Mission Orb-5 accomplished: the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft has reached the International Space Station

The Cygnus space cargo ship approaching the International Space Station (Image NASA TV)
The Cygnus space cargo ship approaching the International Space Station (Image NASA TV)

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft, launched on October 17, has just reached the International Space Station and was captured by Canadarm2 robotic arm. Astronaut Takuya Onishi, assisted by his colleague Kate Rubins, began the slow maneuver to move the Cygnus until it docked with the Station Harmony node after about two hours.

Generally, cargo spacecraft take two or three days to reach the International Space Station but some delays moved the Orb-5 mission’s launch time very close to that of the new crew members. For this reason, it was decided to leave the Cygnus in orbit for a few more days and have it arrive a few days later so that the full crew can proceed with its unloading operations.

The Orb-5 mission is almost accomplished because the Cygnus spacecraft can’t land and when it comes back into Earth’s atmosphere it will disintegrate. For this reason, it will be used to get rid of component failed or that can’t be used any longer on the International Space Station: all of that will be loaded on the Cygnus and will disintegrate along with it.

This final use of the Cygnus “Alan Poindexter” spacecraft is normal for space cargo ships that can’t land. However, NASA will take advantage of this phase to continue a series of experiments called Saffire on the spread of fire in space. This will be the second test of this kind, hence the Saffire-2 name after the first one that was conducted on the previous Cygnus cargo.

Cygnus will probably leave the International Space Station in November. In these cases, an exact date for the cargo spacecraft departure is never given because it also depends on other tasks that can have higher priority. The preparation of the Saffire-2 experiment could also affect the departure date.

Tomorrow the crew of the International Space Station should open the Cygnus spacecraft’s hatch and at that point the cargo will be slowly brought to the Station. Subsequently, all that has now become garbage will be loaded on the Cygnus and the spacecraft will be ready for departure. These operations will continue slowly for several days.

This is the sixth of ten official missions established by the Orbital ATK’s contract with NASA to supply the International Space Station after the extension announced in March 2015. All resupply missions are important for the Station’s activities and its crew’s sustenance. Hosever, this one was more important than usual to Orbital ATK because it was the first launch of the new version of the Antares rocket. The success was crucial so they can prepare for the next launch of Cygnus, maybe for December.

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