The flight of the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus commercial cargo carrier concluded this morning, Sunday Aug. 17, in a spectacular fireball as planned upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere at approximately 9:15 a.m. (EDT). And the fireworks were captured for posterity in a series of amazing photos taken by the Expedition 40 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS). See astronaut photos above and below.
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev documented the breakup and disintegration of Cygnus over the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand today following precise thruster firings commanded earlier by Orbital Sciences mission control in Dulles, VA, that slowed the craft and sent it on a preplanned destructive reentry trajectory.
Gerst was truly moved by the spectacle of what he saw as a portent for his voyage home inside a Soyuz capsule barely three months from now, with crew mates Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman.
“In 84 days Reid, Max and I will ride home inside such an amazing fireball! In 84 Tagen werden Reid, Max & ich in solch einem Feuerball nach Hause fliegen!” – Gerst wrote from the station today in his social media accounts with the fireball photos.
Cygnus was loaded with no longer needed trash and fell harmlessly over an uninhabited area of the South Pacific Ocean.
Today’s spectacular reentry fireworks concluded the hugely successful flight of the Cygnus resupply ship named in honor of astronaut Janice Voss on the Orb-2 mission.
The astronaut photos may be helpful to engineers planning the mechanics of the eventual deorbiting of the ISS at some point in the hopefully distant future.
Cygnus finished it’s month-long resupply mission two days ago when it was unberthed from the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, Aug. 15, and station astronaut Alex Gerst released the vessel from the snares of the Canadarm2 robotic arm at 6:40 a.m. EDT.
“From start to finish, we are very pleased with the results of this mission. Our team is proud to be providing essential supplies to the ISS crew so they can carry out their vital work in space,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group, in a statement.
Cygnus roared to orbit during a spectacular blastoff on July 13 atop an Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket on the Orb-2 mission at 12:52 p.m. (EDT) from the beachside Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
It arrived at the station after a three day chase and was captured with the 58-foot (17-meter) long Canadian robotic arm on July 16, 2014 by Station Commander Steve Swanson working at a robotics workstation in the cupola.
Cygnus arrival at the ISS took place on the 45th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969 on America’s first manned moon landing mission by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
The US/Italian built pressurized Cygnus cargo freighter delivered 1,657 kg (3653 lbs) of cargo to the ISS Expedition 40 crew including over 700 pounds (300 kg) of science experiments and instruments, crew supplies, food, water, computer equipment, spacewalk tools and student research experiments.
This mission dubbed Orbital-2, or Orb-2, marks the second of at least eight operational cargo resupply missions to the ISS under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.
The next resupply launch of the private Cygnus Orb-3 craft atop the Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket is currently scheduled for October 2014 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA.
Orbital Sciences was awarded a $1.9 Billion supply contract by NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms (44,000 pounds) of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for 8 flights to the ISS through 2016 under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) initiative.
“With three fully successful cargo delivery missions now complete, it is clear our public-private partnership with NASA is proving to be a positive asset to the productivity of the ISS. We are looking forward to the next Antares launch and the Cygnus cargo delivery mission that is coming up in about two months,” said Culbertson.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing ISS, Rosetta, OCO-2, GPM, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.