Northrop Grumman Cygnus freighter leaves space station to conduct in-orbit experiment

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The last Cygnus freighter left the International Space Station on Saturday, November 20 after sending cargo to the crew into orbit.

The Northrop Grumman NG-16 supply ship was released from the hold of the station’s robotic arm at 11:01 a.m. EST (1601 GMT) by a command from the NASA Mission Control Center in Houston as the two spacecraft flew overhead. the South Pacific Ocean. The Cygnus spacecraft moved away from the International Space Station under the supervision of Matthias Maurer, a European Space Agency astronaut who was part of the station’s Expedition 66 crew.

Video: Watch astronauts capture Cygnus NG-16 in orbit

Cygnus will spend several weeks in space before being invited to re-enter the atmosphere on December 15. Meanwhile, ground controllers will deploy the Kentucky Re-Entry Probe, the latest in a series of stand-alone experiments that will take place over the last few weeks of Cygnus missions.

This new experiment “will demonstrate a thermal protection system for spacecraft and their contents upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, which can be difficult to replicate in ground simulations,” NASA said in a statement.

Cygnus arrived at the ISS on August 12 with its largest delivery to date, with four tons of material. The Cygnus supply ship was named SS Ellison Onizuka in honor of the first Asian American astronaut Ellison Onuzuka, who was killed along with six others in the shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

The spacecraft arrived with over 8,200 pounds. (3,720 kilograms) of supplies, equipment and experiments, the largest cargo delivery ever to the station by a Cygnus spacecraft. The delivery included new equipment, a carbon dioxide scrubber to ensure breathable air, and equipment for the station’s upgraded solar panels. The experiments included a slimy mold (a brainless drop) and two payloads to examine human muscle cells in space.

The mission was the 15th operational refueling launch to the space station by Northrop Grumman since 2014. Prior launches were overseen by Orbital Sciences and Orbital ATK, which Northrop Grumman subsequently acquired.

“The Cygnus system has evolved from a simple cargo delivery service to a high performance science platform,” said Steve Krein, Northrop Grumman vice president, civil and commercial space, tactical space systems, in a statement. “We continue to develop these capabilities to include the installation of environmental control systems and other upgrades to support the Lunar Orbit Housing and Logistics Outpost, or HALO.”

The HALO project is a housing module for the Gateway space station planned by NASA around the moon for future Artemis astronauts. Northrop Grumman uses his experience with Cygnus to design the HALO module.

The next US freighter to visit the space station will be a SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft, scheduled for launch in late December.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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