A commercial cargo freighter from Cygnus filled with 3.8 tons of medical and pharmaceutical experiments, technology demonstration hardware, CubeSats, food and accessories, hit the first leg on Wednesday afternoon with an Antares rocket from Virginia's Eastern Shore into orbit One and a half day drive to the International Space Station. The 42.5-meter Antares rocket fired two Russian-made, kerosene-powered RD-181 main engines and climbed Pad 0A at Wallops Island, Virginia, at 4:46:07 pm EDT (2046) : 07 GMT) Wednesday after a smooth countdown.
The two-stage launcher jumped up quickly from the launch pad overlooking the Atlantic, clearing four lightning pylons within seconds as the first-stage hydraulic steering directed the missile toward the southeast, aligning itself with the station's trajectory.
The twin-engine first stage produced 864,000 pounds of thrust at full power and shot for 3 minutes and 35 seconds before it drove down and dropped in the Atlantic Ocean. After a short stretch of shore, the solid second stage of the Antares rocket set the Cygnus Supply Ship in orbit.
Northrop Grumman's telemetry commentator confirmed a target separation of the 15,940-pound Cygnus spacecraft at around nine minutes after takeoff, and officials said the launch was a success.
"Nice day, a fantastic start," said Joel Montalbano, NASA Deputy Program Manager for the International Space Station. "It's great to have another freighter on the way to the International Space Station."
The Antares rocket initially carried 63 tiny student-built "ThinSats" as a second-stage secondary payload. The ThinSats, which are arranged in three or six groups, are each about the size of a slice of bread and contain solar cells for power generation, data transmitters and sensors for measuring parameters such as temperatures and pressures.
The upper stage Antares is deployed The ThinSats minutes after the separation of the Cygnus probe – the primary payload of the mission – from the rocket.
Using a standardized form factor, integrated middle-aged children to university students assembled sensor and transmitter hardware with support from the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, Twiggs Space Lab, Northrop Grumman, and NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.
"My passion in the industry and in science is educating children," said Bob Twiggs, co-inventor of CubeSat and ThinSat. "I was really excited because I could do something in outer space, and if you can get these kids, boy, you have to leave the road, or they'll run right over you.
"If you can do that at a price that you can get to elementary school, I think that's really great."
Students from 70 schools in nine states contributed to the ThinSats launch on Wednesday. Officials said they received telemetry signals from 43 of the ThinSats by Wednesday evening, and more data was expected overnight to Thursday.
The ThinSats entered orbit with a perigee or nadir of 125 miles (201 miles). At this altitude, the aerodynamic drag causes the small spacecraft to quickly return to the atmosphere and likely to burn within five to ten days. The rapid decay eliminates the fear that the miniature satellites, which may be too small to be closely tracked by radar, may pose a threat to orbital debris.
A slightly larger spacecraft called CubeSSat called SASSI ^ 2, which was separated from the upper tier of the Antares rocket with the ThinSats. SASSI ^ 2 is a short form for the Illinois and Indiana Student Aerotherms Spectrometer Satellite and carries instruments from the University of Illinois and Purdue University to measure pressure, heat flow and spectral data, while the CubeSat encounters aerodynamic drag in the upper atmosphere before burning himself entry.
The Cygnus spacecraft activated its communication, propulsion, guidance, and navigation systems moments after taking off the Antares rocket, said Frank DeMauro, vice president of Northrop Grumman's Space Division.
The freighter completed two orbits. Shortly after separating from the second stage of Antares, the incinerator burns, bringing the spacecraft on course to reach the space station on Friday. The Cygnus also deployed its two fan-shaped solar arrays to begin power generation, DeMauro said in a post-market press conference.
The ship completed the first two maneuvers to lift the orbit with the supply vessel's on-board navigation computer. a new ability that allows the Cygnus to reach the space station in just over 36 hours instead of the usual two or three days.
"We will be going from launch to ISS in about a day – and one and a half, and one of the things that will allow us to get there so quickly is the targeted altitude burns," DeMauro said.
Using Position correction of GPS satellites and laser rangefinder data will cause the Cygnus supply ship to fly on the autopilot during the final stage of Friday's rendezvous with the space station, which should be in a tuck position at 10:30 (30 feet) below the station at 5:30 pm (CEST) (0930 GMT), when astronaut Anne McClain uses the Canadian-built robotic arm to grab the Cygnus cargo freighter, the Northrop. Grumman christened the SS Roger Chaffee "in honor of the astronaut, the The 1967 fire of Apollo 1 killed Gus Grissom and Ed White.
The robotic arm will place the Cygnus on the station's Unity module's ground-contacting pier three months so that the station's astronauts can unload their equipment from their pressurized cabin and replace the cargo with garbage for disposal.
Launched Wednesday, the Cygnus NG-11 mission carries 3,436 kilograms of cargo, including new flying robots that could help astronauts work on the space station, medical experiments, and 40 mice to be studied by astronauts and researchers to study how her immune system deals with space conditions.
3,162 kilograms of food, crew members, and scientific experiments are in the cargo module of the Cygnus spacecraft, built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy. The remainder of the mission's cargo is outside the spacecraft, where a NanoRacks CubeSat deployer will release three small nano-satellites after the supply ship leaves the space station.
Released from the station's robotic arm in July, the cargo ship will be heading for a higher orbit to deploy the CubeSats, similar to previous Cygnus missions. But instead of ordering the spaceship to re-enter the atmosphere for a destructive re-entry, Northrop Grumman's ground controllers will monitor monthly additional in-orbit experiments.
On board the Cygnus spacecraft is a package with four control-moment gyroscopes installed the extended mission experiment. The four rotating gyroscopes use the momentum to control the orientation or attitude of the spacecraft, and reduce the consumption of Cygnus spacecraft to liquid propellant gases, which are driven by thrusters, which are usually changed the orientation of the supply ship.
The innovation will allow the Cygnus spacecraft to stay in this space orbit for up to a year. Cygnus missions had previously taken no more than three or four months.
"We will use the gyros of control moments to control the attitude of the spacecraft as opposed to the fuel," DeMauro said in an interview with Spaceflight Now before the start of Wednesday. 19659003] Northrop Grumman officials said the extended mission demonstration could take a year, but DeMauro said the duration of the mission will depend on when engineers reach their goals.
"How long we really go will depend on when we reach our goals the extended mission (demonstration)," said DeMauro.
"We want to accomplish a few things," he said. "First, let's show How the spacecraft works with the CMGs (Control Moment Gyroscopes) and show that our platform can use CMGs – not just our platform, but also other Northrop Grumman spacecraft platforms.
"The second thing we want to do It turns out that avionics can run for a long time, "DeMauro said," We usually run it for several months while we've gone through the tests, and then in orbit for three to four months, depending on how long we have been This time, we want to show more time that the computers are running smoothly and the attitude control system is working as expected. "
Honeywell's control-moment gyroscopes have been updated with newer ones miniaturized technology could be used on future small satellites.
Northrop Grumman plans to keep the NG-11 spacecraft Cygnus in orbit by launching the company's next utility mission to the NG-12 space station scheduled for October.  Officials want to offer future Cygnus spacecraft as a hosting platform for scientific and technological experiments after leaving the space station. DeMauro said the Cygnus spacecraft provides a smooth microgravity environment for exploration in orbit, even better than the space station, which is disturbed by crew member movements and other external influences. The use of gyroscopes will result in more immaculate microgravity conditions and eliminate impulse drive cancellation pulses to alter the vessel's orientation.
"For future missions, we can equip Cygnus for the extended duration and then after we're done. The main task is to offer this extended duration to either government or commercial entities," DeMauro said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. "We want to give them enough time in orbit that is not limited by the next mission, so it is important to fly two Cygnus (spacecraft) simultaneously in orbit."
As with Cygnus missions, the spacecraft will re-enter the atmosphere and burn over the Pacific Ocean once the demonstration is completed for a long time.
The NG-11 mission is the last Cygnus flight to be completed with Northrop Grumman's first transportation contract with NASA, originally signed in 2008, now worth $ 2.89 billion, the Government Accountability Office said , The Company has a follow-up commercial reprocessing services contract (CRS-2) for at least six additional Cygnus missions by 2024, beginning with the NG-12 mission later this year.
"Our ambition is to provide NASA with more science capability for every mission," said DeMauro.
For the first time during the NG-11 mission, ground teams in Wallop's time-dependent cargo loaded into the Cygnus spacecraft less than Northrop Grumman developed a new Mobile Payload Processing Facility, or clean room, to be placed above the payload coverage of the Antares rocket, after the launcher returned to a horizontal position after launching a pre-launch check-up 24 hours prior to launching the Cygnus probe
Technicians removed the top of the payload fairing, known as "pop-top," and opened the Cygnus hatch so teams could load the housing with the rodent science experiment along with a bioanalysis experiment and other objects 11 mission marks the first time that a rodent research payload has flown aboard a Cygnus supply ship, n After several missions were performed on the DragonX cargo pod from SpaceX. prior to starting the starter program with the first CRS-2 mission later this year.
The engineers will reinforce the structure of the Antares rocket for the next mission so that the two first-stage RD-181 engines can remain at full throttle as a starter through the most extreme time of aerodynamic pressure or Max-Q after takeoff. The engines are currently throttled to about 55 percent to facilitate passage through Max-Q.
Northrop Grumman also removes some unnecessary insulation from inside the motor housing of the Castor 30XL upper stage, and turns a three-piece housing trim adapter onto a lighter one-piece structure. Future Antares missiles will also fly in the first stage with two fewer helium gas cylinders. Data from previous launches showed that the rocket does not need additional helium bottles.
The RD-181 engines also start without heat exchangers to heat helium gas in flight. Northrop Grumman officials say the heat exchangers are not used by the Antares rocket.
The upgrade rocket is called Antares 230+.
The changes will increase the mass of payloads the Antares rocket can lift into orbit, according to Kurt Eberly, Northrop Grumman's Vice President of the Antares program.
"This allows us to pack more cargo into the cargo modules," said DeMauro. "We made a few more changes to make it more efficient. That will enable us to deliver another 10 percent more freight in the same volume.
The Cygnus team has taken a step-by-step upgrade since the Antires rocket.
and the first missions of the Cygnus spacecraft in 2013, engineers from Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – formerly known as Orbital Sciences and Orbital ATK – have introduced a larger Thales-built cargo module and new RD-181 engines for the first stage of Antares presented. Officials replaced the first AJ26 engines of the Antares rocket after one of the engines failed at launch in 2014. She destroyed a Cygnus spaceship heading for the space station and damaged the launch pad on Wallops Island of the latest generation of Cygnus supply ships, positioning the spacecraft for more demanding missions, including flights into space, to support NASA's plans. To build a mini-space station called Gateway in Lunar Orbit, the target of which is the Trump administration of landing astronauts on the Moon as early as 2024.
"Going to the Cislunar space will be a little different," DeMauro said. "So we looked at the avionics upgrades needed for the higher-radiation environment, various communication systems, docking and anchor systems."
Northrop Grumman has a NASA mission to develop a habitat concept based on based on the Cygnus design could be attached to the moonlight at the NASA Gateway to provide a home to astronauts. Moonland riders could be staged at the gateway for trips to and from the lunar surface.
"We believe that we can provide NASA with a proven, but updated, Cygnus-class vehicle technology suite to provide all sorts of vehicles in the cislunar space, be it habitat, logistics services, Science and utility services, and even energy and propulsion systems. From this point of view, Cygnus is a stepping stone, "DeMauro said.
" We can even extend that and be part of the system to bring people to the moon, "said DeMauro, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp. The company Acquired by Northrop Corp. in Northrop Grumman in 1994, the Apollo Mondlanders built.
"If you look at this expertise and combine it with our expertise with Cygnus, we know that there are a lot of abilities, of We will benefit, "DeMauro said," so we expect to play a big role not only in helping the crew get out to the moon, but also in being able to design something We are so excited about this future. "
E-mail the author.
F follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1 [19459028