A cargo resupply demonstration mission by Orbital Sciences Corp. drew to a close Oct. 22 as Expedition 37 crew members aboard the International Space Station detached and released the Dulles, Va., company’s Cygnus spacecraft from the orbiting laboratory.
Cygnus had been attached to the space station’s Harmony module for 23 days. The spacecraft delivered about 1,300 pounds of cargo, including food, clothing and student experiments. 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.
“Congratulations to the teams at Orbital Sciences and NASA who worked hard to make this demonstration mission to the International Space Station an overwhelming success,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “We are delighted to now have two American companies able to resupply the station. U.S. innovation and inspiration have once again shown their great strength in the design and operation of a new generation of vehicles to carry cargo to our laboratory in space. Orbital’s success today is helping make NASA’s future exploration to farther destinations possible.”
Prior to its departure from the station, Cygnus was loaded with items no longer needed aboard the station. Astronauts Karen Nyberg of NASA and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency detached the spacecraft using the station’s robotic arm and released Cygnus at 7:31 a.m., EDT. Orbital Sciences engineers now will conduct a series of planned burns and maneuvers to move Cygnus toward a destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere Oct. 23.
Cygnus was launched Sept. 18 on Orbital’s Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The maiden flight of Cygnus and its 11-day journey to the station included a number of tests designed to demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to navigate, maneuver, lock on to the station and abort its approach. Following these demonstrations NASA cleared the spacecraft to approach the station Sept. 29. Cygnus had been scheduled for a rendezvous with the space station Sept. 22, but because of a data format mismatch, the first rendezvous attempt was postponed. Orbital updated and tested a software patch to resolve the issue.
Orbital built and tested its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Program. 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.