver replacement cargo items including a set of Microsoft HoloLens devices for use in NASA’s Sidekick project, a safety jet pack astronauts wear during spacewalks known as SAFER, and high pressure nitrogen and oxygen tanks to plug into the station’s air supply network.
Cygnus will be grappled at approximately 6:10 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9, by NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, using the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. Scott Kelly of NASA will support Lindgren in a backup position. The spacecraft will spend more than a month attached to the space station before its destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of about 3,000 pounds of trash.
ULA’s next launch is the GPS IIF-12 satellite for the U.S. Air Force, scheduled for Feb. 3, 2016, from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Meanwhile, SpaceX is targeting a mid- to late-December launch of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket on its return-to-flight mission following a failed ISS resupply launch on June 28, 2015.
(NASA, United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK)