The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft blasted off for its Orb-9 mission for NASA

The Cygnus "J.R. Thompson" cargo spacecraft blasting off atop an Antares rocket (Image NASA TV)
The Cygnus “J.R. Thompson” cargo spacecraft blasting off atop an Antares rocket (Image NASA TV)

A little while ago Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft blasted off atop an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), part of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) on Wallops Island. After about nine minutes it successfully separated from the rocket’s last stage went en route to its destination. This is its ninth official mission, called Orbital-9 or simply Orb-9 but also CRS OA-9, to transport supplies to the International Space Station for NASA.

This Cygnus spacecraft was named “J.R. Thompson” after a manager who spent his career in the aerospace industry. James R. Thompson worked for Orbital Sciences, one of the companies that subsequently became part of Orbital ATK, but also for NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center, also as its director between 1986 and 1989.

The Cygnus spacecraft carries a total of 3,350 kg (7,386 lbs.) of cargo, including 811 kg (1,788 lbs.) of various types of supplies for the crew, 1,191 kg (2,626 lbs.) of hardware and the rest in equipment and various components. The cargo includes various CubeSat-class nanosatellites and experiments needed for some of the scientific research carried out on the International Space Station.

Among the nanosatellites there’s for example the RainCube (Radar in a CubeSat), a radar smaller than the similar instruments used so far to study rainfall from the orbit. This is an experiment to assess if it can replace larger and much more expensive satellites.

CubeSats are becoming relatively large when for example they are made up of 6 units with a side of 10 centimeters. This is the case of CubeRRT for the CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology Validation mission. Its purpose of identifying and eliminating interferences produced by radio sources generated by human activities.

Air is important on the International Space Station but in cases such as the docking of a vehicle a small part is depressurized. The Pressure Management Device (Air Save Pump) will handle the operation more efficiently to limit the air loss as much as possible.

As always there are various experiments and instruments conneceted to medical and biological research in general. Crew members may suffer eye problems while serving in the International Space Station’s microgravity, the Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) 2 instrument will help to examine them to keep them under control.

The view from the International Space Station is breathtaking and so the new External High Definition Camera (EHDC) cameras have been launched and will be installed outside the Station during a spacewalk scheduled for June.

The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to reach the International Space Station next Thursday to be captured by the Robot Arm Canadarm2 around 9.40 am UTC. If there’s no problem, the day after the arrival of the Cygnus the crew will open its hatch and begin its unloading.

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