Northrop Grumman, S.S. Katherine Johnson ready for launch to Station –

Northrop Grumman will kick off their 2021 launch manifest with the flight of an Antares rocket delivering the Cygnus spacecraft to the Worldwide Area Station from Pad 0A on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia at 12:36 EST (17:36 UTC) Saturday, 20 February 2021.

The spacecraft is predicted to rendezvous with the Station in two days, the place it will likely be berthed to the Unity module utilizing Canadarm2.  This uncrewed resupply mission will ship 3,729 kg to the ISS, consisting of CubeSats, science experiments, Station gear, and crew provides.

The NG-15 mission

Manufacturing for this specific flight started a little bit greater than two years in the past with the beginning of long-lead materials purchases and built-in elements wanted for the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.

While overall production and integration of an Antares/Cygnus mission can take place on a shorter time span, Kurt Eberly, Director Area Launch Packages, Northrop Grumman, associated that the extra time is built-in not only for manufacturing delays but additionally to accommodate the potential of NASA requesting an development to a launch date, which has occurred earlier than. 

“We want to make sure that we’re there and ready to launch when NASA needs us.  We need to put a little bit margin on issues.  We don’t need there to only be a bar on a schedule.  We all know that generally NASA needs to drag us ahead a little bit bit, so we attempt to be prepared a little bit bit early so we will supply that and be there for when NASA wants us.” 

After integration with the Cygnus spacecraft and preliminary cargo load operations within the horizontal integration facility for this mission have been full, all the Antares 230+ car and payload have been rolled to the launchpad on 16 February, the place all the rocket was taken vertical for pad checkouts and Wallops Vary communications checks.

Late-load cargo operations for time-sensitive science experiments as well as crew supplies took place on Friday, 19 February via a pop top feature in the Antares payload fairing that allows access to Cygnus’ forward hatch.

As soon as late-load was accomplished, Cygnus’ hatch was closed for flight and the payload fairing pop prime was reinstalled earlier than the rocket was taken vertical for ultimate launch operations.

The 5 hour countdown started at 07:36 EST (12:36 UTC) forward of the opening of a 5-minute launch window at 12:36 EST (17:36 UTC).

Whereas temperatures are predicted to be within the low-to-mid 30s Fahrenheit (0 – 2.7 ℃), Antares’ operational vary permits for temperatures as chilly as 20℉ (-6.6 ℃) at liftoff.

After leaving the pad, Antares will pitch and roll onto a southeasterly trajectory to start its chase of the Worldwide Area Station. 

Following first stage shutdown and separation, the payload fairings will deploy whereas the steerage system converges on a flight answer to put Cygnus into the right orbit whereas additionally performing a sequence of vitality scrub maneuvers to bleed off extra vitality from the strong propellant higher stage (a detailed overview of how that process works can be found here).

That Castor 30XL stage will then end the orbit insertion, delivering Cygnus into the Station’s orbital hall for a two day rendezvous forward of grapple and berthing on Monday, 22 February.

After arriving in orbit, Cygnus’ large batteries do not mandate the immediate deployment of its solar panels, a process that will unfold over the first 90 minutes of flight. 

The spacecraft’s hydrazine thrusters will present angle management to maintain it going through the Solar for energy technology whereas reorienting the craft as wanted for bigger burns of the bi-propellant predominant engine to vary the car’s orbit because it approaches the Station.

Canadarm2 grabs maintain of the Cygnus NG-12 spacecraft because it arrives on the ISS. (Credit score: NASA)

After being put in onto Node-1/Unity, Cygnus may also serve not simply as a cargo car however as a further scientific module for the Station to accommodate further experiments or overflow throughout heavy science durations.

Frank DeMauro, Sector Vice President and Normal Supervisor, Tactical Area Techniques at Northrop Grumman, mentioned “That service is offered.  We did an illustration on one of many earlier missions, and since then NASA has taken benefit of that functionality the place they really have crewmembers in Cygnus operating science experiments in our module.”

Mr. DeMauro wasn’t certain if that factor could be utilized on this flight, however he confused it’s accessible to NASA on all Cygnus missions, and the company doesn’t need to request the potential previous to liftoff.

“The aptitude is there,” associated Mr. DeMauro.  “So if NASA decides to maneuver an experiment into Cygnus, they’ll plug it into ports within the cargo module and use it as one other check lab.”

Science onboard

As a part of the mission’s scientific goals, Cygnus is carrying quite a few CubeSats and ThinSats that shall be deployed after the car completes its approximate two month mission on the Area Station. 

The entire present satellites to be deployed from Cygnus after it departs the Station are launching aboard the craft as effectively, although NASA and SlingShot might probably add further CubeSats because the months progress.

In regard to the ThinSats, Kurt Eberly mentioned, “We launched a few of these beforehand.  And these are little STEM satellites, and that is in cooperation with our spaceport, Virginia Area.  And the concept right here is to make the most of additional efficiency on the car when it happens and carry alongside these student-built and designed satellites.”

“We’re actually enthusiastic about this, and it’s a disgrace that with the pandemic we will’t have the children out right here for the launch.  Once we did this earlier than, we had a bunch of the highschool college students out right here with a few of their lecturers, and it was simply superior to see how excited they obtained to consider how one thing they designed was going to be in area.”

Whereas the scholars won’t be able to attend the launch, knowledge collected by their ThinSats shall be made accessible to them of their school rooms.

Moreover, a wide variety of scientific research is flying onboard NG-15, together with worms, a Protein-Based mostly Synthetic Retina Manufacturing system, experiments to map astronauts’ desires, a strong pc system, an improve to the Environmental Management and Life Help System for the Station, and a protein grower.

The Micro-16 experiment will purpose to higher perceive the reason for muscle weakening skilled in astronauts in microgravity even after working greater than two hours day by day to stop bone and muscle loss prompted throughout long-duration missions. 

The experiment will measure the muscle energy of C. Elegans worms to check whether or not decreased expression of muscle proteins is related to decreased strengths.  “Outcomes from this examine might present insights into mechanisms inflicting muscle energy decline within the aged since physiological modifications occurring in spaceflight mimic accelerated getting old,” mentioned Dr. Siva Vanapalli, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Texas Tech College. 

“These outcomes could assist new therapies to fight the consequences of age-related muscle loss on Earth and will help us additional perceive how people cope within the absence of gravity as we plan to transcend Earth on longer length crewed missions.”

Constructing on their earlier experiment despatched to ISS in 2018, LambdaVision’s Protein-Based mostly Synthetic Retina Manufacturing mission will consider a producing system to check the effectiveness of microgravity for manufacturing of light-activated protein retinas that may have the ability to exchange the perform of broken eye tissue and might help these on Earth affected by retinal degenerative illnesses.

In the meantime, the European Area Company’s Goals experiment will study why astronauts have usually reported getting a greater night time’s sleep throughout their stays aboard the Station than on Earth.  The crew members will use themselves as check topics, donning a sleep monitoring headband.

Moreover, the Actual-Time Protein Crystal Development 2 experiment will produce high-quality protein crystals that can endure detailed evaluation again on Earth after returning on a future SpaceX Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft.  Astronauts will examine the crystals, report their development, after which make modifications based mostly on preliminary observations. 

Microgravity produces high-quality protein crystals that may be analyzed to determine potential targets for medication within the therapy of illnesses; nevertheless, it’s tough to research protein buildings on Earth as a result of gravity interferes with the optimum development of protein crystals. 

Apart from the bio-medical experiments onboard Cygnus, the craft can also be carrying a brand new high-performance pc known as Spaceborne Laptop-2.  This experiment will check  off-the-shelf programs that may course of knowledge sooner in area by using synthetic intelligence capabilities in addition to in-situ knowledge processing on Station, eliminating the necessity to ship the information to Earth for evaluation.

Moreover, the Station’s Environmental Management and Life Help System (ECLSS) will obtain an improve within the type of Exploration ECLSS: Brine Processor System.

This gadget will enhance water restoration and recycling effectivity on the Station from the present 93% stage to 98%.

Present programs on the Station recuperate 93% of water and water vapor, however Exploration ECLSS: Brine Processor System will enhance that by recovering further water from the Urine Processor Meeting.

This improve feeds straight into longer-duration future spaceflights, which shall be required to attain 98% water restoration.

Honoring Katherine Johnson

It’s Northrop Grumman’s custom to call every Cygnus car after somebody who has had a pivotal position in human spaceflight.  This flight is known as in honor of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, an instrumental determine in making certain the security of early U.S. human spaceflight missions from Freedom 7 onward to Apollo 11.

Katherine Johnson, 1961. (Credit score: NASA)

Johnson graduated from West Virginia State with levels in Arithmetic and French at simply 18 years outdated and have become the primary black lady to attend graduate faculty on the identical college.

In 1953, she joined the all-black West Space Computing group on the Nationwide Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Langley laboratory.  In 1957, Johnson joined NACA’s Area Job Group, which later grew to become NASA.

Throughout her time within the Area Job Group, Johnson carried out the trajectory evaluation for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission in Might 1961, the USA’ first human spaceflight.  Johnson additionally co-authored a paper on orbital spaceflight and touchdown, changing into the primary lady to obtain credit score as an creator of a analysis paper at NASA. 

Johnson is most well-known for her work behind John Glenn’s orbital mission, which launched precisely 59 years in the past right now (20 February 1962).

Friendship 7 launches. The mission is a few of Johnson’s best-known work. (Credit score: NASA)

Glenn particularly requested that Johnson run the pc’s calculations by hand to proofread its work, saying “If she says they’re good, then I’m able to go.”

Johnson went on to contribute invaluable calculations for the Apollo 11 lunar touchdown and authored or co-authored 26 papers throughout her time at NASA.

In 2015, at age 97, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, the best honor for a U.S. citizen. 

Johnson handed away on 24 February 2020 on the age of 101.

Talking to the choice to call this mission in honor of Johnson, Kurt Eberly mentioned, “In rocketry, in spaceflight, we’re standing on the shoulders of those that got here earlier than us.  And when our college students be taught orbital mechanics and calculate trajectories in faculty, after which they run a pc program, it appears second nature.”

“However actually it’s constructed on the exhausting work of all these individuals like Katherine Johnson that got here earlier than us and developed the methodologies for determining how a rocket must fly by way of the environment and get to orbit.”

“The truth that we nonetheless depend on people to this present day to place collectively these trajectories and fly these missions, she represents that functionality that one of the best of us have.”

(Lead picture: NASA)


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