Mission NG-16 accomplished: the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft has reached the International Space Station

The Cygnus S.S. Ellison Onizuka captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm (Image NASA TV)
The Cygnus S.S. Ellison Onizuka captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm (Image NASA TV)

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, launched last Tuesday, August 10, has just reached the International Space Station and was captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Astronaut Megan McArthur, assisted by her colleague Thomas Pesquet, will soon begin the slow maneuver to move the Cygnus until it docks with the Station’s Unity module after about two hours.

Tomorrow, the International Space Station crew is scheduled to open the Cygnus spacecraft’s hatch and at that point, the cargo will be slowly brought to the Station. The NG-16 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 components that 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 “S.S. Ellison Onizuka” is scheduled to leave the International Space Station in November 2021. In these cases, a tentative date for the cargo spacecraft departure is given, however, it can be modified because it also depends on other tasks that can have higher priority. Northrop Grumman is making its cargo spacecraft more resistant to space conditions to use them for more tasks after their departure.

The onboard experiments to be carried out after departing the International Space Station have now become normal. In particular, there are the ones on fires in space that are becoming more sophisticated. Another secondary mission is the deployment of nanosatellites. At the end of that secondary mission, the Cygnus will be destroyed in the atmosphere reentry about two weeks after its departure.

The 16th of the official missions established by Northrop Grumman’s contract with NASA was accomplished with no problems. The next mission could begin in February 2022, but it might take some time to establish the date with precision.

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