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Cygnus NG CRS-16 resupply flight to the ISS

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For the NG-16 mission, the Cygnus spacecraft will deliver approximately 3,700 kg. (8,200 lb.) of cargo to the space station. Cygnus is comprised of two primary components, the Pressurized Cargo Module and the Service Module. In keeping with company tradition, each spacecraft is named after an important figure in the aerospace industry. Northrop Grumman is honored to name the NG-16 Cygnus spacecraft after Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American astronaut. The S.S. Ellison Onizuka will be launched into orbit using an Antares 230+ rocket from Virginia Space's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A on Wallops Island, Virginia. Northrop Grumman will once again load critical cargo into Cygnus 24 hours before the scheduled launch. 1)

Upon arrival at the International Space Station, the cargo will be unloaded from Cygnus. Riding as a payload on the S.S. Ellison Onizuka is a Northrop Grumman and Space Development Agency (SDA) experimental mission called the Prototype Infrared Payload (PIRPL). Upon arrival at the ISS, PIRPL will begin collecting infrared data which will define possible by expanding detection capabilities. The data collected will aid the development of algorithms for the next generation of tracking satellites.. Once its mission has been completed, Cygnus will perform a safe, destructive reentry into Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.


Figure 1: Overview of the Cygnus spacecraft and the Antares launch vehicle (image credit: Northrop Grumman)

Launch: A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launched a Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft on 10 August 2021 carrying more than 3,700 kg of cargo for the International Space Station. 2)

The Antares 230+ rocket lifted off from Pad 0A at the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, at 6:01 p.m. EDT (22:01 UTC). The launch took place at the end of a five-minute window because of a helium valve issue discovered during the countdown.


Figure 2: A Northrop Grumman Antares lifts off from Wallops Island, Virginia, Aug. 10, carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (image credit: NASA TV)

The NG-16 Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the ISS early Aug. 12, with capture by the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm expected at approximately 6:10 a.m. EDT. The arm will berth the spacecraft to the station's Unity module.

The Cygnus spacecraft, named S.S. Ellison Onizuka after the late astronaut killed on the shuttle Challenger in 1986, is carrying 3,723 kg of cargo. That cargo includes supplies for the station's crew as well as hardware for the station, such as equipment to support continued upgrades of the station's solar panels.

Science investigations make up more than 1,000 kg of cargo on the Cygnus. One of those payloads is an experiment by Redwire to test the use of simulated lunar regolith as a feedstock for a 3D printer on the station, a technology that could be used in future lunar exploration. A Stanford University experiment will examine the growth of muscle cells in microgravity to see if such cells can be used for testing drugs to halt a muscle loss condition known as sarcopenia.

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur will use the space station's robotic Canadarm2 to capture Cygnus upon its arrival, while ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet monitors telemetry during rendezvous, capture, and installation on the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.


Payloads 3)

The resupply flight will support dozens of new and existing investigations. Included in the scientific investigations Cygnus is delivering to the space station are:

From dust to dwelling: Using resources available on the Moon and Mars to build structures and habitats could reduce how much material future explorers need to bring from Earth, significantly reducing launch mass and cost. The Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) study demonstrates 3D printing on the space station using a material simulating regolith, or loose rock and soil, found on the surfaces of planetary bodies such as the Moon. Results could help determine the feasibility of using regolith as the raw material and 3D printing as a technique for on-demand construction of habitats and other structures on future space exploration missions.

Maintaining muscles: As people age and become more sedentary on Earth, they gradually lose muscle mass, a condition called sarcopenia. Identifying drugs to treat this condition is difficult because it develops over decades. Cardinal Muscle tests whether microgravity can be used as a research tool for understanding and preventing sarcopenia. The study, funded by the National Science Foundation in collaboration with the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, seeks to determine whether an engineered tissue platform in microgravity forms the characteristic muscle tubes found in muscle tissue. Such a platform could provide a way to rapidly assess potential drugs prior to clinical trials.

Taking the heat out of space travel: Longer space missions will need to generate more power, producing more heat that must be dissipated. Transitioning from current single-phase heat transfer systems to two-phase thermal management systems reduces size and weight of the system and provides more efficient heat removal. Because greater heat energy is exchanged through vaporization and condensation, a two-phase system can remove more heat for the same amount of weight than current single-phase systems. The Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment (FBCE) aims to develop a facility for collecting data about two-phase flow and heat transfer in microgravity. Comparisons of data from microgravity and Earth's gravity are needed to validate numerical simulation tools for designing thermal management systems.

Cooler re-entries: The Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment (KREPE) demonstrates an affordable thermal protection system (TPS) to protect spacecraft and their contents during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Making these systems efficient remains one of space exploration's biggest challenges, but the unique environment of atmospheric entry makes it difficult to accurately replicate conditions in ground simulations. TPS designers rely on numerical models that often lack flight validation. This investigation serves as an inexpensive way to compare these models to actual flight data and validate possible designs. Before flying the technology on the space station, researchers conducted a high-altitude balloon test to validate performance of the electronics and communications.

Getting the carbon dioxide out: Four Bed CO2 Scrubber demonstrates a technology to remove carbon dioxide from a spacecraft. Based on the current system and lessons learned from its nearly 20 years of operation, the Four Bed CO2 Scrubber includes mechanical upgrades and an improved, longer-lasting absorbent material that reduces erosion and dust formation. Absorption beds remove water vapor and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, returning water vapor to the cabin and venting carbon dioxide overboard or diverting it to a system that uses it to produce water. This technology could improve the reliability and performance of carbon dioxide removal systems in future spacecraft, helping to maintain the health of crews and ensure mission success. It has potential applications on Earth in closed environments that require carbon dioxide removal to protect workers and equipment.

Mold in microgravity: An ESA investigation, Blob, allows students aged 10 to 18 to study a naturally-occurring slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, that is capable of basic forms of learning and adaptation. Although it is just one cell and lacks a brain, Blob can move, feed, organize itself, and even transmit knowledge to other slime molds. Students replicate experiments conducted by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet to see how the Blob's behavior is affected by microgravity. Using time-lapse video from space, students can compare the speed, shape, and growth of the slime molds in space and on the ground. The French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) coordinate Blob.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration missions as part of NASA's Moon and Mars exploration approach, including lunar missions through NASA's Artemis program.

Cygnus also will deliver a new mounting bracket that astronauts will attach to the port side of the station's backbone truss during a spacewalk planned for late August. The mounting bracket will enable the installation of one of the next pair of new solar arrays at a later date.

The Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the space station until November before it disposes of several thousand pounds of trash through its destructive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.



Cygnus NG-16 arrival at the Space Station

• On 12 August 2021, the Cygnus NG-16 spacecraft was captured with Canadarm2 by astronauts Megan McArthur and Thomas Pesquet. 4)


Figure 3: The Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm after it was installed on the Unity module's Earth-facing port (image credit: NASA TV,, Mark Garcia)


Figure 4: International Space Station Configuration on 12 August 2021. Four spaceships are parked at the space station including Northrop Grumman's Cygnus space freighter, the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Russia's Soyuz MS-18 crew ship and ISS Progress 78 resupply ship (image credit: NASA, Mark Garcia)


• November 20, 2021: At 11:01 a.m. EST, flight controllers on the ground sent commands to release the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft from the Canadarm2 robotic arm after earlier detaching Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module. At the time of release, the station was flying about 260 miles over the South Pacific Ocean. 5)

- The Cygnus spacecraft successfully departed the International Space Station more than three months after arriving at the space station to deliver about 8,000 pounds of scientific investigations and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.


Figure 5: The Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter is in the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm moments before its release above the South Pacific Ocean (image credit: NASA TV)

- After departure, the Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment (KREPE) stowed inside Cygnus will take measurements to demonstrate a thermal protection system for spacecraft and their contents during re-entry in Earth's atmosphere, which can be difficult to replicate in ground simulations.

- Cygnus will deorbit on Wednesday, Dec. 15, following a deorbit engine firing to set up a destructive re-entry in which the spacecraft, filled with waste the space station crew packed in the spacecraft, will burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

- Cygnus arrived at the space station Aug. 12, following a launch two days prior on Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. It was the company's 16th commercial resupply services mission to the space station for NASA. Northrop Grumman named the spacecraft after NASA astronaut Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American astronaut.

1) "NG-16 Mission Delivering Cargo to the International Space Station," Northrop Grumman, 10 August, 2021, URL:

2) Jeff Foust, "Antares launches NG-16 Cygnus space station cargo spacecraft," SpaceNews, 10 August 2021, URL:

3) "NASA Science, Cargo Launches on Northrop Grumman Resupply Mission," NASA Press Release, 21-106, 11 August 2021, URL:

4) "Cygnus in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm," NASA, 25 August 2021, URL:

5) Mark Garcia, "Cygnus Departs Station Ending Cargo Mission," NASA Space Station, 20 November 2021, URL:

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 (

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