Spaceflight Insider

S.S. Gene Cernan OA-8 Cygnus arrives at ISS

The OA-8 Cygnus, named S.S. Gene Cernan, is captured by the International Space Station's robotic Canadarm2. Photo Credit: NASA

The OA-8 Cygnus, named S.S. Gene Cernan, is captured by the International Space Station’s robotic Canadarm2. Photo Credit: NASA

After a two-day trek, Orbital ATK’s OA-8 Cygnus cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station. The vehicle was berthed to the outpost at 7:15 a.m. EST (12:15 GMT) Nov. 14, 2017, and will remain attached for several weeks.

Named “S.S. Gene Cernan” after the late Moonwalker, the spacecraft is loaded with about 7,400 pounds (3,350 kilograms) of pressurized cargo. Over the coming weeks, the space station’s Expedition 53 crew will unload the equipment.

An Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket lifts off with the OA-8 Cygnus at 7:19 a.m. EST (12:19 GMT) Nov. 12, 2017, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's Pad 0A. Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

An Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket lifts off with the OA-8 Cygnus at 7:19 a.m. EST (12:19 GMT) Nov. 12, 2017, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A. Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

“Today’s flawless rendezvous and arrival at the International Space Station signals the start of a busy month for Cygnus as the spacecraft once again demonstrates its capability beyond cargo delivery and removal,” Frank Culbertson, president of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group, said in a company press release. “On this mission, the ‘S.S. Gene Cernan’ Cygnus will act as an extension of the space station for the first time by supporting science experiments inside the cargo module while docked to the laboratory.”

The OA-8 mission includes several experiments. Among them include the following:

  • The E. coli AntiMicrobial Satellite (EcAMSat) mission: According to NASA this experiment will investigate the effect microgravity has on the antibiotic resistance of E. coli.
  • The Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) project: This experiment will use a laser to test out high-speed optical data transmissions and small spacecraft proximity operations.
  • The Biological Nitrogen Fixation in Microgravity via Rhizobium-Legume Symbiosis (Biological Nitrogen Fixation) investigation: This experiment aims to understand how low-gravity conditions affect the nitrogen fixation process of Microclover, which is a hardy plant that is drought tolerant.
  • The Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA): NASA says that this is “a hybrid solar power panel and communications solar antenna that can send and receive messages”. The space agency hopes the technology will be a “solution for sending and receiving information from faraway destinations, both on Earth and in space”.

The spacecraft launched on Sunday, Nov. 12, atop Orbital ATK’s Antares 230 rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia.

After rendezvousing with the ISS, Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Randy Bresnik of NASA used the robotic Canadarm2 to capture the spacecraft. That occurred at about 5:04 a.m. EST (10:04 GMT).

Over the next couple hours, ground teams commanded the robotic arm to move Cygnus from its position of about 33 feet (about 10 meters) beneath the Destiny laboratory module to just in front of the Earth-facing berthing port of the Unity module.

Now fully berthed, the freighter will spend about three weeks at the outpost before being loaded with trash and unneeded equipment. Then, in early December, the craft will be unberthed and commanded to deorbit over the Pacific Ocean for a destructive re-entry sometime later.

After unberthing, but before re-entry, Cygnus will begin a secondary mission: deploying 14 CubeSats via a NanoRacks deployer on the outside of the spacecraft. According to Orbital ATK, this will be a record number for the cargo craft.

Video courtesy of NASA



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter

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