Updated at 9:00 p.m. Oriental
WASHINGTON – A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket successfully launched a Cygnus spacecraft on April 17 with nearly three and a half tons of cargo bound for the International Space Station.
The Antares took off from the Mid-Atlantic regional spaceport at 4:46 p.m. This after a countdown was marred by a brief problem with the transporter / erector of the rocket that was resolved early in the afternoon. The Cygnus separated from the upper stage of the Antares rocket nine minutes after takeoff in what the controllers said was a nominal orbit, and deployed their solar panels almost three hours later.
"The spacecraft is very healthy. It is doing very well, "said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of space systems at Northrop Grumman in a post-launch briefing, after two takeoffs called" specific altitude burns "to lift the spacecraft. Those burns are a new capability in the Cygnus, he said, that helps shorten the time it takes the ship to get to the station.
The Cygnus, which carries 3,436 kilograms of cargo, is scheduled to be captured by the robotic arm of the station at approximately 5:30 am on April 19 to the east. It will remain at the station for approximately 90 days before being evacuated, after which it will move to a greater orbit and fly an extended mission of at least six months to test its ability to serve as a free flight platform for technology demonstrations and experiments. .
Of that load, 1,569 kilograms are reserved for scientific research. That research includes an experiment with rodents to test the effects of space flight on the function of production of antibodies and immune memory, an experiment by a company called FOMS to test the production of high-quality optical fibers in microgravity and two robots called Astrobees that They will be able to maneuver inside the station supporting the investigation there.
The Astrobe are the successors of SPHERES, a set of small spherical robots that have been in the station for several years for demonstrations of technology and educational applications. "SPHERES has been in orbit for more than a decade," said Maria Bualat, of the NASA Ames Research Center, in a pre-launch briefing on April 16. "They are a bit limited in their computing power and they are just getting old."
In addition to the Cygnus, the Antares carried 60 secondary charge charges "ThinSat", released from the upper stage of the rocket several minutes after the deployment of the Cygnus together with a single conventional cube. Each ThinSat has the same length and width as a cubosat of a single unit, but only has a fraction of thickness, which allows it to be able to fly more in the same volume.
Students from schools in nine states built the ThinSats flown in this mission as part of educational projects sponsored by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. The ThinSats, deployed in orbits at an altitude of 200 to 250 kilometers, will remain in orbit for about five days before re-entering. "It's going to give us a lot of information that is not normally collected" because satellites rarely operate at such low altitudes, said Chris Hale, program manager for the Virginia Space ThinSat program.
The five days of life have another advantage, said Bob Twiggs, the cubesat co-investor who helped design the ThinSat concept and its educational curriculum: "It's the period of student attention."
This mission, designated NG-11, is the latest for the company under its original Commercial Replenishment Services (CRS) contract awarded by NASA in 2008. Subsequent missions, which will begin with NG-12 this fall, will take place under the CRS-2 contract awarded in 2016.
Those missions will use an improved version of the Antares 230+ rocket with several changes to improve its payload performance by up to 800 kilograms, said Kurt Eberly, vice president of Antares at Northrop Grumman. These improvements include the reduction of the vehicle's mbad and the strengthening of its structure to allow its RD-181 engines to remain at 100 percent thrust during the ascent.