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[SN] Latest Cygnus mission to ISS includes new features
« dnia: Kwiecień 18, 2019, 21:52 »
Latest Cygnus mission to ISS includes new features
by Jeff Foust — April 16, 2019

A Northrop Grumman Antares launch vehicle stands on the pad at Wallops Island, Virginia, ahead of the launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS scheduled for April 17. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — The next Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station will demonstrate two new capabilities, one before launch and the other after the spacecraft departs the station.

The Cygnus spacecraft, flying a mission designated NG-11, is scheduled to launch at 4:46 p.m. Eastern April 17 on an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. During a pre-launch press conference April 16, officials reported no problems with launch preparations and excellent weather, with a 95 percent chance of acceptable conditions at the scheduled liftoff time.

The Cygnus is carrying more than 3,400 kilograms of cargo on this mission to the station. Of that total, 1,569 kilograms is for a variety of scientific investigations, with 936 kilograms of crew supplies. The remainder is split among vehicle hardware, miscellaneous equipment and a satellite deployer for NanoRacks.

For the first time, some of that cargo will be loaded onto the Cygnus just 24 hours before launch. The NG-11 mission is the first to demonstrate a “late load” capability of cargo after the vehicle has been rolled out to the launch pad. Six cargo bags will be loaded onto the Cygnus at that time, said Andrew Zarechnak, Cygnus vehicle manager at Northrop Grumman, at a pre-launch science briefing.

“It allows us to do more science on this vehicle and allows more types of science to get to the station,” he said. That includes a rodent research experiment that features 40 mice, the first time such an experiment has flown on the Cygnus. Similar experiments in the past had to fly on SpaceX’s Dragon, which already has the ability to load cargo into the vehicle within a day of launch.

That late load makes use of a new “pop-top” payload fairing for the Antares, whose top can be removed to allow access to the Cygnus. A mobile payload processing facility is moved into place around the fairing while the rocket is horizontal at the pad so that crews can access the Cygnus to load that cargo.

The Cygnus is scheduled to be berthed to the ISS by the station’s robotic arm April 19 and remain at the station for about 90 days. After being unberthed, it will maneuver into a higher orbit to deploy satellites.

On past missions the Cygnus has deorbited within a few weeks of departing the station, but on the NG-11 mission Northrop Grumman plans to keep Cygnus in orbit for months to test its ability to serve as a free-flying research platform.

“We’re going to start an extended duration mission for Cygnus where we’re going to demonstrate the ability of Cygnus to fly long periods of time in space, where it can be an excellent testbed for scientific experiments,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of space systems at Northrop Grumman.

To enable that extended mission, the Cygnus now has a control moment gyro to handle the attitude control of the spacecraft, reducing the need for it to use thrusters. That saves fuel that can instead be used to maintain its orbit and perform other maneuvers, extending the spacecraft’s lifetime in orbit.

DeMauro said the company hopes to demonstrate that the Cygnus, as a free-flying spacecraft, can be a platform for scientific research and technology demonstrations. “We want to demonstrate the really pristine microgravity environment that Cygnus will provide,” he said. That could include, on future missions, flying away from the ISS to perform experiments for a time before returning so that the experiments can be retrieved.

The company hasn’t set a firm timetable for that extended mission. DeMauro said the company would like to keep the NG-11 Cygnus in orbit at least until after the launch of the NG-12 Cygnus some time in the fall. That would allow Northrop Grumman to demonstrate the ability to operate two Cygnus spacecraft simultaneously from the same control center.

“We’re thinking something on the order of six to seven months as a minimum mission duration,” he said. “Once we achieve that goal, if we’ve achieved all the other goals, then we’ll regroup and determine how much longer we might want to fly the vehicle.”

The NG-11 Cygnus mission is the first of two commercial cargo spacecraft set to fly to the ISS this month. SpaceX is scheduled to launch its latest Dragon cargo spacecraft to the station April 26 from Florida. That back-to-back scheduling, said Joel Montalbano, deputy manager of the ISS program at NASA, was a result of when the missions were ready to fly.

“Do we plan missions a week apart? Generally we don’t do that,” he said. “Our plan is to fly when the customers are ready.”

This mission is also 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 will be the first of at least six missions for the follow-on CRS-2 contract awarded in 2016.

“When I think back to when we first started this, looking ahead to what would be our last mission, seems like so long ago,” DeMauro said. “But here we are.”


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Odp: [SN] Latest Cygnus mission to ISS includes new features
« Odpowiedź #1 dnia: Kwiecień 18, 2019, 21:53 »
Antares launches Cygnus on ISS cargo mission
by Jeff Foust — April 17, 2019. Updated 9:00 p.m. Eastern [SN]

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket lifts off from Wallops Island, Virginia, April 17, placing a Cygnus cargo spacecraft into orbit. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket successfully launched a Cygnus spacecraft April 17 carrying nearly three and a half metric tons of cargo bound for the International Space Station.

The Antares lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at 4:46 p.m. Eastern after a countdown marred by only a brief issue with the rocket’s transporter/erector that was resolved earlier in the afternoon. The Cygnus separated from the Antares rocket’s upper stage nine minutes after liftoff in what controllers said was a nominal orbit, and deployed its solar panels nearly three hours later.

“The spacecraft is very healthy. It’s performing very well,” Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of space systems at Northrop Grumman said at a post-launch briefing. The spacecraft had, after liftoff, performed two maneuvers called “targeted altitude burns” to raise its orbit. Those burns are a new capability on the Cygnus, he said, that helps shorten the time it takes for the spacecraft to reach the station.

The Cygnus, carrying 3,436 kilograms cargo, is scheduled to be captured by the station’s robotic arm at about 5:30 a.m. Eastern April 19. It will remain at the station for about 90 days before being unberthed, after which it will move to a higher orbit and fly an extended mission of at least six months to test its ability to serve as a free-flying platform for experiments and technology demonstrations.

Of that cargo, 1,569 kilograms is set aside for science investigations. That research includes a rodent experiment to test the effects of spaceflight on the function of antibody production and immune memory, an experiment by a company called FOMS to test the production of high-quality optical fibers in microgravity and two robots called Astrobees that will be able to maneuver within the station supporting research there.

The Astrobees are a successor to SPHERES, a set of small, spherical robots that have been on the station for several years for technology demonstration and educational applications. “SPHERES has been on orbit for more than a decade,” said Maria Bualat of NASA’s Ames Research Center at a pre-launch briefing April 16. “They’re kind of limited in their compute power, and they’re just aging.”

Besides the Cygnus, the Antares carried 60 “ThinSat” secondary payloads, released from the rocket’s upper stage several minutes after the Cygnus deployment along with a single conventional cubesat. Each ThinSat is has the same length and width of a single-unit cubesat but is only a fraction as thick, enabling more to be flown in the same volume.

Students from schools in nine states built the ThinSats flown on this mission as part of educational projects sponsored by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. The ThinSats, deployed in orbits at an altitude of 200 to 250 kilometers, will remain in orbit for about five days before they reenter. “It’s going to give us a lot of information that normally doesn’t get picked up” because satellites rarely operate at such low altitudes, said Chris Hale, program manager for Virginia Space ThinSat Program.

The five-day lifetime has another advantage, added Bob Twiggs, the co-investor of the cubesat who helped design the ThinSat concept and its educational curriculum: “It’s the attention span of the students.”

This mission, designated NG-11, is the last for the company under its original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract awarded by NASA in 2008. Subsequent missions, starting with NG-12 this fall, will be performed under the CRS-2 contract awarded in 2016.

Those missions will make use of an upgraded version of the rocket called the Antares 230+ with several changes to improve its payload performance by up to 800 kilograms, said Kurt Eberly, Antares vice president at Northrop Grumman. Those improvements including reducing the vehicle’s mass and strengthening its structure to allow its RD-181 engines to remain at 100 percent thrust throughout ascent.


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Odp: [SN] Latest Cygnus mission to ISS includes new features
« Odpowiedź #2 dnia: Kwiecień 18, 2019, 21:55 »
Antares rocket boosts Cygnus supply ship toward International Space Station
April 18, 2019 Stephen Clark [SFN]

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket lifts off from Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

A commercial Cygnus cargo freighter packed with 3.8 tons of medical and pharmaceutical experiments, technology demonstration hardware, CubeSats, food and supplies rode an Antares rocket into orbit from Virginia’s Eastern Shore on Wednesday afternoon on the first leg of a day-and-a-half journey to the International Space Station.

The 139-foot-tall (42.5-meter) Antares rocket lit two Russian-made kerosene-fueled RD-181 main engines and climbed away from launch pad 0A at Wallops Island, Virginia, at 4:46:07 p.m. EDT (2046:07 GMT) Wednesday after a smooth countdown.

The two-stage launcher quickly rose from the launch pad overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, clearing four lightning masts within seconds as the first stage’s hydraulic steering system engaged to direct the rocket toward the southeast, aligning with the flight path of the space station.

The twin-engine first stage generated 864,000 pounds of thrust at full power and fired for 3 minutes, 35 seconds, before shutting down and dropping away to fall into the Atlantic. After a brief coast, the Antares rocket’s solid-fueled second stage ignited to send the Cygnus supply ship into orbit.

Northrop Grumman’s telemetry commentator confirmed an on-target separation of the 15,940-pound (7,230-kilogram) Cygnus spacecraft around nine minutes after liftoff, and officials declared the launch a success.

“Beautiful day, a fantastic launch,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s deputy program manager for the International Space Station. “It’s great to have another cargo vehicle on its way to the International Space Station.”

The Antares rocket lifts off Wednesday from Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Credit: Northrop Grumman

In a first, the Antares rocket carried 63 tiny student-built “ThinSats” as secondary payloads on the second stage. Strung together in groups of three or six, the ThinSats are each about the size of a slice of bread, containing solar cells to produce power, data transmitters and sensors to measure parameters such as temperatures and pressures.

The Antares upper stage deployed the ThinSats a few minutes after the Cygnus spacecraft — the mission’s primary payload — separated from the rocket.

Using a standardized form factor, children from middle school age to university students integrated sensor and transmitter hardware on the ThinSats with the support of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, Twiggs Space Lab, Northrop Grumman, and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

“My whole passion in the industry and in academia is kids’ education,” said Bob Twiggs, co-inventor of the CubeSat and the ThinSat. “I got really turned on by being able to do something in space, and if you can get these kids turned on, boy, you’ve got to step out of the road, or they’re going to run right over the top of you.

“So doing something like this at a cost that you can get down into the elementary schools … I think is really great.”

Students from 70 schools in nine states contributed to the ThinSats launched Wednesday. Officials said they received telemetry signals from 43 of the ThinSats by Wednesday night, and more data was expected overnight into Thursday.

The ThinSats launched into an orbit with a perigee, or low point, of 125 miles (201 kilometers). At that altitude, aerodynamic drag will quickly cause the tiny spacecraft to fall back into the atmosphere and burn up, likely within five or 10 days. The quick decay alleviates concerns that the miniature satellites, which may be too small to be accurately tracked via radar, could pose an orbital debris hazard.

The ThinSats are powered by solar cells provided by Alta Devices. Credit: Alta Devices

A slightly larger spacecraft, or CubeSat, named SASSI^2 separated from the Antares rocket’s upper stage with the ThinSats. Short for the Student Aerothermal Spectrometer Satellite of Illinois and Indiana, SASSI^2 carries instruments from the University of Illinois and Purdue University to measure pressure, heat flux and spectral data as the CubeSat encounters aerodynamic resistance in the upper atmosphere before it burns up on re-entry.

The Cygnus spacecraft activated its communications, propulsion and guidance and navigation systems moments after deploying from the Antares rocket, according to Frank DeMauro, vice president of Northrop Grumman’s space division.

The cargo freighter completed two orbit-raising burns shortly after separation from the Antares second stage, putting the spacecraft on course to arrive at the space station early Friday. The Cygnus also unfurled its two fan-shaped solar arrays to begin generating power, DeMauro said in a post-launch press conference.

The craft completed the two initial orbit-raising maneuvers autonomously using the supply ship’s on-board navigation computer, demonstrating a new capability that enables the Cygnus to reach the space station in a little more than 36 hours, instead of the more standard two or three days.

“We’re going from launch to being on the ISS in about a day-and-a-half, and one of the things that enables us to get there so quickly is those targeted altitude burns,” DeMauro said.

Using position fixes from GPS satellites and laser ranging data, the Cygnus supply ship will fly on autopilot during the final phase of Friday’s rendezvous with the space station. The spacecraft should be in a capture position around 30 feet (10 meters) below the station by 5:30 a.m. EDT (0930 GMT), when astronaut Anne McClain will use the Canadian-built robotic arm to grapple the Cygnus cargo freighter, which Northrop Grumman christened the “S.S. Roger Chaffee” in honor of the astronaut who perished with Gus Grissom and Ed White in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967.

The robot arm will place the Cygnus on the Earth-facing berthing port of the station’s Unity module, where the spacecraft will remain for around three months, allowing the station astronauts to unload equipment from its pressurized cabin, and replace the cargo with trash for disposal.

The Cygnus mission launched Wednesday, designated NG-11, carries 7,575 pounds (3,436 kilograms) of cargo, including new flying robots that could help astronauts with chores on the space station, medical experiments, and 40 mice to be studied by astronauts and researchers to examine how their immune systems cope with the conditions of spaceflight.

Around 6,971 pounds (3,162 kilograms) of food, crew provisions and science experiments are inside the Cygnus spacecraft’s cargo module, built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy, according NASA’s tally. The rest of the mission’s cargo load is mounted outside the spacecraft, where a NanoRacks CubeSat deployer will release three small nanosatellites after the supply ship departs the space station.

File photo of a Cygnus supply ship departing the International Space Station on Northrop Grumman’s 10th cargo mission Feb. 8. Credit: NASA

After release from the station’s robotic arm in July, the cargo craft will boost itself into a higher orbit for deployment of the CubeSats, similar to maneuvers accomplished by previous Cygnus missions. But instead of commanding the spacecraft to plunge back into the atmosphere for a destructive re-entry, Northrop Grumman ground controllers will oversee months of additional in-orbit experiments.

A package of four control moment gyroscopes is installed aboard the Cygnus spacecraft for the extended mission experiment. Using momentum to manage the spacecraft’s pointing, or attitude, the four spinning gyroscopes will reduce the Cygnus spacecraft’s consumption of liquid propellants, which feed thrusters normally used to change the supply ship’s orientation.

The innovation will allow the Cygnus spacecraft to remain in orbit for up to a year. Cygnus missions have previously lasted no more than three or four months.

“We’ll use the control moment gyros to control the spacecraft attitude, as opposed to fuel,” DeMauro said in an interview with Spaceflight Now before Wednesday’s launch.

Northrop Grumman officials previously said the extended mission demo could last a year, but DeMauro said the mission’s duration will depend on when engineers accomplish all their objectives.

“How long we go really will depend on when we achieve our goals for the extended mission (demonstration),” DeMauro said.

“We want to accomplish a couple of things,” he said. “First, we want to show how the spacecraft works with the CMGs (control moment gyroscopes) and demonstrate that our platform can use CMGs — not only our platform but other Northrop Grumman spacecraft platforms.

“The second thing we want to do is show that the avionics can run for extended period of time,” DeMauro said. “We’ve typically run them for several months as we’ve gone through testing, and then in orbit they run for three to four months, depending on how long we’re in orbit. This time, we want to demonstrate an even longer period of time that the computers run error-free, and that the attitude control system works just as expected.”

The control moment gyroscopes were built by Honeywell, using new miniaturized technology that could be used on future small satellites.

Northrop Grumman wants to keep the NG-11 Cygnus spacecraft in orbit through the launch of the company’s next resupply mission to the space station, designated NG-12, currently scheduled for October.

Officials want to offer future Cygnus spacecraft as a hosting platform for science and technology experiments after it leaves the space station. DeMauro said the Cygnus spacecraft provides a smooth microgravity environment for research in orbit, even better than the space station, which has disturbances from the movement of crew members and other external influences. The use of gyroscopes will make for more pristine microgravity conditions, eliminating impulses from thruster firings to change the ship’s orientation.

“The idea is that for future missions, we can outfit Cygnus to have the extended duration, and then after we complete the primary mission, offer this extended duration to either the government or commercial entities,” DeMauro said in an interview Tuesday with Spaceflight Now. “We want to give them enough time in orbit that isn’t restricted by when the next mission goes up, so having the ability to fly two Cygnus (spacecraft) in orbit at the same time is critical.”

Like past Cygnus missions, the spacecraft will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up over the Pacific Ocean once the extended duration demonstration is complete.

The NG-11 mission is the last Cygnus flight under Northrop Grumman’s first cargo transportation contract with NASA, a deal originally signed in 2008 now worth $2.89 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. The company has a follow-on Commercial Resupply Services, or CRS-2, contract for at least six additional Cygnus missions through 2024, beginning with the NG-12 mission later this year.

“Our push is to offer NASA increased science capability on each mission,” DeMauro said.

For the first time on the NG-11 mission, ground teams at Wallops loaded time-sensitive cargo into the Cygnus spacecraft at the launch pad less  than 24 hours before liftoff. Northrop Grumman developed a new Mobile Payload Processing Facility, or clean room, to place over the Antares rocket’s payload shroud after the launcher was lowered back to a horizontal position following preliminary pre-launch checkouts.

Technicians removed the top of the payload fairing, known as the “pop-top,” and opened the Cygnus hatch to allow teams to load the enclosure containing the rodent research experiment, along with a bio-analyzer experiment and other items. The NG-11 mission marks the first time a rodent research payload has flown aboard a Cygnus supply ship, following multiple missions on SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule.

The NG-11 launch Wednesday also debuted a new navigation system on the Antares rocket, ahead of additional launcher upgrades coming with the first CRS-2 mission later this year.

Engineers will beef up the Antares rocket’s structure for the next mission to allow the first stage’s twin RD-181 engines to remain at full throttle as the launcher flies through the most extreme period of aerodynamic pressure, or Max-Q, after liftoff. The engines are currently throttled back to around 55 percent power to ease the passage through Max-Q.

Northrop Grumman is also removing some unnecessary insulation from the inside of the Castor 30XL upper stage’s motor casing, and switching from a three-piece fairing adapter to a lighter single-piece structure. Future Antares rockets will also fly with two fewer helium pressurization bottles in the first stage. Data from previous launches indicated the rocket does not need the extra helium bottles.

The RD-181 engines will also launch without heat exchangers, which are designed to heat helium gas in flight. Northrop Grumman officials say the heat exchangers are not used by the Antares rocket.

The upgrade rocket will be known as the Antares 230+.

The changes will increase the mass of payloads the Antares rocket can loft into orbit by up to 1,763 pounds (800 kilograms), according to Kurt Eberly, vice president of the Antares program at Northrop Grumman.

“That will enable us to pack even more cargo into the cargo modules,” DeMauro said. “We’ve made some more modifications to be able to pack it more efficiently. That will be able to give us another 10 percent or so more cargo in the same volume.”

The Cygnus team has taken a step-by-step approach with upgrades since the spacecraft’s inaugural mission.

Since the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft’s first missions in 2013, engineers from Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems — previously known as Orbital Sciences and Orbital ATK — have introduced a larger Thales-built cargo module and debuted new RD-181 engines for the Antares first stage. Officials replaced the Antares rocket’s original AJ26 first stage engines after one of the powerplants failed on a 2014 launch, destroying a Cygnus spacecraft heading for the space station and damaging the launch pad at Wallops Island.

DeMauro said the expanded performance and longer lifetime of the newest generation of Cygnus supply ships positions the spacecraft for more demanding missions in the future, including flights into deep space to support NASA’s plans to build a mini-space station called the Gateway in lunar orbit, with a goal set by the Trump administration of landing astronauts on the moon as soon as 2024.

“Going out to cislunar space will be a little bit different,” DeMauro said. “So we’ve looked at the avionics upgrades required for the higher radiation environment, different communications systems, docking versus berthing systems.”

Northrop Grumman has a NASA contract to develop a habitat concept based on the Cygnus design, which could be attached to NASA’s Gateway around the moon to provide living quarters for astronauts. Lunar landers could be staged at the Gateway for trips to and from the moon’s surface.

“We think we’re in a good place to offer NASA a proven, yet upgraded technology suite on a Cygnus-class vehicle to provide all sorts of services out in cislunar space, whether it’s habitats, logistics services, science and utilization services, as well as even power and propulsion systems out there. Cygnus is a stepping stone from that point of view,” DeMauro said.

“We can even expand that further and be part of the system to put people on the moon itself,” DeMauro said.

Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., which was purchased by Northrop Corp. in 1994 to form Northrop Grumman, built the Apollo lunar landers.

“If you look at that expertise, and you combine it with our expertise with Cygnus, we know there is a lot of capability out there that we’re going to take advantage of,” DeMauro said. “So we have every expectation that we’re going to play a large role, not only in supporting crew that goes out to the moon, but being able to design, build and deliver something that actually brings people down to the moon, so we’re so excited about that future.”


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Odp: [SN] Latest Cygnus mission to ISS includes new features
« Odpowiedź #3 dnia: Kwiecień 21, 2019, 10:24 »
Cygnus supply ship delivers 3.8-ton cargo load to International Space Station
April 19, 2019 Stephen Clark [SFN]

The Cygnus spacecraft, christened the S.S. Roger Chaffee, is in the firm grasp of the space station’s Canadian-built robotic arm Friday after arrival. Credit: David Saint-Jacques/CSA/NASA

NASA flight engineer Anne McClain grappled Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus supply ship with the International Space Station’s robotic arm Friday, marking the automated cargo freighter’s arrival after an abbreviated day-and-a-half-long journey from a launch pad in Virginia with nearly 7,600 pounds of experiments, food and provisions.

Commanding the Canadian-built robot arm from a control station in the cupola module, McClain guided the arm’s end effector over a grapple pin on the rear end of the Cygnus spaceship as the cargo craft held steady roughly 30 feet (10 meters) below the complex. Mission control in Houston declared a successful capture of Cygnus at 5:28 a.m. EDT (0928 GMT) as the station sailed 258 miles (415 kilometers) over northeastern France.

Northrop Grumman christened the Cygnus the S.S. Roger Chaffee, after the late astronaut who perished in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967 alongside Gus Grissom and Ed White.

“It’s to have the S.S. Roger Chaffee officially on-board, and we look forward to working with the over 7,000 pounds of cargo for the next few months,” McClain radioed moments after the capture of Cygnus.

Engineers on the ground later took over the arm, which launched aboard the space shuttle Endeavour 18 years ago Friday, to place Cygnus on a berthing port on the nadir, or Earth-facing side of the station’s Unity module, where a series of latches and bolts closed to create a firm connection at 7:31 a.m. EDT (1131 GMT).

Friday’s arrival marked the end of a shorter-than-usual rendezvous profile for the Cygnus spacecraft following its launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, on Wednesday aboard an Antares rocket. Northrop Grumman modified the Cygnus flight plan to include a pair of automated altitude boost burns shortly after separation from the Antares launcher, giving the supply ship a head start on the way to the space station.

The change is one of several new upgrades and features on this Cygnus mission, the 11th and last resupply flight by Northrop Grumman under the company’s $2.89 billion cargo transportation contract with NASA signed in 2008. Northrop Grumman has a follow-on contract with NASA for at least six additional Cygnus missions beginning in October.

Under the second contract, Northrop Grumman will provide expanded cargo capacity to NASA, including the ability to load time-sensitive equipment into the ship’s pressurized module less than 24 hours before launch, and the revamped rendezvous profile to get to the station faster. Officials rehearsed the new procedures on this mission, designated NG-11.

On the next Cygnus mission, the Antares rocket’s main engines will fly at higher throttle settings, allowing the mission to carry up to 10 percent more cargo.

The station astronauts planned to open hatches leading to the Cygnus spacecraft’s internal cabin later Friday to begin unpacking the equipment inside, which includes a carrier containing 40 mice for researchers to study their immune systems in space by examining their bodies’ response to tetanus vaccinations. The rodents and their habitat were loaded into the Cygnus supply ship the night before launch, the first time mice have rode a Cygnus mission to the space station.

Engineers load the final cargo into the Cygnus spacecraft Tuesday night, the day before launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Two remotely-operated Astrobee robots developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California were also delivered to the space station Friday. The battery-powered cube-shaped robots will maneuver through the space station’s internal volume to perform inspections and assist crew members in their work, replacing NASA’s three aging SPHERES robots that have been on the station since 2006.

“We’re replacing them with the Astrobee, so we’ve built in a lot of features in the Astrobee to actually facilitate research,” said Maria Bualat, Astrobee’s project manager and deputy lead of the intelligent robotics group at Ames. “One is that there are multiple payload bay … So we have these open areas on the robot where you can plug in, both at the top and bottom, payloads very easily.”

In the last few years, the SPHERES robots have conducted experiments investigating sloshing of liquids inside space vehicles and the robotic capture of space debris. Like SPHERES, the Astrobee robots will allow researchers to demonstrate new capabilities in a controlled pressurized environment inside the space station.

“It can be used for science and technology development,” Bualat said. “So it can carry other payloads that we want to test in microgravity but it can also be used as a tool by ground controllers. So we can use the camera to do video surveys or to observe crew activities, so that the ground can be actually ready to answer any questions the crew might have in a complex activity, and they also don’t have to take crew time to move the camera. So if the camera happens to be placed badly … they can actually just fly the camera to another location.

“The other thing we can do is we can carry other instruments,” she said. “We can carry sensors for environmental understanding, so for instance CO2 sensors to understand the concentrations, we can carry radiation sensors, we also can carry RFID readers that can do inventories and find lost tools or lost equipment that we’re not sure where it is. We can actually fly the robot around and look for equipment needed for other experiments. In that way, we don’t have to have the crew looking for a needed piece of equipment.”

The Astrobee robot will use vision-based navigation — comparing what it sees to a pre-loaded map of the station — to know where it is on the space station, according to Bualat. A propulsion module using air intakes and nozzles will provide the impulse needed to fly around the space station, and a docking port is available to connect to each robot for battery charging.

Roberto Carlino, electronics and integration engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley conducts acoustics testing in an anechoic chamber at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. The test measures the noise level of Astrobee when the robot is docked and when the robot activates its fan-based propulsion system to undock. Credits: NASA’s Johnson Space Center/Robert Markowitz

“It pulls air in through a circular central fan, which lightly pressurizes the propulsion module, and then there are six nozzles on each side — so 12 total — that open and close, and that is how the robot moves around station,” Bualat said.

A third Astrobee robot is expected fly on a SpaceX cargo mission to the station later this year.

Other hardware carried by the Cygnus spacecraft includes a device designed to manufacture optical fibers in orbit. The Space Fibers facility, developed by a San Diego company named FOMS, will help engineers determine the effectiveness and quality of optical fibers manufactured in microgravity.

FOMS is one of two companies, along with Made in Space, seeking to manufacture optical fibers on the space station. Officials from both companies believe a blend of materials called ZBLAN — which stands for zirconium, barium, lanthanum, sodium and aluminum — can be assembled into optical fibers in microgravity with higher quality than traditional silica-based fibers used on Earth.

“The immediate opportunities for these fibers are in remote sensing and defense applications, but there is a wide market opportunity for telecom applications as well,” said Dmitry Starodubov, chief scientist for the Space Fibers facility from FOMS Inc.

Eleven CubeSats developed by students and startup companies also rode to the station inside the Cygnus cargo module. The astronauts will take the CubeSats to the station’s Japanese Kibo lab module, where they will be installed on a deployer for transfer through Kibo’s airlock and release into orbit from the robot arm.

The CubeSats launched inside Cygnus for deployment from the space station include:

- EntrySat was developed by the ISAE-SUPAERO aeronautics and space institute in France with support from CNES, the French space agency. The 3U CubeSat, about the size of a loaf of bread, was built by French students and will use position, pressure, temperature and heat flux sensors to study re-entry of orbital debris, according to CNES.

- IOD-1 GEMS is the first in-orbit demonstration 3U CubeSat for a Global Environmental Monitoring System constellation planned by Orbital Micro Systems, a Colorado-based company with a major data center in Scotland. The IOD-1 GEMS nanosatellite is funded by Innovate UK, and will gather and transmit atmospheric observation data. It is the first of Orbital Micro Systems’ planned fleet of 48 CubeSats to collect global microwave radiation data for weather forecasting.

- KRAKSat, developed by students at the University of Science and Technology and Jagiellonian University in Poland, will test the viability of a ferrofluid flywheel to control the nanosatellite’s orientation in space. “A torus, surrounded by eight electromagnets, and placed inside a ferrofluid is a main part of our experiment,” the KRAKSat team wrote in a mission summary. “By changing magnetic field, we accelerate the ferrofluid, causing its spinning motion. The result of this movement should be the rotation of the satellite in the opposite direction.”

- Światowid is a technology demonstration satellite developed by SatRevolution S.A., a Polish startup company. The 2U CubeSat carries a telescope and an “industry-quality” camera sensor to demonstrate high-resolution imaging from low Earth orbit using small satellites. Swiatowid is designed to collect imagery with a ground sample distance of 3 meters, or about 10 feet, and the team aims to improve that to 1 meter (3 feet) on future missions.

- The Virginia CubeSat Constellation mission consists of three 1U CubeSats, each a bit larger than a Rubik’s cube, developed by Virginia undergraduate students at the University of Virginia, Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech and Hampton University. Named Aeternitas, Cetes and Libertas, the CubeSats will measure the orbital decay of a constellation of small satellites and develops a database of atmospheric drag and the variability of atmospheric properties, according to NASA.

- Uguisu, Raavana 1, and NepaliSat 1 are 1U CubeSats developed by student and research teams in Japan, Sri Lanka and Nepal under the auspices of the international Birds program.

- SpooQy 1, developed at the National University of Singapore, will demonstrate quantum entanglement with a CubeSat for the first time.

The Swiatowid spacecraft. Credit: SatRevolution S.A.

The Cygnus spacecraft also delivered the equivalent of more than 800 meals to the space station, according to NASA. The meals include smoked turkey, pork chops, shrimp cocktail, and desserts such as cherry cobbler, chocolate pudding and lemon cake.

The S.S. Roger Chaffee’s pressurized cargo module, built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy, is packed with 6,971 pounds (3,162 kilograms) of supplies and experiments. Here’s a breakdown of the cargo manifest provided by NASA:

- 3,459 pounds (1,569 kilograms) of science investigations
- 2,065 pounds (936 kilograms) of crew supplies
- 1,384 pounds (628 kilograms) of vehicle hardware
- 77 pounds (35 kilograms) of Northrop Grumman hardware
- 53 pounds (24 kilograms) of spacewalk equipment
- 10 pounds (5 kilograms) of computer resources

More than 500 pounds of additional payload hardware is affixed outside the Cygnus spacecraft to support CubeSat deployments after departing the space station, bringing the total payload complement on NG-11 to 7,575 pounds (3,436 kilograms).

The Cygnus supply ship is expected to remain berthed at the International Space Station’s Unity module until July 23, when it will be released by the station’s robotic arm with several tons of trash for disposal.

Northrop Grumman’s ground team in Dulles, Virginia, will send the Cygnus spacecraft into a higher orbit for deployment of several more CubeSats from a NanoRacks module and a Slingshot mechanism.

One of the CubeSats to be released after Cygnus’ departure from the space station is named Seeker. Developed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, with a camera system provided by engineers at the University of Texas at Austin, Seeker will perform an inspection of the Cygnus spacecraft to demonstrate in-space navigation and imaging capabilities that could be used on future missions in deep space.

Two AeroCube 10 nanosatellites from the Aerospace Corp. will also separate from Cygnus to conduct experiments in satellite-to-satellite pointing, evaluate the use of a water-based stream thruster, and release 29 tiny atmospheric probes to measure air density in low Earth orbit.

Northrop Grumman plans several months of long-duration spaceflight experiments using the Cygnus spacecraft after release of the CubeSats. Four miniaturized control moment gyroscopes are flying on the cargo freighter for the first time, and engineers will assess their performance in controlling the spacecraft’s pointing without consuming rocket fuel.

Ground teams also want to evaluate how the Cygnus spacecraft’s avionics function on a long-duration mission, and Northrop Grumman plans to demonstrate dual Cygnus operations for the first time after the launch of the company’s next resupply mission later this year.

Like all previous Cygnus missions, the spacecraft will burn up during re-entry over the Pacific Ocean once the extended mission demonstration is complete.