The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft blasted off for its Orb-6 mission for NASA

The Orbital ATK Cygnus
The Orbital ATK Cygnus “Rick Husband” space cargo ship blasting off atop an Atlas V rocket (Image NASA TV)

A few hours ago the Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft blasted off atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. After about twenty minutes it successfully separated from the rocket’s last stage and was placed on its route. It’s in its fifth official mission, called Orbital-6 or simply Orb-6 but also CRS OA-6, of supply transport to the International Space Station for NASA.

This Cygnus spacecraft was named “Rick Husband” after the Space Shuttle Columbia‘s commander who died along with the rest of the crew at the end of the STS-107 mission. This is the second Cygnus in its new more advanced version that entered service in December 2015.

The previous Orbital ATK mission was the Orb-4. The company was preparing Orb-5 when an opportunity presented to proceed with the Orb-6 first due to a change of programs in NASA and NOAA’s GOES-R mission, which is scheduled to launch on an Atlas V rocket. At that point ULA could offer that launch to Orbital ATK and the Orb-6 mission was brought forward before Orb-5. These can be a bit confusing but it’s a formal matter.

The Cygnus spacecraft carries a total of 3,279 kg (7,229 lbs) of cargo that include 1,139 kg (2511 lbs) of supplies of various kinds for the crew, 1,108 kg (2,443 lbs) of hardware, 777 kg (1,713 lbs) of scientific experiments that include instruments but also CubeSats to be launched from the Station and the rest in equipment and various components.

One of the novelties of this mission is NASA’s Saffire-1 experiment about the spread of fire in space. After the Cygnus will have left the International Space Station a fire will be set in a container to test the resistance under the conditions found on the Cygnus and the Station of the materials used in spacecraft and astronauts’ equipment. For about 20 minutes various sensors and cameras will record data and images from the experiment.

Other instruments and experiments aboard the Cygnus spacecraft are Meteor, to analyze images and videos of Earth’s atmosphere to examine the composition of the meteorites that reach Earth, Strata-I to study the regolith behavior in microgravity conditions and Gecko Gripper to study the possibility of replicating the geckos ability to cling to surfaces. On board there’s also the Additive Manufacturing Facility, a new 3D printer.

The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to reach the International Space Station on Saturday, March 26 to be captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm  around 10:40 UTC. If there are no problems, the next day the crew will open the hatch and can begin unloading the cargo.

NASA released a video of the Atlas V rocket blasting off with the Cygnus spacecraft “Rick Husband”.

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