A Northrop Grumman Antares missile propelled the Cygnus cargo ship into orbit on Saturday after a picture-perfect launch from the East Coast in Virginia, with more than 8,000 pounds of supplies and equipment bound for the International Space Station.
Two engines of the first stage of the Russian-made RD-181 missile ignited at 12:36 p.m., suffocated to maximum thrust and propelled the booster skyward from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Space Port – MARS – on NASA’s Wallops Island, Virginia, flight Facility.
The Antares 230+ rocket boarded directly into the space station’s orbit plane, and blasted off on a southeast trajectory to begin the company’s 15th Space Station cargo flight.
The ascent from the lower atmosphere went smoothly and two minutes and 45 seconds after the launch of the second stage of the solid fuel missile, the cargo ship Cygnus was launched to fly alone, on its way to catch up with the station early Monday. .
Along with research materials, spare parts, and other equipment, the spacecraft will also bring fresh food to the station crew.
“Some of the things we’re sending will include perishable items like parmesan, cheddar, apples, tomatoes, nuts, dried meats and even a little bit of candy,” said David Brady, an associate program scientist with the space station.
Also on board: Smoked maple salmon for “crew who love to fish”.
“We want to make them happy, because it helps them be more productive and allows us to do more science,” Brady quipped.
The primary goal of Cygnus’ mission is to provide scientific equipment and supplies for ongoing research using the microgravity environment on board the space station.
One experiment will use small worms to learn more about how astronaut muscles lose strength in the absence of gravity, while another explores better ways to make mesh implants that can help people with degenerative vision disorders maintain or improve their vision.
An advanced computer capable of processing and compressing data will be tested faster and equipment will be installed to modernize the urine recycling system at the plant. Also on board: New radiation detectors that will be used on future missions to the moon and beyond.
“Research on the International Space Station is now in full bloom,” said program scientist Heidi Paris. “There are hundreds of different experiments taking place simultaneously on the International Space Station, and they are working on activating the work of some of the most intelligent scientific minds in the world.”
She said the research “is trying to improve our daily life on Earth, as well as to further expand our capabilities for space exploration in the future.”
If all goes well, the Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the station early Monday. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi and his colleague Mike Hopkins will capture the cargo ship using a robotic arm in the laboratory. After that, flight controllers at Johnson Space Center in Houston will remotely control the towing of the ship for docking.
“This vehicle is carrying more than 8,000 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station,” said Joel Montalbano, station program manager in Houston. “We have spoken to the crew on board (and) anxiously awaiting the arrival of Cygnus, looking forward to opening the hatch, getting inside and continuing the science and research program that we have outlined.”
Northrop Grumman Corporation named its Cygnus cargo ships after prominent men and women who played important roles in the US space program. For Saturday’s flight, the spacecraft was named in honor of Katherine Johnson, the late mathematician who in the early years of the space program played a major role in the movie Hidden Figures.
“It is our tradition to name each Cygnus after an individual who has played a pivotal role in human spaceflight,” said Frank Demauro, Vice President and General Manager of Northrop Grumman. Mrs. Johnson was chosen for her handwritten accounts that helped launch the first Americans into space, as well as for her achievements in breaking glass ceiling after glass ceiling as a black woman.
“She is an inspiration to a lot of people, especially women of color, and she’s proven time and time again that ethnic barriers and glass ceilings are breakable and shouldn’t be there in the first place.”