The International Space Station will be capable of dozens of new scientific investigations from NASA and around the world when Orbital ATK's “John Glenn” Cygnus spacecraft delivers more than 7,600 pounds (3,450kg) of cargo on 22nd April. The craft is also carrying 38 cubesats, many built by university students, which will be deployed directly from either the space station or the spacecraft in the coming months.
Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the station launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT on 18th April on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Expedition 51 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Peggy Whitson of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus. The spacecraft will remain at the space station until July before its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of several thousand pounds of trash.
This is the fourth flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and the third using the Atlas V launch system. The mission, which is under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, will support dozens of new and existing investigations as Expeditions 51 and 52 contribute to approximately 250 science and research studies, including experiments on cancer-fighting drugs, crystal growth and atmospheric reentry.
Once Cygnus departs the space station, the spacecraft will execute three secondary OA-7 missions. Cygnus will carry the Saffire-III payload experiment to study the behavior of a large fire in microgravity onboard the spacecraft. Data from this experiment will be downloaded via telemetry to researchers on the ground. In addition, a NanoRacks deployer will release four cubesats used for weather monitoring and global ship tracking.
The final experiment will use three Reentry Data Collection Flight Recorders to provide crucial data about the extreme conditions a spacecraft encounters when reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. This specific experiment will also test the performance of different heat shield materials that may be used on future U.S. space missions.
The Cygnus system consists of a common service module and pressurized cargo module. The service module is built by Orbital ATK, while the cargo module is supplied by Thales Alenia Space.