Astronauts aboard the International Space Station used a robotic arm to capture and attach a Cygnus cargo resupply spacecraft Sept. 29, marking several spaceflight firsts for NASA and its partner, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.
The station’s Expedition 37 crew reported the spacecraft – loaded with about 1,300 pounds of cargo – berthed at 8:44 a.m., EDT, following an 11-day journey to the orbiting laboratory.
Orbital’s Cygnus was launched on the company’s Antares rocket on Sept. 18 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This was the first flight of a spacecraft to the space station from the state.
The maiden flight of Cygnus included a number of systems tests prior to rendezvous with the station. The cargo includes student experiments, food and clothing, which will be unloaded by the station crew following hatch opening Monday.
Future Cygnus flights will ensure a robust national capability to deliver critical science research to orbit, significantly increasing NASA’s ability to conduct new science investigations to the only laboratory in microgravity.
After a series of tests designed to demonstrate Cygnus’ ability to navigate, maneuver, lock on to the station and abort its approach, NASA cleared the spacecraft to approach the station Sunday morning. European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg captured Cygnus with the station’s robotic arm, then attached the capsule on the bottom of the station’s Harmony node, completing installation by bolting the Cygnus to Harmony.
The capsule will remain attached to Harmony until a planned unberthing on Oct. 22 sends the spacecraft toward a destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere.
Cygnus had been scheduled for a rendezvous with the space station on Sept. 22. Due to a data format mismatch, the first rendezvous attempt was postponed. Orbital updated and tested a software patch to fix the issue. Cygnus’ arrival also was postponed pending the Sept. 25 arrival of the Expedition 37 crew. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA and Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) arrived at the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft Wednesday.
Orbital built and tested its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Program. The successful completion of this COTS demonstration mission will pave the way for Orbital to conduct eight planned cargo resupply flights to the space station through NASA’s $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with the company.
NASA initiatives, such as COTS, are helping to develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from low-Earth orbit to meet the needs of both commercial and government customers. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program also is working with commercial partners to enable the availability of U.S. commercial human spaceflight capabilities in the next few years.
The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has had continuous human occupation since November 2000. In that time it has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA’s next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.