Northrop Grumman will partner with startup Firefly Aerospace to continue sending cargo to the International Space Station.
It’s truly a time of ‘crisis and opportunity’ out there in the spaceflight industry, as private startups carve out their niche, in a traditionally government-based environment. This was especially apparent last week, when aerospace giant Northrop Grumman stated that it will partner with the small space startup Firefly Aerospace to build the next generation of Antares rockets.
One of the reasons the ISS is still alive and kicking is that it offers a unique environment for testing that is available nowhere, either on the Earth or off of it. Plenty of science experiments want to take advantage of that uniqueness. This week, a fresh crop of experiments was delivered to the ISS aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply craft. They range from 3D printers to a high school science experiment with mold, and now they each have the opportunity to make use of the ISS’s microgravity environment.
NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – An Orbital ATK Antares rocket successfully blasted off this morning, Sunday, Nov. 12, from the eastern shore of Virginia on a NASA contracted mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS) carrying a Cygnus cargo ship loaded with nearly 4 tons of vital science and supplies.
The two stage Antares rocket launched flawlessly shortly sunrise Sunday at 7:19 a.m. EST, Nov. 12 on an upgraded version of the Antares rocket from Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia carrying the Cygnus resupply spacecraft named in honor of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon.
The launch came a day late due to a last moment scrub on the originally planned Veteran’s Day liftoff, Saturday, Nov. 11, when a reckless pilot flew below radar into restricted airspace just 5 miles away from the launch pad – forcing a sudden and unexpected halt to the countdown under absolutely perfect weather conditions.
Finally the rocket roared off the pad Sunday under cloudy skies – to the delight of a spectators, with a brilliant flash of light. Slowly at first and then accelerating almost straight up before arcing over just slightly in a southeasterly direction and soon disappearing into the thick clouds. In fact it was so load that local residents told me their windows and houses shook and rattled.
Saturday’s sudden scrub disappointed tens of thousands of spectators who had gathered around the East coast launch region and beyond for a rare chance to see the launch of a powerful rocket on a critical cargo delivery mission for NASA conducted the benefit of the six person crew serving on the station to advance science for all of humanity.
The pilot may have intentionally flown the plane low enough to avoid detection so he could take photos for profit.
As a result of this extremely serious violation of flight rules which raises significant safety and base security issues the FAA and NASA are now undertaking an intense review of rules after the repeated serious incursions by planes and boats into exclusion zones during launches, and what penalties and fines should be applied.
The Cygnus spacecraft dubbed OA-8 is Orbital ATK’s eighth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station under the unmanned Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program to stock the station with supplies on a continuing and reliable basis.
“Today’s successful launch of the OA-8 Cygnus on our Antares launch vehicle once again demonstrates the reliability of Orbital ATK’s hardware along with our commitment to deliver critical cargo to astronauts on the International Space Station,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group.
“Soon, Cygnus will rendezvous with the space station to deliver valuable scientific experiments, hardware and crew supplies to the orbiting platform. On this mission, Cygnus will again display its flexibility as an in-orbit science platform by supporting experiments to be performed inside the cargo module while attached to the space station. We are proud to dedicate this mission to Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan and his family and look forward to celebrating the OA-8 contributions to science in his name.”
After a two day orbital chase the S.S. Gene Cernan will arrive in the vicinity of the space station early Tuesday, Nov. 14. Cygnus will be grappled by Expedition 53 astronaut Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) of Italy at approximately 4:50 a.m. EST on November 14 using the space station’s robotic arm. He will be assisted by NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik.
NASA TV will provide live coverage of the rendezvous and grappling.
Cygnus will remain at the space station until Dec. 4, when the spacecraft will depart the station and deploy several CubeSats before its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere as it disposes of several tons of trash.
The 14 story tall commercial Antares rocket launched for only the second time in the upgraded 230 configuration – powered by a pair of the new Russian-built RD-181 first stage engines.
The rocket performed flawlessly said Kurt Eberly, Orbital ATK deputy program manager for Antares, during the post launch briefing at NASA Wallops.
There was only a slight over performance of the Castor XL solid fueled second stage, which was all to the good – as occurred during the first launch of the upgraded Antares a year ago in October 2016 on the OA-5 resupply mission.
Indeed the overperformance of the second stage may allow Orbital ATK to load the Cygnus with an even heavier cargo load than previously foreseen.
On this flight,the Cygnus OA-8 spacecraft is jam packed with its heaviest cargo load to date!
Altogether over 7,400 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware launched to the orbital laboratory and its crew of six for investigations that will occur during Expeditions 53 and 54.
The S.S. Gene Cernan manifest includes equipment and samples for dozens of scientific investigations including those that will study communication and navigation, microbiology, animal biology and plant biology. The ISS science program supports over 300 ongoing research investigations.
Cernan was commander of the Apollo 17, NASA’s last lunar landing mission and passed away in January at age 82. He set records for both lunar surface extravehicular activities and the longest time in lunar orbit on Apollo 10 and Apollo 17.
The 139-foot-tall (42.5-meter) Antares rocket had been rolled out to the launch pad around 1 a.m. EST Thursday morning, Nov. 9, and erected as planned into the vertical position, Kurt Eberly, Orbital ATK deputy program manager for Antares, told Universe Today.
The Cygnus OA-8 spacecraft is Orbital ATK’s eighth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station under the unmanned Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program to stock the station with supplies on a continuing basis.
Under the Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 66,000 pounds (30,000 kilograms) of cargo to the space station. OA-8 is the eighth of these missions.
Beginning in 2019, the company will carry out a minimum of six cargo missions under NASA’s CRS-2 contract using a more advanced version of Cygnus.
Watch for Ken’s continuing Antares/Cygnus mission and launch reporting from on site at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA during the launch campaign.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Orbital ATK announced late Tuesday that the company’s Antares medium-class commercial rocket outfitted with new first stage RD-181 engines has successfully completed a test firing of the powerplants.
The 30-second long static test firing took place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, May 31, at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A.
The now revamped launch vehicle – dubbed Antares 230 – has been ‘re-engined’ and upgraded with a pair of modern and more powerful first stage engines – the Russian-built RD-181 fueled by LOX/kerosene.
The engine test was conducted using only the first stage of Antares at the MARS Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.
“Early indications show the upgraded propulsion system, core stage and launch complex all worked together as planned,” said Mike Pinkston, Orbital ATK General Manager and Vice President, Antares Program.
“Congratulations to the combined NASA, Orbital ATK and Virginia Space team on a successful test.”
Orbital ATK engineers will now “review test data over the next several days to confirm that all test parameters were met”
If all goes well with the intensive data review, the company could launch Antares as soon as July on its next NASA contracted mission – known as OA-5 – to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).
The test involved firing up Antares dual first stage RD-181 engines at full 100% power (thrust) for a scheduled duration of approximately 30 seconds. Hold down restraints kept the rocket firmly anchored at the pad during the test.
The RD-181 replaces the previously used AJ26 which failed moments after liftoff during the last launch on Oct. 28, 2014 resulting in a catastrophic failure of the rocket and the Cygnus cargo freighter.
The RD-181 flight engines are built by Energomash in Russia and had to be tested via the static hot fire test to ensure their readiness.
“They are a good drop in replacement for the AJ26. And they offer 13% higher thrust compared to the AJ26,” said Kurt Eberly, Orbital ATK Antares deputy program manager, in an interview with Universe Today.
As a result of switching to the new RD-181 engines, the first stage also had to be modified to incorporate new thrust adapter structures, actuators, and propellant feed lines between the engines and core stage structure.
So the primary goal was to confirm the effectiveness of the new engines and all the changes in the integrated rocket stage.
“The successful stage test, along with the extensive testing of each new RD-181, gives us further confidence in the first stage propulsion and in moving forward to launch,” said Pinkston.
“We are now focused on the OA-5 mission and launching the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station on our upgraded, higher-performing Antares rocket.”
The test used the first stage core planned to launch the OA-7 mission from Wallops late this year.
With the engine test is completed, the OA-7 stage will be rolled back to the HIF and a new stage fully integrated with the Cygnus cargo freighter will be rolled out to the pad for the OA-5 ‘Return to Flight’ mission as soon as July.
“Each of the new flight RD-181 engines has undergone hot fire acceptance testing at the manufacturer’s facility prior to being shipped to Orbital ATK. A certification test series was successfully completed in the spring of 2015 where a single engine was test fired seven times, accumulating 1,650 seconds of test time and replicating the Antares flight profile, before being disassembled for inspection,” said Orbital ATK officials.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Orbital ATK has unveiled a practical new proposal to build a near term man-tended outpost in lunar orbit that could launch by 2020 and be operational in time for a lunar link-up with NASA’s Orion crew module during its maiden mission, when American astronauts finally return to the Moon’s vicinity in 2021 – thus advancing America’s next giant leap in human exploration of deep space.
The intrepid offer by Orbital could be carried out rather quickly because it utilizes an evolved version of the company’s already proven commercial Cygnus space station resupply freighter as “the building block … in cislunar space,” said Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK Vice President for Human Spaceflight Systems, in an exclusive interview with Universe Today. See an artist concept in the lead image.
“Our Cygnus spacecraft is the building block to become a vehicle for exploration beyond low Earth orbit,” Orbital ATK’s Frank DeMauro told Universe Today.
“We are all about supporting NASA’s Mission to Mars. We feel that getting experience in cislunar space is critical to the buildup of the capabilities to go to Mars.”
NASA’s agency wide goal is to send astronauts on a ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s – and expeditions to cislunar space in the 2020s serve as the vital ‘proving ground’ to fully develop, test out and validate the robustness of crucial technologies upon which the astronauts lives will depend on later Red Planet missions lasting some 2 to 3 years.
Orbital ATK’s lunar-orbit outpost proposal was announced at an official hearing of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Space on Wednesday, May 18, by former NASA Astronaut and Orbital ATK President of the Space Systems Group, Frank Culbertson.
“A lunar-orbit habitat will extend America’s leadership in space to the cislunar domain,” said Orbital ATK President of the Space Systems Group, Frank Culbertson.
“A robust program to build, launch and operate this initial outpost would be built on NASA’s and our international partners’ experience gained in long-duration human space flight on the International Space Station and would make use of the agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion deep-space transportation system.”
The idea is to assemble an initial crew-tended habitat with pressurized work and living volume for the astronauts based on a Cygnus derived vehicle, and have it pre-positioned and functioning in lunar-orbit by 2020.
As envisioned by Orbital ATK, the habitat would be visited during NASA’s first manned mission of SLS and Orion to the Moon known as Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2).
The three week long EM-2 lunar test flight could launch as early as August 2021 – if sufficient funding is available.
The goals of EM-2 and following missions could be significantly broadened via docking with a lunar outpost. And Orion mission durations could be extended to 60 days.
NASA hopes to achieve a launch cadence for Orion/SLS of perhaps once per year.
Therefore autonomy and crew tended capability has to be built in to the lunar habitat right from the start – since crew visits would account for only a fraction of its time but enable vastly expanded science and exploration capabilities.
The initial lunar habitat envisioned by Orbital ATK would be comprised of two upgraded Cygnus pressurized vehicles – provisionally dubbed as Exploration Augmentation Modules (EAM). They would be attached to a multi-port docking module very similar in concept and design to the docking Nodes already flying in orbit as integral components of the ISS.
The lunar Cygnus vehicles would be upgraded from the enhanced cargo ships currently being manufactured and launched to the ISS.
“There are additional capabilities that we can put into the Cygnus module. We can make them longer and bigger so they can carry more logistics and carry more science,” DeMauro elaborated.
A variety of supplementary subsystems would also need to be enhanced.
“We looked at what systems we would need to modify to make it a long term habitation module. Since we would not be docked to the ISS, we would need our own Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) out at lunar orbit to support the crew.”
“The service module would also need to be improved due to the high radiation environment and the longer time.”
“We also need to look at the thermal protection subsystem, radiation protection subsystem and power subsystems to support the vehicle for many years as opposed to the short time spent at the ISS. More power is also needed to support more science. We also need a propulsion system to get to the Moon and maintain the vehicle.”
“All that work is getting looked at now – to determine what we need to modify and upgrade and how we would do all that work,” DaMauro told me.
The habitat components would be launched to the Moon on a commercial launch vehicle.
High on the list of candidate launchers would be the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket which recently already successfully delivered two Cygnus cargo ships to the ISS in Dec. 2015 and March 2016.
Other potential boosters include the ULA Delta IV and even ESA’s Ariane V as a way to potentially include international participation.
The habitat components could be manufactured and launched about three years after getting a ‘Go Ahead’ contract from NASA.
Orbital ATK already has an established production line flowing to manufacture a steady stream of Cygnus cargo freighters to fulfill their NASA commercial resupply contract with NASA for the ISS – accumulating know how and cost reduction efficiencies.
“Since many aspects of operations in deep space are as yet untested, confidence must be developed through repeated flights to, and relatively long-duration missions in, cislunar space,” says Culbertson.
“Orbital ATK continues to operate our Cygnus cargo logistics vehicle as a flagship product, so we are ready to quickly and affordably implement an initial Cygnus-derived habitat in cislunar space within three years of a go-ahead.”
Cygnus is suitable for wide ranging science experiments and gear. It could also launch cubesats – like the current Cygnus berthed at the ISS is equipped with a cubesat deployer.
Potential lunar landers developed by international partners could dock at the cislunar habitats open docking ports in between surface science forays.
“We are doing science now on Cygnus and we would expect to carry along science experiments on the new Cygnus vehicle. The vehicle is very attractive to science experiments,” DeMauro explained.
“There really is no limit to what the outpost could become.”
“What we put out is very exciting,” DeMauro noted.
“As a company we are looking forward to working in this arena. Our suggested plans are in line with where NASA wants to go. And we think we are the right company to play a big part in that!”
By incorporating commercial companies and leveraging the considerable technology development lessons learned from Cygnus, NASA should realize significant cost savings in implementing its human exploration strategy. Although Orbital ATK is not divulging a cost estimate for the lunar habitat at this time, the cost savings from a commercial partner should be considerable. And the 3 year time frame to launch is very attractive.
Orion is designed to send astronauts deeper into space than ever before, including missions to the Moon, asteroids and the Red Planet. Cygnus derived modules and/or other augmenting hardware components will be required to carry out any round trip human missions to the Martian surface.
NASA is now building the next Orion capsule at the Kennedy Space Center. It will launch unpiloted atop the first SLS rocket in late 2018 on the EM-1 mission.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
“Honor to give #Cygnus a hand (or arm) in finalizing its mission this morning. Well done #SSDekeSlayton!” Kelly quickly posted to his social media accounts.
The Orbital ATK “S.S. Deke Slayton II” Cygnus craft had arrived at the station with several tons of supplies on Dec. 9, 2015 after blazing to orbit on Dec. 6 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the company’s fourth NASA-contracted commercial station resupply mission dubbed CRS-4.
To prepare for today’s release, ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center first used the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6- meter-long) robotic arm, Canadarm2, to unberth Cygnus from its place on the stations Earth-facing port of the Unity module at about 5:38 a.m.
Cygnus came loaded with over three tons of critically needed supplies and research experiments as well as Christmas presents for the astronauts and cosmonauts living and working on the massive orbital lab complex during Expeditions 45 and 46.
Today’s activities were carried live on NASA TV. This brief NASA video shows a few highlights from Cygnus departure:
Altogether, Cygnus spent approximately 72 days attached to the station. During that time the crews unloaded all the research gear for experiments in areas such as biology, biotechnology, and physical and Earth science.
“All good things must come to an end. #Cygnus, your mission was a success! Farewell #SSDekeSlayton,” said Kelly.
Mission controllers at Orbital ATK’s Dulles, VA space operations facility soon commanded Cygnus to fire its thrusters to gradually maneuver away from the station.
Before departure, the crew had loaded Cygnus back up with about 3000 pounds of trash for disposal.
On Saturday, after the spacecraft is far away from the station, controllers will fire the engines twice to pushing the vehicle into Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery reentry where it will harmlessly burn up over the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, Kelly himself will also be departing the ISS in about ten days when his historic ‘1 Year ISS Mission’ concludes on March 1, when he returns to Earth on a Russian Soyuz capsule along with his cosmonaut crewmates Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov.
December’s arrival of the Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 cargo freighter – also known as OA-4 – represented the successful restart of American’s critically needed cargo missions to the ISS following a pair of launch failures by both of NASA’s cargo providers – Orbital ATK and SpaceX – over the past year and a half. It was the first successful US cargo delivery mission in some 8 months.
Cygnus was named the ‘SS Deke Slayton II’ in memory of Deke Slayton, one of the America’s original seven Mercury astronauts. He was a member of the Apollo Soyuz Test Flight. Slayton was also a champion of America’s commercial space program.
CRS-4 counts as the first flight of Cygnus on an Atlas and the first launch to the ISS using an Atlas booster.
This is also the first flight of the enhanced, longer Cygnus, measuring 5.1 meters (20.5 feet) tall and 3.05 meters (10 feet) in diameter, sporting a payload volume of 27 cubic meters.
“The enhanced Cygnus PCM is 1.2 meters longer, so it’s about 1/3 longer,” Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK Vice President for Human Spaceflight Systems Programs, said in an exclusive interview with Universe Today.
This Cygnus also carried its heaviest payload to date since its significantly more voluminous than the original shorter version.
“It can carry about 50% more payload,” DeMauro told me.
“This Cygnus will carry more payload than all three prior vehicles combined,” former NASA astronaut Dan Tani elaborated.
The total payload packed on board amounted to 3513 kilograms (7745 pounds), including science investigations, crew supplies, vehicle hardware, spacewalk equipment and computer resources.
Among the contents are science equipment totaling 846 kg (1867 lbs.), crew supplies of 1181 kg (2607 lbs.), and spacewalk equipment of 227 kg (500 lbs.).
Orbital ATK holds a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from NASA worth $1.9 Billion to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for eight Cygnus cargo delivery flights to the ISS.
Orbital ATK has contracted a second Cygnus to fly on an Atlas on the OA-6 mission, currently slated for liftoff around March 22, 2016. Liftoff was delayed about two weeks to decontaminate an infestation of mold found in cargo already packed on the Cygnus.
NASA has also contracted with Orbital ATK to fly three additional missions through 2018. Orbital also recently was awarded six additional cargo missions by NASA as part of the CRS-2 procurement.
Orbital ATK hopes to resume Cygnus cargo launches with their own re-engined Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia this summer.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
The first British astronaut to blast off on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS) soared gloriously skyward early today, Dec 15, following the flawless launch of a Russian Soyuz capsule with his Russian/American crewmates from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The picture perfect liftoff of the Soyuz TMA-19M rocket into clear blue skies with Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander and six time space flyer Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA, and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), occurred at 6:03 a.m. EST (5:03 p.m. Baikonur time, 1103 GMT) on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.
The commercial Cygnus cargo spaceship, loaded with over three tons of critically needed supplies and research experiments, successfully rendezvoused and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Dec. 9) after blazing to orbit on Sunday, Dec. 6, and thereby successfully resumed the American resupply chain to orbit – just in time for Christmas in Space!
The Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 resupply vessel arrived in the vicinity of the massive orbiting outpost around 530 a.m. EST today with pinpoint accuracy after precisely firing its maneuvering thrusters to home in on the complex during a two day orbital chase.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The unplanned ‘Happy Marriage’ of United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Orbital ATK is set to give birth Sunday, Dec. 6, to a Cygnus cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS).
Following two scrubs and a three day due to intense and wide spread rain squalls and excessive blustery winds, the third time is hopefully the charm for the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship set for blastoff atop the venerable ULA Atlas V booster.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The largest and most advanced version of the privately developed Cygnus cargo freighter ever built by Orbital ATK is fueled, loaded and ready to go to orbit – signifying a critical turning point towards resuming American commercial cargo launches to the space station for NASA that are critical to keep it functioning.
The enhanced and fully assembled commercial Cygnus was unveiled to the media, including Universe Today, during an exclusive tour inside the clean room facility on Friday, Nov. 13, where it is undergoing final prelaunch processing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).