Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, launched last Saturday, February 19, has just reached the International Space Station and was captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Astronaut Raja Chari, assisted by his colleague Kayla Barron, 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-17 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. Piers Sellers” is scheduled to leave the International Space Station in a few months. 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.
Experiments to be conducted aboard the Cygnus space freighters and launches of nanosatellites after they departed the International Space Station have become normal. However, the NG-17 mission begins a new use of the Cygnus with a modified version to use its thrusters to move the Station’s orbit. Even at over 400 kilometers of altitude, there are small frictions and other processes that cause the Station to fall very slowly making occasional adjustments to its orbit necessary. Often this task was performed using the Russian Progress space freighters but now the Cygnus can do it as well.
The primary task in the 17th of the official missions established under Northrop Grumman’s contract with NASA went smoothly. The next mission could begin in August 2022 but it might take some time to establish the date with precision.