WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket lit the predawn sky over Virginia on Saturday (November 17) to launch a privately built Cygnus spacecraft filled with NASA supplies (and even some ice cream) to the International Space Station.
The Antares rocket rose in the cold skies over the east coast of Virginia with an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft filled with tons of scientific experiments, food and other supplies vital to the crew of the space station. The takeoff occurred at 4:01 a.m. EST (0901 GMT) from the Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport here at NASA's Wallops flight facility.
There are around 7,400 pounds. (3,400 kilograms) for the crew of Expedition 57 of three people from the station packed aboard the Cygnus spacecraft. That includes fresh fruit and ice cream, a welcome gift for astronauts, said Joel Montalbano, deputy program manager for the NASA station, before the launch. [See more amazing photos of the Antares launch]
If all goes well, the cargo ship will arrive early Monday (November 19) and will be captured with a robotic arm by the astronauts of the station. The mission, called NG-10, is the tenth flight of Cygnus to NASA under a commercial contract with Northrop Grumman.
Northrop Grumman named Cygnus S.S. John Young in honor of the famous astronaut of the NASA John Young, who flew in the missions Gemini 3 and 10, Apollo 10 and 16, and the flights of space shuttles STS-1 and STS-9. Young died in January at 87 years old.
Strange science in Cygnus
There is a very serious science that is launched into space in Cygnus.
Tara Ruttley, NASA's badociate chief scientist for microgravity research, said there is enough scientific equipment for more than 250 different experiments designed by scientists and students on Earth.
That includes a protein growth study conducted by the Michael J. Fox Foundation to investigate the structure of the LRRK2 protein, which has been implicated in the progression of Parkinson's disease.
"Knowing the elusive structure of this particular protein could help improve the therapeutic treatment of that disease," said Ruttley.
Another experiment is to send the first "lab-on-chip" experiment to the space station to study how muscle cells atrophy in weightlessness. Another team at Penn State University will use a small centrifuge on the space station to test how to make concrete in space for future bases on the Moon or Mars.
And then there's the Refabricadora. This combined 3D printer and recycler is designed not only to print items, but also to recycle plastic waste in the printer's feed material as a kind of "Star Trek" proto-replicator.
"It's a key part of the manufacturing technology demonstration roadmap in NASA space," said Ruttley.
Cygnus will remain stationed in the space station until February, when it will be filled with garbage and released to intentionally burn in the Earth's atmosphere. But before Cygnus destroys itself, it will deploy a series of small cubosats built by students and 105 small chipsats, small wafer-shaped satellites that measure only 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters) per side.
"They are like small circuit boards that can potentially integrate many different sensors," Ruttley said, adding that the chipset test aims to see how they survive. "They are, like, really small."
Double delivery per space station.
Today's launch of Antares and Cygnus comes just a day after another robotic cargo ship, the Progress 71 Russian vehicle, launched on its own mission to the space station. That mission launched about 3 tons of food, fuel and other supplies.
Progreso 71 will arrive at the space station on Sunday (November 18) with Cygnus to follow closely on Monday morning.
One thing not aboard Cygnus or Progress 71: a Thanksgiving dinner for the crew of the station.
Astronauts traditionally observe the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States as one of the many celebrations to mark the diverse cultures of station crews. The crew of the Expedition 57, for example, includes the American Serena Auńon-Chancellor, the Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev and the German commander Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency.
So, why is there no turkey dinner in Cygnus or Progress? There is a simple answer: dinner is already there. He was sent on an early refueling mission for the crew of Expedition 57, said Montalbano.
"We like to plan ahead," he added.
Editor's note: You can see the arrivals of Progress 71 and Cygnus live here, courtesy of NASA TV. The NASA Progress 71 webcast will begin on Sunday at 1:45 p.m. EST (1845 GMT). The Internet transmission of Cygnus NG-10 will start at 4 a.m. EST (0900 GMT).