Final Antares 230+ rocket launches NG-19 Cygnus spacecraft
In near-perfect weather, the final Antares 230+ rocket took to the skies to send the Cygnus cargo spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station.
Carrying the autonomous NG-19 Cygnus resupply freighter, dubbed the S.S. Laurel Clark, the Antares rocket successfully launched at 8:31 p.m. EDT Aug. 1 (00:31 UTC Aug. 2), 2023, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It flawlessly lofted from its launchpad, drawing a bright arc of light against the fading evening sunset, marking the start of another critical cargo run to the ISS.
Some 8,200 pounds (3,700 kilograms) of supplies, hardware and experiments are aboard NG-19. It is expected to arrive at the ISS on the morning of Aug. 4 where it will be captured by the outpost’s robotic arm and attached to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.
Over the coming weeks, members of the station’s Expedition 69 crew will work to unload the cargo before beginning to reload it with trash. After about two months, Cygnus is expected to depart the ISS for an eventual destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean.
The final 200 series Antares rocket
Northrop Grumman had partnered with Russian manufacturer NPO Energomash for the Antares rocket’s RD-181 engines, and core tank design and design verification by KB Yuzhnoye of Ukraine. Core tank production was done by Yuzhmash, also of Ukraine.
While Northrop Grumman had planned to move to domestic production of the Antares rocket to allow it to bid on Department of Defense contracts, the Russian invasion of Ukraine expedited the move. The company announced a partnership in August of 2022 with Firefly Aerospace to build an upgraded version, which will be called Antares 330.
Like the 230+ variant, the 330 variant is expected to utilize the Northrop Grumman Castor 30XL motor as its second stage. The Castor series traces its origins back to the late 1950s, being initially crafted for the Scout and Little Joe programs that were also launched from Wallops Island. The 30XL variation employs solid propellant and is a development from the traditional CASTOR 120 motor, which was employed on the Minotaur-C launch vehicles.
Exploring gene therapy for neurons
Neuronix, funded by the ISS National Lab, exhibits the development of 3D neuron cell cultures in microgravity and trials a neuron-specific gene therapy.
Roughly one-sixth of the global population suffer from various neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and migraines. Gene therapy carries potential as a viable treatment for these individuals, but creating the required 3D models for testing these therapies is impossible under Earth’s gravity.
Insight from this research could propel advancements in disease modeling and potentially spur the creation of novel therapies to combat neurological disorders in patients here on Earth.
Concluding the fire experiments upon departure
Understanding fire behavior in space is crucial for devising fire prevention and suppression techniques, yet it’s challenging to conduct fire-related experiments on an occupied spacecraft.
The Spacecraft Fire Experiments, or Saffire, utilize the Cygnus resupply vehicle after it departs the space station, mitigating any risk to the crew and the spacecraft. Saffire VI, the final experiment in this series, builds on earlier findings to examine flammability at varying oxygen levels and is expected to demonstrate fire detection, monitoring and post-fire cleanup capabilities.
“The Saffire experiments offer a vital reference point for confirming our models of how fire impacts the habitability of spacecraft,” said David Urban, the experiment’s principal investigator. “Our understanding of material flammability in low gravity has been transformed by this work, which has also shown that, just like on Earth, smoke from a fire poses the greatest immediate threat to the crew.”
Recording atmospheric density
The Multi-Needle Langmuir Probe, or m-NLP, is a research project from the European Space Agency. It is a device engineered specifically for tracking the densities of plasma in the ionosphere, and it requires deployment within the ionosphere to gather necessary data.
With its orbit in close proximity to the ionosphere’s peak plasma density, the International Space Station provides an optimal setting for this instrument. The m-NLP collects important data from the equatorial and mid-latitude ionosphere, thereby enabling an exceptionally detailed exploration of dynamic processes.
Additionally, it opens up fresh avenues for understanding the mechanisms that govern how phenomena, such as auroras, influence radio communications and global navigation satellite system signals and the prediction of potential problems. This could aid in understanding the fundamental causes of any inaccuracies and help in the creation of models that predict future signal quality issues with these types of systems.
Improved water systems for astronauts
An on-orbit Potable Water Dispenser, or PWD, was launched in fall 2008, which provides water for drinking and food preparation on the space station.
A new system, Exploration PWD, showcases progress in water purification techniques as well as the reduction of microbial growth, and incorporates a heater for providing hot water. If proven successful, this technology could be adopted for future space exploration missions and continue to be used by International Space Station crews.
The Exploration PWD can be brought in and out of dormancy, a capability crucial for use in future exploration missions.
Katherine Toon, an Environmental Control and Life Support System integration manager, notes that the Exploration PWD system also possesses data collection, telemetry and self-monitoring features, providing engineers with direct insight into the unit’s functioning.
Art in the sky
The Inspire Next Generation (I-Space Essay) Educational Program for Schools initiates a unique project of sending an SD card to the International Space Station. This card is filled with digital creations from students, including images and poems.
After the flight, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is expected to award certificates to the schools that participated. The project saw an enthusiastic response, with over 13,000 students from 74 different schools producing works for it.
The I-Space Essay initiative fosters student curiosity about space exploration and motivates the upcoming generation of scientists, engineers and explorers.
Situated in the northern part of Virginia’s Eastern Shore on Wallops Island, the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport boasts three launchpads.
Pad 0A is utilized for launching the Antares rocket, employed to deliver supplies to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program. Meanwhile, the Minotaur family of launch vehicles is deployed from Pad 0B.
Recently, a new addition to the complex, Launch Complex-2, was constructed to accommodate the Rocket Lab Electron satellite launch vehicle. This enhances the island’s already extensive legacy as a flight facility, with over 16,000 rockets having been launched since 1945.
Video courtesy of NASA
Steve moved to central Virginia from the Atlanta suburbs. He studied U.S. history, geography and social sciences at Virginia Tech and began teaching in the public school system in Southampton County, in Virginia’s Tidewater region. While there, he developed a passion for photography focusing on transportation and anything historic. With encouragement from family and friends, he moved backed to central Virginia where he currently lives and works as a computer science teacher. In his spare time, Steve enjoys spending time with his family and exploring the beautiful Virginia county side with his camera.