Cygnus Cargo Freighter Arrives at Space Station with 3 Tons of Cargo, CubeSats and Cold Atom Science Lab

This view taken from inside the Cupola shows
the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-9 space freighter approaching its capture point about
10 meters from the International Space Station where it was grappled with the
Canadarm2 robotic arm
on May 24, 2018.  Credit: NASA

Ken Kremer     24 May 2018

WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Following a spectacular
predawn launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia shore on
Monday, May 21, and a three day orbital chase, an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo
freighter arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) early Thursday
morning, May 24, loaded with over 3 tons of critical cargo, cubesats and a host
of science experiments including the Cold Atom Laboratory.

The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) developed by
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
will chill atoms to a colder temperature
than the vacuum of space.

The unpiloted Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft carried out a carefully
choreographed series of thruster firings to raise its initial orbit and close
in on the million pound orbiting lab complex.
Cygnus OA-9 cargo vehicle is approaching
the International
Space Station
to deliver ~7,385 pounds of cargo and
scientific experiments.
May 24, 2018.  Credit: NASA

Cygnus slowly approached from below and performed an engine
burn that brought the vehicle to the Joint Targeting Reference Point (JTRP) some
4 km (2.5 miles) under the ISS.

After a series of ‘go/no-go’ polls and additional thruster
firing Cygnus moved in progressively to a series of station keeping points between
1.5 km (0.9 mi) and then 250 m (820 ft), 30 m (98 ft), and finally 12 m (36 ft).

At that point the astronauts then maneuvered and extended the
17.6 m (57.7 ft) long robotic arm to reach and capture Cygnus.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-9 space freighter is slowly maneuvered by the
Canadarm2 robotic arm toward the Unity module for installation on the
International Space Station on May 24, 2018 to
resupply the Expedition 55 crew.  Credit:
The entire operation was broadcast live on NASA TV.

NASA astronaut and
Expedition 55 Flight Engineer
Cygnus cargo
spacecraft using the International Space Station’s Canadian-built robotic arm
at  5:26 a.m. EDT as the vehicles soared
some 425 k (
264 miles) over the southern Indian Ocean. 

He was backed up by NASA Astronaut Ricky
Arnold while NASA astronaut and Drew Feustel Cygnus system during the entire procedure.

Robotic ground controllers at Mission Control
in Houston at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC)  then took over and positioned Cygnus for
installation to the orbiting laboratory’s Earth-facing port of the Unity
Orbital ATK
Cygnus OA-9 space freighter approaches its capture point
about 10 meters from the International Space Station where it was grappled with
the Canadarm2 robotic arm on May 24, 2018
.  Credit: NASA

Berthing at Unity was completed at at 8:13
a.m. EDT after Cygnus was bolted into place with 16 bolts – 4 gangs of 4 bolts
to complete the hard mate to the Space Station.

The station was soaring about 254 miles over
the South Pacific at the time of berthing.

May 24, 2018:
International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are attached to the
space station including the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship, the Progress 69
resupply ship and the Soyuz MS-07 and MS-08 crew ships.
Credit: NASA

The cylindrically shaped Cygnus rendezvous, arrival and berthing
all proceeded flawlessly since Monday’s nighttime blastoff.

Orbital ATK Antares rocket streaks to orbit punching in and out of low, thick cloud
layer in the long exposure image of the Cygnus OA-9 cargo freighter launch at
4:44 a.m. May 21, 2018 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia with 3.7
tons of science and hardware bound for the International Space Station
Credit: Ken

The two stage Orbital ATK Antares rocket carrying
Cygnus came to life and roared to orbit with a crackling thunder as it slowly
liftoff off pad 0A at 4:44 a.m. EDT May 21 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in
Virginia and lit up the predawn nighttime sky with a stunningly beautiful
launch to orbit – darting in and out of low hanging clouds.
Antares was carrying the Orbital ATK Cygnus
cargo freighter loaded with some 7400 pounds (3,350 kg) of critical NASA cargo
bound for the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space
Station (ISS).

Watch my launch video:

Video Caption: Launch of
Orbital ATK Antares rocket on May 21, 2018 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility
oceanside pad 0A in Virginia carrying S.S. J.R. Thompson OA-9 resupply ship to
the ISS – as seen in this remote camera video taken at the pad. Credit: Ken

Cygnus is scheduled to spend about 7 weeks at
the orbiting outpost. 
The Expedition 55 crew planned to open the
hatches between the station and Cygnus on Friday and begin methodically unloading
all the gear.

Cygnus will depart in mid-July after the crew reloads the vehicle with several
tons of unneeded trash.

It will then conduct about 2 weeks of orbital
operation including science and cube sat deployments before being programmed
for a final thruster firing that will set the vehicle on course for a fiery and
destructive reentry into the atmosphere and harmless breakup over unpopulated
areas of the Pacific Ocean.
The mission,
alternatively named CRS-9 or OA-9, is Orbital ATK’s ninth contracted cargo
delivery flight to the International Space Station for NASA. 11 cargo flights
are planned altogether under the initial contract with NASA.
On board Cygnus
are 7,400 pounds (3,350 kg) of cargo including science experiments, research
gear, food, water, spare parts, crew supplies and vehicle hardware
to support the Expedition 55
and 56 crews.
Cygnus will deliver about
30,000 kilograms vital equipment, supplies and scientific equipment to the
space station as part of Orbital ATK’s Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1)
contract with NASA.
The manifest
aboard includes:
§  2,626 pounds (1,191 kilograms) of vehicle
§  2,251 pounds (1,021 kilograms) of science
§  1,788 pounds (811 kilograms) of crew supplies
§  291 pounds (132 kilograms) of spacewalk
§  220 pounds (100 kilograms) of computer resources
§  29 pounds (13 kilograms) of Russian hardware

The Cold Atom Lab team including Nobel Prize Winner Eric
Cornwell hold full scale model of the experiment riding along on Cygnus to the
ISS. Credit: Ken

NASA Science Highlights on Cygnus OA-9 include:

The Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST),
an investigation to identify unknown microbial organisms on the space station
and understand how humans, plants and microbes adapt to living on the station

The Cold Atom Laboratory, a physics research
facility used by scientists to explore how atoms interact when they have almost
no motion due to extreme cold temperatures

A unique liquid separation system from Zaiput Flow Technologies that
relies on surface forces, rather than gravity, to extract one liquid from

The Ice Cubes Facility, the first commercial
European opportunity to conduct research in space, made possible through an
agreement with ESA (European Space Agency) and Space Applications Services.

The Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification
experiment is to investigate and understand the complex
process of cement solidification in microgravity with the intent of improving
Earth-based cement and concrete processing and as the first steps toward making
and using concrete on extraterrestrial bodies.

Three Earth science

RainCube (Radar in a CubeSat) will be NASA’s
first active sensing instrument on a CubeSat that could enable future rainfall
profiling missions on low-cost, quick-turnaround platforms.

TEMPEST-D (Temporal Experiment for Storms and
Tropical Systems Demonstration) is mission to validate technology that could
improve our understanding of cloud processes.

CubeRRT (CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency
Interference Technology) will seek to demonstrate a new technology that can
identify and filter radio frequency interference, which is a growing problem
that negatively affects the data quality collected by radiometers, instruments
used in space for critical weather data and climate studies.

Three of the ISS crewmates are set to return to Earth on June 3 in their Russian Soyuz MS-07 capsule.

A three person replacement
and new
will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 6 in the
Russian Soyuz
MS-09 spacecraft for a six-month mission.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of Orbital ATK,
SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and more
space and mission reports direct from the Wallops
Flight Facility, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing
Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: – –
twitter @ken_kremer –

Antares OA-9 Post Launch Briefing May 21, 2018 at NASA
Wallops: Kirk Shireman, NASA International Space Station Program manager; Kurt
Eberly, Antares Deputy Program Manager, Orbital ATK; and Frank DeMauro, Vice
President and General Manager of the Advanced Programs Division, Orbital ATK.  Credit: Ken

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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