Science and supplies soar to ISS on NG-11 Cygnus mission
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — Using its NG-11 Cygnus spacecraft, Northrop Grumman sent its final shipment to the International Space Station under the first phase of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. The textbook flight honored a fallen hero of the space agency’s first steps toward sending astronauts to the Moon.
Flying inside the NG-11 Cygnus spacecraft are an estimated 7,600 pounds (3,450 kilograms) worth of supplies, science experiments and an autonomous robot. They are set scheduled to to arrive at the outpost about a day and a half from now. This was the largest amount that a Cygnus spacecraft has carried aloft.
With the completion of this mission Northrop Grumman will have delivered some 66,000 pounds (30,000 kilograms) of cargo using its Cygnus cargo freighters since the spacecraft was first launched in 2013 under the CRS1 contract.
Under very clear skies the Antares 230 rocket lifted off at 4:46 p.m. EDT (20:46 GMT) from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The mission began at the opening of the launch window, under clear skies which provided weather that were deemed 100% favorable for launch.
Just before liftoff, two Russian NPO Energomash RD-181 engines that provide the propulsion for the first phase of the flight roared to life. Positioned in the business end of the rocket’s first stage, they produced about 864,000 pounds (3,800 kilonewtons) of thrust. Just 3.7 seconds later, the vehicle rose from the launch pad and begin its ascent toward space.
As the rocket climbed away from the coast line it performed a roll maneuver and headed southeast from the launch site to begin its pursuit of the station which orbits approximately 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth.
Three minutes, 35 seconds after it had left Virginia, the first stage’s liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene tanks were exhausted of their fuel and the main engines cut off. At this point the vehicle was at an altitude of about 61.5 miles (99 kilometers). Antares was still heading uphill and about six seconds later the spent first stage separated from the rest of the rocket to reduce weight. At this point in the flight the remainder of the rocket’s stack was about 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) higher in altitude from when the engines had cut off.
With the extra weight of the expended first stage now dropping back to Earth, the second stage and Cygnus spacecraft, which was still protected by the payload fairing, continued climbing for another 30 seconds before the protective payload fairing was jettisoned. The interstage dropped away just five seconds later.
Still climbing away from Earth, the Castor 30XL second stage solid rocket motor ignited approximately 83.2 miles (134 kilometers) in altitude. It burned through its load of solid rocket fuel in 2 minutes and 42 seconds pushing Cygnus to around 122 miles (196 kilometers) above the Earth.
A little more than 2 minutes later, spacecraft separation occurred, releasing the cargo freighter to chase down the ISS.
About 90 minutes after launch the Cygnus spacecraft deployed its two “UltraFlex” circular solar arrays to provide it with power during its stay on orbit.
Cygnus, flying in a lower orbit, is expected to continue to chase down the International Space station over a period of about 40 hours. The lower orbit allows the spacecraft to close the distance gap between it and the outpost.
The Expedition 59 crew currently aboard the orbital outpost is will use the Canadarm2 remote manipulator system to capture and then berth the spacecraft to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module where it will remain for several months.
This latest Cygnus spacecraft was christened the S.S. Roger Chaffee in honor of the astronaut who perished along with astronauts Ed White and Gus Grissom in the Apollo 1 fire more than a half century ago (January 1968).
“This is the 50th anniversary year of us landing people on the moon on the Apollo 11 mission and when we think of that mission, we think of the thousands of people who sacrificed so much to make that program a success,” Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of the Space Systems Division at Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems said late last month via a Facebook live event. “But there are three people who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the advancement of moving humans and to land on the moon and that’s Ed White, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, the three Apollo 1 astronauts who tragically perished in a fire during a pad test on Apollo 1. Lieutenant Commander Chaffee never got to fly in space unlike his crew members, yet he was such an inspiration to so many people who followed him in the astronaut corps. So all of us here at Northrop Grumman and certainly on the Cygnus program are honored to name this spacecraft the S.S. Roger Chaffee.”
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.