Saturday, May 26, 2018

OA-9 Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft Arrives at Space Station

OA-9 Cygnus spacecraft docks with ISS. Credit: Oleg Artemyev

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 8:13 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 24. The spacecraft will spend about seven weeks attached to the space station before departing in July. After it leaves the station, the uncrewed spacecraft will deploy several CubeSats before its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere as it disposes of several tons of trash.

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus was launched on the company’s Antares rocket Monday, May 21, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The spacecraft’s arrival brings about 7,400 pounds of research and supplies to support Expedition 55 and 56.

The Expedition 55 crew on Friday begun unloading the cargo that Cygnus delivered. The orbital residents are also conducting space research and preparing for a crew swap in early June.

Included in the cargo in the pressurized area of Cygnus is a centuries-old method of celestial navigation. The Sextant Navigation investigation will explore the use of a hand-held sextant for emergency navigation on missions in deep space as humans look to travel farther from Earth. The ability to sight angles between the Moon or planets and stars offers crews another option to find their way home if communications and main computers are compromised.

Monitoring crew health and the biological environment of the space station, and understanding long-term effects of space travel on both, are critical to NASA’s plans for long-duration, deep space exploration. The Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) study is the agency’s next step toward advancing in-space DNA sequencing technologies that can identify microbial organisms living on the space station and understanding how the DNA of humans, plants and microbes are affected by microgravity. BEST will use a process that sequences DNA directly from a sample, with minimal preparation, rather than using the traditional technique of growing a culture from the sample. 

In the realm of modern physics, the new Cold Atom Lab (CAL) on Cygnus could help answer some big questions. CAL creates a temperature 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space, then uses lasers and magnetic forces to slow down atoms until they are almost motionless. In the microgravity environment of the space station, CAL can observe these ultra-cold atoms for much longer than possible on Earth. Results of this research could lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation. 

There are now four spaceships parked at the International Space Station, the newest one having arrived to resupply the crew early Thursday morning. Astronauts Drew Feustel and Norishige Kanai opened Cygnus’ hatches shortly after it was installed to the Unity module. The cargo carrier will remain attached to the station until July so the astronauts can offload new supplies and repack Cygnus with trash.

NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, who caught Cygnus with the Canadarm2 robotic arm, swapped out gear inside a small life science research facility today called TangoLab-1. Tingle also joined Kanai later in the day transferring frozen biological samples from the Destiny lab module to the Kibo lab module.

The duo also joined Commander Anton Shkaplerov and continued to pack gear and check spacesuits ahead of their return to Earth on June 3 inside the Soyuz MS-07 spaceship. When the three crewmates land in Kazakhstan, about three and a half hours after undocking, the trio will have spent 168 days in space and conducted one spacewalk each.

Three new Expedition 56-57 crew members, waiting to replace the homebound station crew, are counting down to a June 6 launch to space. Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst will take a two-day ride to the space station with cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev inside the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft for a six-month mission aboard the orbital laboratory.

Credit: NASA

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