Watch A ‘Swan’ Fly Free From Its Trap In A Space Robotic Arm

by Elizabeth Howell on August 20, 2014

What does it look like when a cargo ship goes flying away from the International Space Station? This timelapse gives you a sense of what to expect. Here, you can see the handiwork of the (off-camera) Expedition 40 crew as they use the robotic Canadarm2 to let go of the Cygnus spacecraft.

“Great feeling to release a captured swan back into the wild last week,” wrote Alexander Gerst, an astronaut with the European Space Agency, on Twitter with the video.

Cygnus (Latin for “swan”, and a northern constellation) is a commercial spacecraft manufactured by Orbital Sciences Corp., and is one of two regular private visitors to the space station. The other one is Dragon, which is manufactured by SpaceX. Both companies have agreements with NASA to run periodic cargo flights to the station so that the astronauts can receive fresh equipment, food and personal items.

Space Station robotic arm releases Cygnus after detachment from the ISS Harmony node. Credit: NASA TV

Space Station robotic arm releases Cygnus after detachment from the ISS Harmony node. Credit: NASA TV

Both spacecraft are designed to be captured and released by Canadarm2, which the astronauts operate. When the Canadarm2 captures the spacecraft, it is referred to as a “berthing” (as opposed to a docking, when a spacecraft directly latches on to the station.)

Cygnus made a (planned) fiery re-entry Sunday that the astronauts captured on camera from their orbiting perch. Besides the inherent spectacular value of looking at the pictures, they could also be useful to help plan the eventual de-orbiting of the space station.


Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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