Science, supplies and a robot set to launch to ISS on Antares
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — Northrop Grumman’s NG-11 Cygnus mission is the next flight on the runway to ferry supplies to the International Space Station.
It is currently scheduled to lift off Wednesday, April 17, 2019, with 7,600 pounds (3,450 kilograms), but Northrop Grumman doesn’t have long to get it off the pad. The five-minute launch window for the NG-11 mission opens at 4:46 p.m. EDT (20:46 GMT).
The mission is using Northrop Grumman’s Antares launch vehicle flying in the 230 configuration to get the mission off the ground and into the skies. It consists of two RD-181 engines supplied by the Russian aerospace company NPO Energomash in the rocket’s first stage while a Castor 30XL upper stage (also manufactured by Northrop Grumman) top the rocket.
Overall, this will be the eighth flight of the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft and the fifth for the Antares 230 version of the rocket.
In the past, Cygnus has hitched rides on other rockets. The OA-4, OA-6 and OA-7 missions were all launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V (in the rocket’s 401 configuration) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. The Cygnus spacecraft has been designed so that it can be flown on more than one type of launch vehicle.
In addition to the usual cargo consisting of food, water, clothing and so forth, the mission is also planned to transport numerous science missions to the station. The Antares team added a new late-load capability to its resupply missions, which allows more time-sensitive experiments to be loaded just 24 hours before liftoff.
All previous Cygnus flights were fully loaded a full four days prior to launch. This new capability gives more flexibility to what science experiments can be flow aboard the cargo ship.
One of the experiments being launched is the Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-10, also called ACE-T-10. According to NASA, it is designed to investigate “the growth, microscopic dynamics, and restructuring processes in both ordered and disordered structures such as colloidal crystals, glasses, and gels.”
The space agency added that “colloidal system interactions vary precisely with temperature and undergo a variety of transitions including crystallization and glass formation.” NASA said conducting the study in microgravity should remove the effects of gravitational stresses.
Life sciences experiments
It is hoped that an instrument dubbed the the Bio-Analyzer, which was supplied by the Canadian Space Agency, will help to improve life sciences research capabilities on the orbiting lab.
According to NASA, the Bio-Analyzer is capable of performing on-orbit detection and quantification of cell surface molecules on a per-cell basis. The agency said it can assess soluble molecule concentration in a liquid sample such as blood, saliva, or urine.
Part of the Life Science Research System, NASA said in a news release that the tool should only need a few drops of liquid to get the job done as opposed to the test tube-sized samples used in normal tests of this nature.
Moreover the agency said it could save space on the ISS as it should eliminate the need to freeze and store samples.
NASA said recent research suggests there is a link between radiation exposure and the aging of the arteries, bone metabolism, and insulin resistance. The U.S. space agency said some astronauts experience “accelerated aging-like changes” while on extended missions aboard the space station, which includes changes to their arteries.
“The Space Environment Causes Acceleration of Vascular Aging: Roles of Hypogravity, Nutrition, and Radiation (Vascular Aging) looks at these changes using artery ultrasounds, blood samples, oral glucose tolerance tests, and wearable sensors,” a NASA release reads. “It is one of three related Canadian experiments studying the effects of weightlessness on the blood vessels and heart.”
A free-flying robot is also using the S.S. Roger Chaffee (the name of this particular Cygnus spacecraft) as its ride to orbit.
Called “Astrobee,” it can be autonomous or remote controlled and fly around the interior of the station propelled by fans. A report made by NASA suggests it will primarily fly in the U.S. Orbital Segment of the orbiting lab.
NASA said the robot is designed to assist in the development and testing of technologies in the microgravity environment of the ISS. It can also perform routine chores around the station that astronauts would normally be tasked with performing.
According to NASA, it is being designed to operate for extended periods of time and isn’t expected to require supervision from the crew as compared to SPHERES, NASA’s first-generation free-flying robot,
By eliminating the need for the astronauts from having to monitor and direct the robot, the astronauts would have more time to conduct research and other tasks aboard the ISS while the robot goes about its tasks. According the space agency, Astrobee is a product of the NASA Game Changing Development Program.
The NG-11 launch is the last under the first phase of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Service (CRS1) contract. Northrop Grumman has already been selected to continue providing services under the second phase of CRS: CRS2.
Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus and SpaceX’s cargo Dragon freighters have been traveling to the International Space Station since 2012. They should eventually be joined by the cargo version of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft, which was added to the CRS2 contract in January of 2016.
Video courtesy of NASA Johnson
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.