The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft, launched on May 21, has just reached the International Space Station and was captured by Canadarm2 robotic arm. Astronaut Scott Tingle, assisted by his colleagues Ricky Arnold, and Drew Feustel, will soon begin the slow maneuver to move the Cygnus until it docks with the Station’s Unity node after about two hours.
The Orb-9 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.
The Cygnus named “James R. Thompson” is scheduled to leave the International Space Station in a few weeks, in July. 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.
Tomorrow the International Space Station crew 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.
Among the tasks to be carried out after that there’s the installation of the Cold Atom Lab (CAL), an experimental instruments to perform physics experiments in the International Space Station’s microgravity environment. In those conditions it will be possible to reach temperatures even lower than those obtained on Earth and to analyze the wave functions of the atoms that were cooled down. The initial mission for this extreme research is scheduled to last at least one year with possible extensions to investigate the limits of the laws of physics.
This is the 9th of 10 official missions established by the Orbital ATK’s contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station. The next mission might start in November 2018.