Astronauts Command Robotic Arm to Release Cygnus Cargo Craft

Cygnus Released
The Cygnus cargo craft is seen from an International Space Station video camera moments after it was released from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV

After delivering almost 7,400 pounds of cargo to support dozens of science experiments from around the world, the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft has departed the International Space Station. At 8:11 a.m., Expedition 53 Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA gave the command to release Cygnus.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, ground controllers used the Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach the Cygnus spacecraft from the Earth-facing side of the station’s Unity module. The spacecraft, which arrived at the station Nov. 14, then maneuvered above the Harmony module to gather data overnight that will aid in rendezvous and docking operations for future U.S. commercial crew vehicles arriving for a linkup to Harmony’s international docking adapters.

Experiments delivered on Cygnus supported NASA and other research investigations during Expedition 53, including studies in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.

Later today, Cygnus will release 14 CubeSats from an external NanoRacks deployer. Cygnus also is packed with more than 6,200 pounds of trash and other items marked for disposal during its destructive reentry Monday, Dec. 18.

The Cygnus launched Nov. 12 on Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares 230 rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia for the company’s eighth NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit www.nasa.gov/station.

Cygnus Cargo Craft Leaves Station Wednesday Morning

Cygnus Cargo Craft
The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft was pictured February 19, 2016, attached to the Canadarm2 before it was released back into Earth orbit. Read more about the Cygnus missions to the space station.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft is set to leave the International Space Station on Wednesday, Dec. 6. NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of Cygnus’ departure beginning at 7:45 a.m. EST. Cygnus arrived to the space station Nov. 14 with nearly 7,400 pounds of cargo to support dozens of science experiments.

At approximately 8:10 a.m., Expedition 53 Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA will give the command to release Cygnus.

Earlier today, ground controllers used the Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach the Cygnus spacecraft from the Earth-facing side of the station’s Unity module.

This was Orbital ATK’s eighth contracted commercial resupply mission.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit www.nasa.gov/station.

SpaceX Launch Slips, Cygnus Leaving and BEAM Stay Extended

SpaceX Dragon capsule as it reentered Earth's atmosphere
NASA astronaut Jack Fischer photographed the SpaceX Dragon capsule as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere (bright streak at lower left) before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California in July  2017. Read more about the SpaceX missions to the space station.

SpaceX has delayed the launch of its next Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station to no earlier than Dec. 12. Back on orbit, the Cygnus cargo craft is getting ready to leave the orbital lab and an experimental module has its stay in space extended for at least another three years.

NASA and our commercial cargo provider SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Dec. 12 at 11:46 a.m. EST for their 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. This new launch date takes into account pad readiness, requirements for science payloads, space station crew availability, and orbital mechanics. Carrying about 4,800 pounds of cargo including critical science and research, the Dragon spacecraft will spend a month attached to the space station.

The Cygnus cargo craft from Orbital ATK is leaving the station tomorrow after 22 days at the orbital lab. Astronauts Randy Bresnik, Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba closed its hatches today and disconnected its station power systems.

Ground controllers uninstalled Cygnus from the Unity module Tuesday morning with the Canadarm2 and are conducting a series of communications tests to assist NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Next, Vande Hei and Acaba will command the Canadarm2 to release Cygnus back into Earth orbit tomorrow at 8:10 a.m. EST where it will stay until Dec. 18.

BEAM, formally known as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, is staying attached to the station for another three years with a potential to stay an extra year after that. While BEAM transitions to its new role as a cargo hold, engineers will continue studying its ability to resist radiation, space debris and microbes. Bigelow Aerospace and NASA signed the contract extension in November to continue demonstrating the reliability of expandable habitat technologies in space.

Station Ramps Up for December Cargo and Crew Swaps

Expedition 54-55 Crew Members
The next crew to visit the International Space Station was in Moscow last week posing in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral for traditional ceremonies. From left are Anton Shkaplerov from Roscosmos, Scott Tingle from NASA and Norishige Kanai from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

A pair of commercial resupply missions are coming and going this week at the International Space Station. Meanwhile, a new crew has arrived at its launch site to prepare for a Dec. 17 liftoff to the orbital laboratory. All missions to and from the station this month will be televised live on NASA TV.

NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba are brushing up on their robotics skills today ahead of this week’s release of the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship. Ground controllers will remotely command the Canadarm2 on Tuesday to detach Cygnus from the Unity module. While still attached to the Canadarm2, Cygnus will be used for a series of communications tests to assist NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Then on Wednesday, the two astronauts will be in the cupola commanding the Canadarm2 to release Cygnus into Earth orbit at 8:10 a.m. EST.

Just two days later on Friday, the SpaceX Dragon will launch at 1:20 p.m. from the Kennedy Space Center where it will begin a two-day trip to the space station. Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli is cleaning up a pair of modules today to make way for the nearly 4,800 pounds of crew supplies and research gear Dragon is delivering to the station. Dragon is due to arrive Sunday at 6 a.m. when it will be captured by Vande Hei and Acaba once again operating the Canadarm2.

Three Expedition 53 crew members are due to return to Earth Dec. 14 after 139 days in space. Nespoli, Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and Soyuz Commander Sergey Ryazanskiy will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-05 spaceship.

The homebound trio will be replaced shortly after that when the Expedition 54-55 crew launches Dec. 17 for a two-day ride to its new home in space. Veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will blast off with two first-time astronauts Scott Tingle of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to begin a four-month tour on the orbital laboratory. The crew has arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and is in final launch preparations.