Cygnus NG-11 Resupply Flight to the ISS
The NASA-contracted CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) mission Cygnus NG-11 on the Antares 230 vehicle, carrying the Cygnus cargo spacecraft of Northrop Grumman, was launched on 17 April 2019 (20:46 UTC, 4:46 p.m. EDT) from MARS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. 1) 2)
Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~ 400 km, inclination = 51.6º.
The Cygnus NG-11 flight uses a new late load capability that allows time-sensitive experiments to be loaded just 24 hours before liftoff. Previously, all cargo had to be loaded about four days prior to launch, creating challenges for some types of experiments.
The Cygnus spacecraft, dubbed the SS Roger Chaffee, will arrive at the space station on 19 April. Expedition 59 NASA astronaut Anne McClain will grapple the spacecraft using the station's robotic arm. She will be backed up by David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency. NASA astronaut Nick Hague will monitor Cygnus systems during its approach. After capture, ground controllers will command the station's arm to rotate and install Cygnus on the bottom of the station's Unity module.
The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to remain at the space station until 23 July , when it will depart, deploy NanoRacks customer CubeSats, and then have an extended mission in orbit until December before it will dispose of several tons of trash during a scheduled fiery reentry and destruction in Earth's atmosphere.
After the S.S. Roger Chaffee deploys the hosted CubeSats, it will demonstrate the ability to remain in orbit for an extended duration independent of the space station. This innovation positions Cygnus to be used as a future testbed for various types of hosted payloads. While Cygnus performs this free flight, it will maintain an undisturbed microgravity environment which could host a number of experiments and technology demonstrations in the future. Once this demonstration is complete, Cygnus will perform a safe and destructive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
The advanced capabilities demonstrated on this mission allow the International Space Station to maximize its potential as an orbiting laboratory and fosters a new economy in LEO. Including NG-11, Cygnus will have delivered approximately 30,000 kg of cargo under the CRS-1 contract. Future Cygnus missions will continue to showcase innovations benefitting the space station, commercial partners and deep space missions.
The Cygnus NG-11 spacecraft is loaded with 3450 kg of research, crew supplies and hardware. Here are some of the scientific investigations Cygnus delivers to the space station:
ACE-T-10 (Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-10). It investigates the growth, microscopic dynamics, and restructuring processes in ordered and disordered structures such as colloidal crystals, glasses, and gels. The investigation studies crystal nucleation in colloidal fluids, the origin of ageing in glasses and gels, as well as the heterogeneous nature of the microscopic dynamics in these structures. The study must be conducted in microgravity, as gravitational stresses affect the structure and growth of these solids from colloids.
Bio-Analyzer, a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) instrument, enhances life sciences research capabilities on the space station. It performs on-orbit detection and quantification of cell surface molecules on a per cell basis, including blood cell counts, and assesses soluble molecule concentration in a liquid sample such as blood, saliva, or urine. Part of the Life Science Research System (LSRS), the Bio-Analyzer uses just a few drops of liquid – a finger prick versus a standard blood draw, for example – and eliminates the need for freezing and storing samples.
A Bio-Analyzer description is provided in a separate file on the eoPortal (ISS: Bio-Monitor / Bio-Analyzer).
Analyzing aging of the arteries in astronauts: Recent research suggest links between cardiovascular health risk, carotid artery aging, bone metabolism and blood biomarkers, insulin resistance, and radiation. Data also indicate accelerated aging-like changes in many astronauts on the space station, including changes to their arteries. The Space Environment Causes Acceleration of Vascular Aging: Roles of Hypogravity, Nutrition, and Radiation (Vascular Aging) looks at these changes using artery ultrasounds, blood samples, oral glucose tolerance tests, and wearable sensors. It is one of three related Canadian experiments studying the effects of weightlessness on the blood vessels and heart.
Testing immune response in space: Tetanus Antibody Response by B cells in Space (RR-12) examines the effects of spaceflight on the function of antibody production and immune memory. Spaceflight has a dramatic influence on human immune response, but there is little research on how that affects the body’s immune system response to an actual challenge. Using a mouse model makes it possible to examine this question since the mouse immune system closely parallels that of humans.
New robot: A small robot takes on big jobs aboard the space station. The free-flying Astrobee can help scientists and engineers develop and test technologies for use in microgravity, give astronauts a hand with routine chores, and provide additional eyes and ears for flight controllers in Houston.
Building on the success of SPHERES, NASA’s first-generation free-flyer, Astrobee, operates either in fully automated mode or under remote control from the ground. It can run longer and requires no supervision from the crew, freeing up more astronaut time for research. It also opens up more opportunities to experiment and test capabilities with lower risk. Astrobee is a product of the NASA Game Changing Development Program.
Figure 6: A Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft scheduled to liftoff no earlier than April 17 will carry supplies and scientific experiments to the International Space Station. For this mission, Northrop Grumman will use a new late load capability that allows time-sensitive experiments to be loaded just 24 hours before liftoff (video credit: NASA/JSC, Published on Apr 9, 2019)
The RELL (Robotic External Leak Locator) instrumentation is part of the payload. — A RELL description is provided in a separate file on the eoPortal (ISS-RELL).
The IOD-1 GEMS (In Orbit Demonstration-1 / Global Environmental Monitoring Satellite), a 3U CubeSat, is part of the payload. A description of IOD-1 GEMS is provided in a separate file on the eoPortal.
Cygnus is also prepared to support the Slingshot Cubesat Deployer System, a flexible platform that can fly hosted payloads and CubeSats. This mission is the second flight for the Slingshot system which is scheduled to be installed onto the Cygnus spacecraft by NASA astronauts before the spacecraft departs the orbiting laboratory. An attached NanoRacks CubeSat deployer will also deploy three CubeSats after unberthing from the station. This is another example of Cygnus’ expanded capabilities beyond its core cargo delivery function (Ref. 2)
CubeSats as Secondary Payloads
Antares is carrying two secondary payloads on its second stage. These small satellites include one NASA-sponsored 3U cubesat called SASSI2 (Student Aerothermal Spectrometer Satellite of Illinois and Indiana CubeSat) and 60 ThinSats. SASSI2 was built by students attending the Universities of Indiana and Illinois. The ThinSats program is a science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach program sponsored by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority for grades 4-12. These satellites were built by students from 70 schools located in nine states (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia). After the ThinSats are deployed, students will collect and analyze data transmitted from their satellite for approximately five days before it de-orbits and burns up in the atmosphere. 4)
- After 110 days at the International Space Station, the Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS) NG-11 Cygnus resupply vehicle has departed the orbital outpost.
- But in a significant change from previous missions, Cygnus will not perform a destructive re-entry within the next few weeks, instead remaining on orbit until the end of the year to test new systems aboard the craft that will aid NGIS in their ability to offer Cygnus as a free-flying science platform for ISS, non-Space Station, and future NASA needs.
Prolonged Mission for NG-11 Cygnus
- After departing the International Space Station, the NG-11 Cygnus will – as is customary – deploy a series of Cubesats from both a forward hatch-mounted deployer and its standard CubeSat deployer mounted on its service module on the rear of the craft.
- Speaking directly to NASASpaceflight, Frank DeMauro, Vice President and General Manager of Space Systems Division at Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, said “We have seven CubeSats total. Four are going to be from the Slingshot system that mounts on the hatch part of Cygnus, and then three will get launched from the NanoRacks CubeSat deployer which is mounted on the outside of the service module.”
- But after these releases, the NG-11 Cygnus will enter new territory.
- Instead of changing its orbit to maneuver for a destructive deorbit and reentry over the South Pacific, Cygnus will instead begin a multi-month orbital test campaign to validate several new systems that will greatly aid its ability to serve as a free-flying science platform going forward.
- Northrop Grumman’s ground team in Dulles, Virginia, planned to send the Cygnus spacecraft into an orbit some 65 km above the space station’s altitude for deployment of several CubeSats from a NanoRacks module and a Slingshot mechanism.
- One of the CubeSats to be released after Cygnus’ departure from the space station is named Seeker, which is scheduled for deployment in about one month. Developed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, with a camera system provided by engineers at the University of Texas at Austin, Seeker will perform an inspection of the Cygnus spacecraft to demonstrate in-space navigation and imaging capabilities that could be used on future missions in deep space.
- Two AeroCube 10 nanosatellites from the Aerospace Corp. will also separate from Cygnus to conduct experiments in satellite-to-satellite pointing, evaluate the use of a water-based stream thruster, and release 29 tiny atmospheric probes to measure air density in low Earth orbit.
- The AeroCube and Seeker missions will deploy from a NanoRacks mechanism outside the Cygnus spacecraft. Several more CubeSats will separate from a Hypergiant SEOPS “Slingshot” deployment system mounted on the Cygnus spacecraft’s hatch bulkhead.
- The CubeSat nanosatellites set for deployment from the Slingshot on Cygnus arrived at the space station last month inside a SpaceX Dragon supply ship. The station astronauts transferred the CubeSats from the Dragon cargo craft and installed them into the Slingshot deployment system on Cygnus.
- Spaceflight, a rideshare smallsat launch broker based in Seattle, purchased capacity on the Slingshot mechanism from Hypergiant SEOPS for multiple CubeSats, including a nanosatellite named RFTSat from Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, and the NARSSCube 2 tech demo mission from Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences.
- Spaceflight said an undisclosed CubeSat will also deploy from the Slingshot system on the Cygnus cargo craft
- These new systems include the first flight of a Control Moment Gyro (CMG) on Cygnus that will enable the craft to maintain its attitude instead of using propellant-driven thrusters.
- “The goal of this experiment – and I do want to stress that this is an experiment – is to demonstrate our ability to fly Cygnus with a Control Moment Gyroscope, demonstrate that our avionics and software works well with the CMG, and so we’ll spend a couple of weeks actually doing that particular check out,” related Mr. DeMauro.
- “The team has got some specific tests they’ll be doing for maneuverability and checking the interfaces between all the avionics. We’ll be looking at the fuel usage with and without the CMG because without the Control Moment Gyroscope, as with all of our missions before, we just use fuel for maneuverability.
- “And now with a CMG we’ll use that for pointing the spacecraft and just use fuel for trimming the orbit,” said Mr. DeMauro.
- This test will be carried out as part of the NG-11 Cygnus’ extended stay on orbit, something else NGIS is keen to demonstrate with the craft.
- “We plan to fly around for about six months,” noted Mr. DeMauro, to show Cygnus’ capability of staying on orbit to serve as a free-flying scientific research platform and/or testbed for government and commercial entities.”
- And that all leads to a big end-goal for NG-11 – showing that two Cygnus spacecraft can be operated in orbit at the same time.
- To do this, NG-11 will remain in orbit through the end of the year so that its flight can overlap with the NG-12 mission of the next Cygnus this fall.
• April 19, 2019: Northrop Grumman Corporation has announced that the “S.S. Roger Chaffee” Cygnus™ spacecraft successfully completed its rendezvous and berthing maneuvers with the International Space Station early on 19 April — the mission marks the company’s 11th successful berthing with the orbiting laboratory. 8) 9)
- As the spacecraft approached the space station, Cygnus executed a series of thruster burns to raise its orbit. Once the spacecraft was in close range, crew members on board the space station grappled the spacecraft with the station’s robotic arm at 5:30 a.m. EDT. Cygnus was then guided to its berthing port on the nadir side of the station’s Unity module and officially installed on to the space station at 7:31 a.m. EDT.
- “Our arrival at the space station as the ‘S.S. Roger Chaffee’ marks a proud moment for the NASA and Northrop Grumman teams,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager, space systems, Northrop Grumman. “As we deliver critical supplies and cargo to the astronauts aboard the space station, we are inspired by Lt. Commander Chaffee’s courage and commitment to the human exploration of space. The Cygnus spacecraft represents his planned journey to space in memory of those who took great risks to advance our nation’s space program.”
- Cygnus arrived at the space station with nearly 3,450 kg of cargo, supplies and scientific experiments. The crew is now scheduled to open Cygnus’ hatch and make initial ingress into the cargo module to begin unloading the pressurized cargo. Cygnus will remain docked at the station for approximately three months before departing on secondary missions.
- Cygnus will remain at the space station until July 23, when the spacecraft will depart the station, deploy NanoRacks customer CubeSats. After the CubeSats are deployed, Cygnus will remain in orbit for an extended duration mission, an achievement marking a “first” for the spacecraft as it demonstrates capabilities beyond cargo supply and disposal. This newest innovation showcases Cygnus as a future testbed for various types of hosted payload missions. Upon completion of its secondary missions, Cygnus will perform a safe, destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
1) ”Northrop Grumman Heads to Space Station with New NASA Science, Cargo,” NASA Release 19-031, 18 April 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release
2) ”Northrop Grumman Successfully Launches 11th Cargo Delivery Mission to the International Space Station for NASA,” Northrop Grumman Newsroom, 17 April 2019, URL: https://news.northropgrumman.com/news/releases/northrop-grumman-
3) ”April 17: Launch Day,” NASA, Northrop Grumman, 17 April 2019, URL: https://blogs.nasa.gov/northropgrumman/2019/04/17/april-17-launch-day/
4) ”Northrop Grumman's Antares Rocket to Send the Company's Cygnus Spacecraft on the Firm's 11th Cargo Mission to ISS,” Satnews Daily, 16 April 2019, URL: http://www.satnews.com
5) Chris Gebhardt, ”NG-11 Cygnus departs Station for months of on-orbit free-flight tests,” NASASpaceflight.com, 6 August 2019, URL: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com
6) Mark Garcia, ”U.S. Cygnus Space Freighter Departs Station,” NASA, 6 August 2019, URL: https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/2019/08/06/u-s-cygnus-space-freighter-departs-station/
7) Stephen Clark, ”Cygnus supply ship departs space station, begins extended mission,” Spaceflight Now, 6 August 2019, URL: https://spaceflightnow.com/2019/08/06/ng-11-cygnus-iss-departure/
8) ”Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Completes Rendezvous and Berthing with International Space Station,” Northrop Grumman, 19 April 2019, URL: https://news.northropgrumman.com/news/releases/northrop-grummans-cygnus-spacecraft-
9) Mark Garcia, ”Cygnus Cargo Craft Attached to Station Until July,” NASA, 19 April 2019, URL: https://blogs.nasa.gov
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).