March 21, 2016 – Orbital ATK is preparing to launch its Cygnus space freighter Tuesday for a four-day trip to replenish the Expedition 47 crew. Cygnus will launch atop a United Launch Alliance rocket from Kennedy Space Center on its fifth Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA. The Cygnus launch and rendezvous will be covered live on NASA TV.
Launch time is 9:05 p.m. MDT/Wednesday 3 a.m. UTC at the start of a 30-minute window. Live launch coverage will begin at 8:00 p.m. MDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website. Coverage will resume for solar array deployment at 10:45 p.m. and a post-launch briefing will be held approximately two hours after launch.
It will take about 21 minutes from launch for Cygnus to fly on its own in a precise orbit to catch the International Space Station (ISS). The Cygnus is automated to fly without crew and will steer itself to a position within reach of the station’s 55-foot-long robotic arm. At that point, station astronauts and ground controllers will grasp the vehicle and position it in place on the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.
Cygnus will carry almost 7,500 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory to support dozens of science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 47 and 48.
The cargo includes experiments on the properties and behavior of regolith (soil) found on asteroids, comets, the moon and other airless worlds; a technology demonstration of an adhesive device that can stick on-command in the harsh environment of space; and, the second generation of a portable onboard 3-D printer, among others. Cygnus is also carrying more than two dozen nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science including Earth observations.
The spacecraft will arrive at the ISS on Saturday, March 26, at which time Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA will grapple Cygnus using the space station’s robotic arm, at approximately 4:40 a.m. MDT NASA TV coverage of rendezvous and grapple will begin at 3:30 a.m.
After Cygnus capture, ground commands will be sent from mission control in Houston to the station’s arm to rotate and install the spacecraft on the bottom of the station’s Unity module. Coverage of installation will begin at 7:15 a.m. MDT.
Cygnus will remain at the space station until May, when the spacecraft will be used to dispose of several tons of trash during its fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
If the launch does not occur on Tuesday, March 22, the next launch opportunity is 8:40 p.m. MDT, Wednesday, March 23, with NASA TV coverage starting at 7:45 p.m.
This will be the second flight to the station of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, which has an extended pressurized cargo module that increases the spacecraft’s interior volume capacity by 25 percent and enables more cargo to be delivered with each mission.
Dubbed the S.S. Rick Husband, the spacecraft is a tribute to U.S. Air Force Col. Rick Husband, commander of space shuttle Columbia’s STS-107 mission, which was lost during reentry on February 1, 2003.
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