Today, shortly before 1 pm EDT, Orbital Sciences successfully launched the second of 10 contracted resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). The Antares rocket lifted a Cyngus spacecraft and 3,300 pounds of cargo into orbit to rendezvous with the ISS.
The cargo includes food, hardware and supplies for the crew as well as several science experiments. The payload of the Orbital-2 mission includes 28 nano-satellites, designed by Planet Labs of San Francisco. These will be deployed over the next month and will bring the total number of Planet Science satellites, called “Doves,” to 71. These satellites are designed to be quickly repositioned to take images of the Earth for humanitarian and commercial purposes.
Also on board is the satellite based-investigation TechEdSat-4 (TES-4) from Ames Research Center. The goal of the program is to, eventually, enable samples to be returned to Earth from space. This would allow astronauts to return medical and scientific samples to laboratories on Earth and could, eventually, allow samples from Mars and other points to be safely returned to Earth without burning up on re-entry.
The Smart Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) on the Cyngus are bowling ball sized spherical satellites. They feature multiple cameras and sensors to enable 3D mapping of the space station. The goal is to allow automation of various processes including collision avoidance, realignment, satellite recovery, path planning and the remote operation of robots. Eventually they may also allow for automated docking of fixed and tumbling targets.
Several experiments from the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program (SSEP) are also on board. The SSEP, an initiative of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and NanoRacks, was created in 2010 to allow student communities to send experiments to the ISS. Students from the 5th grade through the university level are encouraged to participate.
If all goes according to plan, the six member crew of ISS expedition 40 will extend the station’s robotic arm to take hold of Cygnus at 6:39 a.m. Wednesday, July 16. The capsule will then be filled with 3,000 pounds of trash and in August Cygnus will be released from the station to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Antares rocket is 133 feet tall rocket with a Russian-built AJ-26 engine. It uses a two-stage booster to push the Cygnus into orbit before detaching it from the top of the rocket. The Cyngus was developed as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Program (COTS). The craft is approximately 17 feet long and 10 feet in diamater. The craft has a carrying capacity of almost 4,500 lbs.
This particular Cyngus craft was dubbed the SS Janice Voss, a tribute to Orbital Sciences engineer and five time shuttle veteran who succumbed to breast cancer in 2012.
Orbital Sciences currently shares ISS resupply duties with Space X and the CRS-3 spacecraft.