A commercial Cygnus freight package packed with 3.8 tons of medical and pharmaceutical experiments, technology demonstration hardware, CubeSats, food and supplies rode an Antares rocket in orbit from Virginia's Eastern Shore Wednesday afternoon at first leg of a day and a half journey to the international space station.
The 139-meter (42.5 meters) Antares rocket fired two Russian-made petroleum-burned RD-181 main engines and climbed away from launch pad 0A at Wallops Island, Virginia, at 16:46:07 EDT (2046: 07 GMT) Wednesday after a smooth countdown.
The two-stage lifter quickly rose from the launch plate overlooking the Atlantic and clearing four lightning masts in seconds, as the first step hydraulic steering system is committed to directing the rocket to the southeast, adapting to the space station's flight path.
The tomotoric first stage generated 864,000 pounds of shock at full power and fired for 3 minutes, 35 seconds, before closing and dropping away to fall into the Atlantic. After a short coast, the rocket's solidly burned second phase ignited to send Cygnus' supply ship into orbit.
Northrop Grumman's telemetry commentator confirmed a separation of the goal of Cygnu's spacecraft of 15,940 pounds (7,230 kg) about nine minutes after liftoff, and officials declared launch successful.
"Beautiful day, a great launch," said Joel Montalbano, NASA's Deputy International Space Station presenter. "It's great to have another truck on the way to the international space station."
In the first place, the Antares rocket carried 63 small student-built "ThinSats" as secondary payload in the second phase. Taken together in groups of three or six, ThinSats are each the size of a piece of bread containing solar cells to produce power, data transmitters and sensors for measuring parameters such as temperatures and pressures.
Antares upper phase implemented ThinSats a few minutes after the Cygnus spacecraft – mission's primary payload – separated from the rocket.
Using a standardized form factor, children from middle school age integrated into university student sensor and transmitter hardware at ThinSats with support from Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, Twiggs Space Lab, Northrop Grumman, and NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.
"All my passion in industry and in academia is children's education," says Bob Twiggs, co-inventor of CubeSat and ThinSat. "I was really turned on by doing something in the room, and if you can get these kids connected, boy, get out of the way or they'll run right over the top of you.
" Then do something like this at a price that you can come down to primary school … I think it's really good. "
Students from 70 schools in nine states contributed to ThinSats launched Wednesday, officials said they received telemetry signals from 43 of ThinSats at Wednesday night, and more data was expected overnight until Thursday
ThinSats was launched in a lane with a perigee or low of 125 miles (201 kilometers). At that height, the aerodynamic feature will quickly cause the small spacecraft to fall back in the atmosphere and burns up, probably within five or ten days, the rapid decay reduces concern that the miniature satellites, which may be too small to be accurately tracked via radar, may constitute an orbital waste hazard.
A slightly larger spacecraft or CubeSat called SASSI ^ 2 separate from the Antares rocket's upper phase with ThinSats. SASSI ^ 2 carries instruments from the University of Illinois and Purdue University to measure pressure, heat flux and spectral data as CubeSat meets aerodynamic resistance in the upper atmosphere before it burns up again
Cygnus spacecraft activated its communication, propulsion and steering and navigation systems moments after deployment from the Antares rocket, according to Frank DeMauro, vice president of Northrop Grumman's Space Department.
The freight freight field completed two circuit-increasing burns shortly after separation from the Antares second phase, putting the spacecraft on the track to arrive at the space station early Friday. Cygnus also transformed his two fan-shaped solar events to begin generating power, DeMauro said in a press conference after the launch.
The craft completed the first two track recordings autonomously using the ship's navigation computer, demonstrating a new capability that allows Cygnus to reach the space station in just over 36 hours instead of the more standardized two or three days.
"We're going from launch to being on the ISS in a day and a half, and one of the things that allows us to get there so quickly is the targeted heights of burning," DeMauro said.
Using position fixes from GPS satellites and laser stretch data, Cygnus supply ship will fly on autopilot in the last phase of Friday's rendezvous with the space station. The spacecraft must be in a catching position about 10 meters below the station at. 05:30 EDT (0930 GMT) when astronaut Anne McClain will use the Canadian built robotic arm to seize the Cygnus freight, which Northrop Grumman dubbed "SS Roger Chaffee" in honor of the astronaut who died with Gus Grissom and Ed White in Apollo 1 The fire in 1967.
The robot arm places Cygnus on the grounded port port on the station's Unity module, where the spacecraft will remain for about three months so that the station's astronauts can read equipment from the pressurized cabin and replace the cargo with waste for disposal.
The Cygnus Mission, launched Wednesday, designated NG-11, carries 7,575 pounds (3,436 kg) of cargo, including new flying robots that could help astronauts with space station tasks, medical experiments, and 40 mice to be examined by astronauts and scientists to investigate how their immune systems cope with space flight conditions.
About 6,971 pounds of 3,162 pounds of food, crew and science trials are inside the Cygnus spacecraft's cargo module, built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy, according to NASA's tally. The remainder of the mission's load load is mounted outside the spacecraft, where a NanoRack's CubeSat deployer releases three small nanatellites after the shipping ship leaves the space station.
After release from the station's robotic arm in July, the cargo ship will rise to a higher path for implementation of CubeSats, similar to maneuvers performed by former Cygnus missions. But instead of ordering the spacecraft to jump back into the atmosphere of a destructive re-entry, Northrop Grumman ground controllers will monitor months of further in-orbit experiments.
A package of four control torque gyroscopes is installed aboard the Cygnus spacecraft for the extended mission experiment. Using momentum to control the spacecraft's point or setting, the four spinning gyroscopes will reduce Cygnus spacecraft's consumption of liquid propellants that feed thrusters, which are usually used to change the shipping ship's orientation.
The innovation will allow Cygnus spacecraft to remain in orbit for up to one year. Cygnus missions have previously been up to more than three or four months.
"We use the control moment gyros to control the spacecraft setting as opposed to fuel," said DeMauro in an interview with Spaceflight Now before Wednesday's launch. 19659003] Earlier, Northrop Grumman officials said the extended mission demo could last a year, but DeMauro said the mission's duration will depend on when engineers meet all their goals.
"How long we go will really depend on achieving our goal for the extended mission (demonstration)," DeMauro said.
"We want to do a few things," he said. "First we will show how the spacecraft works with the CMGs (control moment gyroscopes) and demonstrate that our platform can use CMG's – not just our platform but other Northrop Grumman spacecraft.
" The second we will do show that avionics can run for a long time, "DeMauro said." We have typically run them for several months as we have undergone tests, and then they run for three to four months depending on how long we is in orbit. This time, we will demonstrate an even longer period that the computers run smoothly and that the attitude management system works as expected. "
The control moment gyroscopes were built by Honeywell using new miniaturized technology that could be used for future small satellites.
Northrop Grumman wants to keep the NG-11 Cygnus spacecraft encircled by the launch of its next space station supply mission designated NG-12, currently scheduled for October  Officials want to offer future Cygnus spacecrafts as a science and technology consumption platform when leaving the space station, DeMauro said Cygnus spacecraft provides a flexible environmental circuit for circuit research Even better than the space station, which has disturbances from crew members' movement and other external influences. The use of gyroscopes will create more untouched micro-gravity conditions, eliminating impulses from thruster firing to change the ship's orientation.
"The idea is that for future missions can equip Cygnus to have it extended duration, and then after completing the primary mission, this extended duration offers either government or commercial entities, "DeMauro said in an interview Tuesday with Spaceflight Now. "We will give them enough time in circuits that are not limited 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 resume the atmosphere and burn up over the Pacific when the extended duration demonstration is completed.
NG-11 mission is the last Cygnus flight during Northrop Grumman's first freight contract with NASA, an agreement originally signed in 2008 now worth $ 2.89 billion, according to government accountability office. The company has a subsequent Commercial Resupply Services, or CRS-2, contract for at least six additional Cygnus missions through 2024, starting with the NG-12 mission later this year.
"Our push is to offer NASA increased science capabilities on each mission," DeMauro said.
For the first time in the NG-11 mission, ground teams stored at Wallop's time-consuming load in the Cygnus spacecraft at the launch pad less than 24 hours before lifting. Northrop Grumman developed a new Mobile Payload Processing Facility or a clean room to place over the Antares rocket payload after the launcher was lowered back to a horizontal position after preliminary run-in surveys.
Technicians removed the top of the payload, known as the "pop-top", and opened the Cygnus hatch to allow teams to load the cabinet containing the experiment of rodent research along with a bioanalyzer experiment and other elements. The NG-11 mission marks the first time that a key research payload has flown aboard a Cygnus supply ship, following several missions on SpaceX's Dragon Canister.
The NG-11 launch on Wednesday also debuted a new navigation system on the Antares rocket, ahead of further launch upgrades that come with the first CRS-2 mission later this year.
Engineers will upgrade the Antares rocket structure to the next mission so the first steps are twin RD-181 engines to remain at full throttle as the launch flies through the most extreme aerodynamic pressure period, or Max-Q after lift . The engines are currently lubricated back to about 55 percent power to facilitate passage through the Max-Q.
Northrop Grumman also removes some unnecessary insulation from the inside of the Castor 30XL upper stage motor housing and switches from a three-piece fairing adapter to a lighter single-piece structure. Future Antares rockets will also fly with two fewer helium pressure bottles in the first phase. Data from previous launches showed that rocket does not need the extra helium bottles.
The RD-181 engines also start without heat exchangers designed to heat helium gas during flight. Northrop Grumman officials say the heat exchangers are not used by the Antares rocket.
The upgrade rocket will be known as Antares 230 +.
The changes will increase the mass of payload, the Antares rocket can rise to 1.763 pounds (800 kilos), according to Kurt Eberly, vice president of the Antares program at Northrop Grumman.
"It will allow us to pack even more cargo into the cargo modules," DeMauro said. "We've made some more changes to pack it more efficiently. It'll be able to give us another 10 percent or more shipping in the same volume."
The Cygnus team has taken a step-by-step approach to upgrades since spacecraft initial mission.
Since the ancestors rocket and Cygnus spacecraft first missions in 2013, engineers from Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – formerly known as Orbital Sciences and Orbital ATK – have introduced a larger Thales-built load module and debuted new RD-181 engines for the Antares first phase. The officials replaced the original AJ26 first-phase engines of the Antares rocket after one of the power failures at a 2014 launch destroyed a Cygnus spacecraft heading to the space station and damaged the launch pad on Wallops Island.
DeMauro said the enhanced performance and longevity of the latest generation of Cygnus supply vessels set the spacecraft for more demanding missions in the future, including flights to deep space to support NASA's plans to build a mini-space station called Gateway in the lunar circuit with a target set by the Trump administration of landing astronauts on the moon as soon as 2024.
"Going out to the chaise room will be a little different," said DeMauro. "So we've looked at the upgrades required for the higher radiation environment, various communication systems, docking versus berthing systems."
Northrop Grumman has a NASA contract to develop a habitat concept based on the Cygnus design that could be attached to the NASA Gateway around the moon to provide residential quarters to astronauts. Lunar landers could be staged at Gateway for excursions to and from the lunar surface.
"We believe we have a great place to offer NASA a proven but upgraded technology suite on a Cygnus class vehicle to provide all kinds of services into the cisma room, be it habitats, logistics services, science and Cygnus is a stepping stone from that point of view, "said DeMauro.
"We can even expand it further and be part of the system to put people on the moon itself," DeMauro said.
Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., purchased by Northrop Corp. in 1994 to form Northrop Grumman, Apollo built Lunar Landers.
"If you look at that expertise and you combine it with our expertise with Cygnus, we know there is a lot of capacity out there that we will benefit from," DeMauro said. "So we have every expectation that we will play a major role, not only in supporting the crew that goes out to the moon, but in designing, building and delivering something that actually brings people down to the moon, so we is so excited about the future. "
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