The Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft blasted off for its NG-12 mission for NASA

Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo spacecraft blasting off atop an Antares rocket (Image NASA TV)
Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft blasting off atop an Antares rocket (Image NASA TV)

A little while ago Northrop Grumman’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 12th official mission, called NG-12 or CRS NG-12, to transport supplies to the International Space Station for NASA.

The NG-12 mission is the first of the CRS2 (Commercial Resupply Services 2) contract, the second contract to transport supplies to the International Space Station. In Northrop Grumman’s case, the contract was acquired together with the then Orbital ATK. Among the companies with a contract of that type with NASA, it’s the first to start the CRS2 contract.

This mission also marks the debut of a new version of the Antares rocket, referred to as 230+. There are no major changes but these are structural optimizations that allow an improvement in performance. From a practical point of view, this will allow the rocket to maintain maximum thrust for a longer time with the possibility of sending a larger load.

This Cygnus spacecraft was named “Alan Bean” after the astronaut who was part of the Apollo 12 Moon mission and commander of the Skylab. This Cygnus cargo spacecraft carries a total of 3,705 kg (8,168 lbs.) of cargo, including 680 kg (1,499 lbs.) of various types of supplies for the crew, 756 kg (1,667 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 new experiments aboard the Cygnus cargo spacecraft there’s AstroRad Vest, a very special garment that shields astronauts and in particular certain organs and tissues from radiation. The aim is to prepare garments to protect the astronauts who will participate in deep space missions, in the near future to the Moon and subsequently to Mars.

In long-term missions, it will be increasingly necessary for the crew to prepare their food and this also means cooking it. The Zero-G Oven is an oven designed to cook food in microgravity conditions.

Recycling is essential in a closed environment and the Made in Space Recycler (MIS Recycler) will in particular reuse plastic to generate filaments for use in the 3D printer. From 2016 on the International Space Station there’s the Additive Manufacturing Facility, a 3D printer capable of creating the tools needed for various tasks on board. The new recycling system will allow to understand which materials are more recyclable.

The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to reach the International Space Station next Monday to be captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm around 8.10 AM UTC. If there are no problems, the day after the arrival of the Cygnus the crew will open the hatch and start unloading its cargo.

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