Washington: In a bid to resume NASA's commercial supply efforts to the orbiting international laboratory, the first flight of Orbital ATK's enhanced Cygnus spacecraft will carry more than 7,000 pounds of equipment and experiments to the International Space Station (ISS).
The 20.5-foot-tall, cylindrical Cygnus has been loaded for flight and will soon be bolted inside a protective fairing for its targeted launch date from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on December 3.
“This is an exciting time. The Cygnus launch will resume regular US-based cargo missions to the station,” said Randy Gordon, launch support project manager for NASA in a statement.
In addition to the first flight of the enhanced version of the Cygnus, the launch marks the first use of the workhorse Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (ULA) to lift a payload to the space station.
“Atlas V has put satellites in orbit reliably and we are thrilled to fly Cygnus to deliver this important cargo to the space station," said Dan Tani, Orbital ATK's senior director of mission and cargo operations.
The enhanced Cygnus can carry about 25 percent more mass than its predecessor.
For NASA, the increased capacity brings the obvious benefit of taking more to the station at once, ranging from daily supplies of food and clothing for the station residents to new experiments.
This will help astronauts use the space-based laboratory to the benefit of all on the Earth.
Science payloads include a new life science facility that will support studies on cell cultures, bacteria and other micro-organisms.
It has a microsatellite deployer and the first microsatellite to be deployed from the space station and experiments that will study the behaviour of gases and liquids and clarify the thermo-physical properties of molten steel and evaluations of flame-resistant textiles.
The cargo includes numerous experiments across an array of specialties along with some student-devised projects.
Crew supplies including food, water and clothing also will be unpacked and stowed.
Station residents will load the empty spacecraft with equipment and unneeded items before it is released to burn up in the atmosphere, the statement added.