Antares rocket ready to launch Cygnus NG-16 freighter to NASA space station

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WALLOPS ISLAND, Virginia – NASA and Northrop Grumman say everything is going well for the launch of a Cygnus cargo capsule later today (August 10). The spacecraft is packed with research and supplies for the Expedition 65 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The flight will take off from Pad 09A at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia during a scheduled five-minute window that opens at 5:56 p.m. EDT (2156 GMT). Weather officials say tonight’s forecast shows conditions are 80% “GO” for launch, with the only concern being potential cumulus clouds.

You can watch the launch live here on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, starting at 5:30 p.m. EDT (9:30 p.m. GMT). You can also watch it directly from NASA TV here.

Related: Drops in space and other interesting science launching into the space station

A two-stage Antares rocket, 139 feet (42.5 meters) high, will carry the Cygnus spacecraft into orbit, kicking off a two-day trip to the ISS. Once at the space station, Cygnus will dock with the orbital outpost using the station’s robotic arm Canadarm2.

NASA astronaut and Expedition 65 crew member Megan McArthur will use Canadarm2 to grab the Cygnus, with the help of his teammate Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency. They are expected to capture the incoming cargo on Thursday (August 12) at 6:10 a.m. EDT (10:10 GMT). Mission Control in Houston will then oversee the installation of the spacecraft on the Earth-facing port of the station’s Unity module.

Cygnus will remain attached to the station for about three months before making a destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi captured this photo of the previous Cygnus freighter, which was launched on mission NG-15 to the International Space Station in February. (Image credit: Soichi Noguchi / JAXA / Twitter)

The Cygnus spacecraft and the Antares rocket were both built by Northrop Grumman, one of the two companies currently delivering cargo to the ISS for NASA (SpaceX is the other). The duo made their way to the launch pad on August 5 ahead of the scheduled launch on Tuesday.

The mission, designated NG-16, is the 15th operational space station refueling launch by Northrop Grumman (and its predecessors, Orbital Sciences and Orbital ATK) under its commercial refueling services contract with NASA.

With this flight, Northrop Grumman continues its tradition of naming the Cygnus spacecraft after an individual who made key contributions to human spaceflight. In this case, the silver spacecraft is named SS Ellison Onizuka after the first Asian-American astronaut, who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.

Freighters carry essential supplies and food for space station astronauts, but also many research investigations. During this mission, Cygnus will deliver approximately 8,200 lbs. (3,700 kilograms) of science experiments, supplies and equipment for the space station’s Expedition 65 crew.

A number of research investigations will be inside the cargo vehicle, including a study to determine if the altered muscle tissue is a good test bed for drug therapies, a new carbon dioxide scavenger for the station, as well as material for more solar energy. panels.

Cygnus also has a secondary payload on board that will help engineers design better tracking systems for future spacecraft. The prototype infrared payload (or PIRPL) will last about three months, collecting infrared data to develop algorithms that future sensors will use to identify hypersonic missiles in low orbit.

“It will also be used to study the environmental impacts of catastrophic events such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of the Tactical Space Systems division of Northrop Grumman at a press conference Monday August 9.

As a rule, cargo ships remain attached to the station for a few months, to allow the crew to fill them either with cargo to be returned to Earth, or, as is the case with Cygnus, with garbage to be burned when the spaceship re-enters the atmosphere. The spacecraft poses no threat to Earth.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.


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