S.S. Gene Cernan set to conduct cargo run to International Space Station
WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, Va. — NASA and Orbital ATK are preparing to launch some 7,385 pounds (3,350 kg) of cargo, crew supplies, and experiments to the International Space Station aboard the S.S. Gene Cernan (Cygnus CRS OA-8E) spacecraft. The mission is currently scheduled to fly on November 11, 2017, at 7:37 a.m. EST (12:37 GMT) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0A.
The Antares 230 rocket began rolling to Pad 0A on Thursday, November 9, at around 1:00 a.m. EST with the rocket being raised into the vertical position a few hours later in preparation for flight.
Mission managers, like Orbital ATK’s Kurt Eberly, will have approximately five minutes this Saturday to get Antares and the S.S. Gene Cernan off the launch pad and into the morning skies above Wallops Island, Virginia.
When it launches, if conditions permit, it should be visible from as far away as New York City to the North and to Wilmington NC to the south. The T-48 hour forecast shows a 95 percent probability of acceptable weather for a launch on November 11.
The mission, known as OA-8, will take food, water, and other supplies to the orbiting outpost as well as bringing new science experiments to the crew in space.
This will be the second flight of the re-engineered Antares 230 rocket since a catastrophic explosion just seconds after liftoff destroyed an Antares rocket during another resupply mission on October 28, 2014. The cause of the explosion was linked to the turbopump inside of the AJ26 rocket engine they were utilizing. The AJ26 was not a newly built engine, rather a refurbished Russian NK-33 engine which was originally built in the late 1960s to early 1970s.
The updated Antares 230 booster utilizes a pair of the newly built RD-181 first stage engines which produce 100,000 lbf (445 kN) more thrust than the AJ26s they replaced, which allows the booster to ferry a heavier payload to orbit.
This will be Orbital ATK’s second resupply mission this year. The first flight, known as OA-7, launched on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster from Cape Canaveral Florida instead of an Antares rocket. The Atlas V was used to allow a bit more upmass to the International Space Station.
In keeping with a tradition that Orbital ATK started a few years ago, they have named the Cygnus cargo freighter after Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan who passed away earlier this year. Captain Cernan was a Navy Veteran who flew on Gemini IX, Apollo X, and as the commander of Apollo 17, he remains the last human to have walked on the Moon.
The S.S. Gene Cernan that will ride the Antares 230 aloft has a Service Module that is based on the heritage GEOStar and LEOStar systems as well as a Pressurized Cargo Module that is based on the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. The spacecraft has a total cargo mass capacity of 7,100 pounds (3,200 kg) to 7,716 pounds (3,500 kg) and generates power via two fixed-wing UltraFlex ZTJ Gallium Arsenide solar arrays, which are capable of generating some 3.5 kilowatts of power.
When it comes to how much payload the spacecraft is capable of ferrying aloft, Kurt Eberly, Orbital ATK’s Launch Director and Program Manager for Antares, had a unique method of conveying how much the spacecraft was capable of sending to the space station.
“On the OA-8 mission, we are set to carry 3,350 kilograms of cargo, that’s the largest amount of cargo that we’ve carried on an Antares mission with Cygnus,” Eberly told SpaceFlight Insider. “Just to give you a sense for how much cargo that is, that’s the equivalent of three classrooms full of fifth graders, so about 105 average fifth graders. I have a fifth grader of my own, and I can tell you that they are pretty heavy, but that should give you a sense for how much cargo we’re going to bring up to the astronauts on the space station on this mission.”
This will be the eighth time a Cygnus spacecraft will make a delivery to the space station.
After Cygnus has docked and is unloaded, the crew will utilize this spacecraft as an extension of the orbiting laboratory for the first time, which will be for an experiment employing the Space-Tango facility named TangoLab-1. TangoLab is a reconfigurable general research facility currently on board the space station that can be configured in different ways depending on the type of experiments. The Cygnus spacecraft will stay docked for approximately a month which will allow time for the crew to move TangoLab into the spacecraft and return it to the station after the experiment is complete.
The experiment to be conducted inside of the TangoLab was designed by students who participated in Go For Launch!. Go For Launch! is a program sponsored by non-profit Higher Orbits, which aspires to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education in schools across the country.
The team that won, the “Saguaro Snakes”, designed an experiment which will evaluate the growth of peanut plants in microgravity and will explore how nitrogen deposited in the soil can be used to grow additional plants in space.
“The ‘Saguaro Snakes’ represent the very best of what we’re trying to accomplish which is to develop the next generation of space explorers,” said Frank Culbertson, former NASA astronaut and President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “The team presented us with an innovative and well thought out concept that explores how peanut plants grow in space. It was a tough decision with many worthy competitors[,] but the ‘Saguaro Snakes’ earned the opportunity to take the next step on their journey towards deep space exploration and beyond. We are honored to host their experiment aboard our company’s Cygnus spacecraft on an upcoming mission to the International Space Station.”
After about a month docked to the space station, Cygnus will undock, but its work is not done: it has a NanaRacks deployer on board which will release 14 CubeSats into orbit – a new record for the spacecraft.
Finally, loaded with trash the crew will have loaded on board, Cygnus will perform a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.
If you are unable to see the launch in person, it will be streamed live on SFI LIVE with coverage starting at 7:00 a.m EST.
Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.