Northrop Grumman launched its twelfth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 2. According to a NASA report, the Cygnus spacecraft blasted off from the space agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 9:59 a.m. ET.
This morning, flight controllers in Houston monitored the launch of @northropgrumman's Cygnus spacecraft to the International @Space_Station. 🚀 Cygnus will arrive Monday, November 4 with over 8,200 lbs of cargo for the orbiting laboratory and its crew. https://t.co/QL5xYuDMyu pic.twitter.com/GusXztWhk4
— Johnson Space Center (@NASA_Johnson) November 2, 2019
ISS Crew to Capture Cygnus Upon Arrival
An Antares 230+ rocket launched from the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A on Saturday. If all goes as planned, the spacecraft will deliver 8,200 pounds of cargo and science experiments to the ISS on November 4.
Using the orbiting lab’s robotic arm, Expedition 61 astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will capture the incoming vessel. The ship will dock just days after the space station’s 19th anniversary and stay there until January.
Upgraded Antares Rocket Allows Cargo ‘Flexibility’
Northrop Grumman’s NG-12 mission marks the company’s first flight under its Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract with NASA. Notably, the Antares rocket that flew on the inaugural flight featured multiple upgrades over previous versions.
Improvements included “An upgraded Stage 1 core, lighter composite structures, and an optimized second stage motor.” The enhanced core enabled the rocket engines “To perform at full thrust throughout most of the first stage flight profile.”
Furthermore, the company’s new rocket allowed for increased flexibility in the final pre-launch cargo load.
“With these upgrades, we are able to offer NASA more cargo capacity for their CRS-2 missions by increasing the performance of Antares. We are also providing more flexibility for the final cargo load,” said Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager of flight systems for Northrop Grumman, in a statement. “As a commercial partner to NASA, we are dedicated to providing the best value to our customers in support of their critical missions.”
In this case, greater load flexibility enabled ground teams to add “critical cargo” up to 24 hours before the scheduled launch. As such, time-sensitive payloads, like live rodents that are traveling onboard Cygnus, can safely fly to their new orbiting home.
According to a press release, the Virginia-based aerospace company will accomplish another impressive feat during the rocket’s journey. Namely, the NG-12 mission will be in orbit at the same time as the NG-11 Cygnus spacecraft. The latter vessel launched last April on an extended duration flight.
Overall, flying two vehicles at once shows that Cygnus spaceships are robust enough to support NASA’s ambitious orbital goals.
New Scientific Studies
Northrop Grumman named the NG-12 Cygnus spacecraft the “S.S. Alan Bean,” to commemorate Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean. Launched on November 14, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 12 mission marked the United States’ second lunar landing.
Five decades later, it seems fitting that the “S.S. Alan Bean” is delivering scientific studies to the ISS that could help crew members on future moon missions.
For example, Expedition 61 team members will perform the Comfort and Human Factors AstroRad Radiation Garment Evaluation (CHARGE) for the AstroRad Vest. Engineers designed the protective garment to shield astronauts from radiation caused by unpredictable solar particle events (SPEs).
ISS crew members will perform a series of tasks while wearing the vest and give feedback to ground teams. Ultimately, the garment could provide vital protection for space explorers on future missions to the moon and Mars.
Furthermore, the Made in Space – Recycler study will test systems that deep space exploration crews might need to recycle plastic into 3D printing filament. Astronauts have operated this 3D printer from aboard the ISS since 2016. Ideally, NASA hopes that future moon explorers can 3D print tools and other items as needed in space during long missions.
These are just a couple of the dozens of incoming studies that the Cygnus capsule will deliver to the space station on November 4. To date, ISS crew members have conducted over 2,600 experiments aboard the floating laboratory.
NASA will stream the NG-12 spacecraft’s docking at the station live on NASA TV.