WASHINGTON – The next mission of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo at the International Space Station will show two new capabilities, one before launch and the other after the spacecraft leaves the station.
Cygnus spacecraft, flying a mission designated NG-11, is scheduled to launch at 4:46 pm Eastern April 17 on a rocket of Antares from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia . At a pre-launch press conference on April 16, officials did not report problems with the preparation of the preparations and good weather, with a 95 percent chance of acceptable conditions on a scheduled timeframe .
Cygnus carries more than 3,400 kilograms of freight station missions. Of that total, 1
For the first time, some of that cargo will be built on Cygnus within just 24 hours before launch. The NG-11 mission first shows the ability to load "late load" after the vehicle is released on the launch pad. Six bags of shipment will be built at Cygnus at that time, says Andrew Zarechnak, Cygnus car carrier at Northrop Grumman, in pre-launch science briefing.
"It allows us to make more science in this vehicle and provide more kinds of science to get to the station," he said. It includes a research experimental student featuring 40 mice, for the first time such as an experiment being switched to Cygnus. Similar experiments in the past need to fly to SpaceX's Dragon, which already has the ability to load cargo load within a day of launch.
The late load uses a new "pop-top" payload fairing for Antares, whose top may be removed to allow access to Cygnus. A mobile payload processing facility was moved to the area around the fairing while the rocket was horizontal on the pad so the crew could access Cygnus to load that cargo.
Cygnus is scheduled to be thrown into the ISS of the robotic arm of the station April 19 and stay at the station for 90 days. After being uncertain, it will lead to a higher orbit to expand the satellites.
In past missions, Cygnus had been deprived for a few weeks from leaving the station, but on the NG-11 mission Northrop Grumman planned to keep Cygnus in orbit for months to test the ability to serve as a free flying platform of research.
"We'll start an extended missed mission for Cygnus where we show Cygnus's ability to fly over a long period of time, where it can be a great test for scientific experiments , "said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of space systems at Northrop Grumman.
In order to enable the extended mission, Cygnus now has a gyro moment control to handle the attitude of the spacecraft, which reduces the need for its use of thrusters. Saving fuel that can be used to maintain its orbit and perform other maneuvers, which expands the life of a spacecraft into an orbit.
DeMauro said the company expects to show that Cygnus, as a free-flying spacecraft, could be a platform for scientific research and technology demonstrations. "We want to present the ultimate clean environment of microgravity that Cygnus will provide," he said. That may include, in future missions, flying away from the ISS to perform experiments for some time before returning to get the experiments.
The company has not set a steady timeline for expanded missions. DeMauro said the company wanted to keep the NG-11 Cygnus in orbit until the launch of NG-12 Cygnus some time in the fall. That would allow Northrop Grumman to demonstrate the ability to run two Cygnus spacecraft simultaneously from the same control center.
"We are thinking of something in the next six to seven months as a minimum of mission time," he said. "When we achieve that goal, if we have achieved all other goals, we will have a re-education and know how much we want to fly in the car."
NG-11 Cygnus mission is the first of two The freight spacecraft is set to fly to ISS this month. SpaceX is scheduled to launch its latest Dragon cargo spacecraft at the April 26 station from Florida. Back-to-back scheduling, Joel Montalbano, deputy manager of the ISS program at NASA, said that the mission was ready.
"Are we planning missions a week? Generally we do not do that," she says. "Our plan is to fly when customers are ready."
This mission is the last one from the original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract awarded to what was then Orbital Sciences Corporation in 2008. The NG-12 mission was to be first at least six mission for the CRS-2 contract award awarded in 2016.
"When I think back to our first start, thinking ahead of what our final mission will look like, it's very long ago," says DeMauro. "But here we are."