The Cygnus spacecraft | Space
The Cygnus spacecraft is an unmanned cargo ship that brings supplies and equipment to the International space station (ISS) then remove the garbage. It is operated by Northrop Grumman Space Systems, a privately held U.S. aerospace and defense technology company. The vehicle is named after Constellation Cygnus which is visible in the northern night sky.
Design and operation of spacecraft
The Cygnus spacecraft, which was developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. and Thales Alenia Space, consists of a silver pressurized cylinder 17 feet (5 meters) long and powered by two solar panels that protrude like wings from its sides. The original version of Cygnus could carry up to 4,409 pounds. (2,000 kilograms) of equipment at the ISS, Space.com has already reported, although newer models have a load capacity of up to 7,716 lbs. (3,500 kilograms).
A typical Cygnus mission launches using an Antares rocket from a NASA launch pad, zooming in to an altitude of 250 miles (400 kilometers), where the ISS orbiting. The vehicle uses GPS and star trackers to autonomously approach the station, before being captured by the robotics Canadarm2 at the outpost, which is controlled by astronauts from the ISS, according to the European Space Agency.
Once the spacecraft is docked with the ISS, the crew members open the Cygnus hatch and remove the spacecraft’s equipment. During a 30-day mission, Cygnus is filled with trash, then closed and detached from the station. It can hold several tons of trash and discarded items, according to NASA.
At the end of its refueling and garbage collection mission, the Cygnus spacecraft burns in the Earth’s atmosphere over uninhabited areas of the Pacific Ocean.
How Cygnus started
Cygnus’ development began in 2008, when NASA awarded Orbital Sciences Corp., a private, Virginia-based aerospace company, a $ 1.9 billion contract under the commercial orbital transport services program of the ‘agency, Space.com has already reported. The spacecraft was designed to bring supplies to the ISS after NASA retired spaceship program, which officially ended in 2011.
Orbital launched its first Cygnus spacecraft in 2013 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia atop an Antares rocket, also built by Orbital. On September 29 of the same year, the vehicle made its first delivery, approaching the station enough to be captured by the robotic arm, then docked to the Harmony module at the outpost.
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In 2018, Northrop Grumman acquires Orbital for $ 7.8 billion, by taking possession of Cygnus as well as its launcher, Antares.
What Cygnus has accomplished so far
Since its first launch, the freighter Cygnus has carried over 70,000 pounds. (31,500 kg) of equipment required at the station, according to Northrop Grumman. Over the years, Cygnus has demonstrated many capabilities beyond being a refueling vehicle, including the launch cubesats, acting as additional lab space when docked to the ISS, increasing the station’s orbit and flying alone for over a year.
In 2021, a Cygnus spacecraft was named in honor of Katherine johnson, a NASA mathematician and “hidden figure“which helped to make calculations for the Apollo 11 mission. The mission carried an advanced supercomputer, an artificial retina experiment, and worms that would be used in a muscle strength testing experiment.
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Other recent Cygnus missions have brought 5G technology experiences, a delivery of cheese and sweets for astronauts and $ 23 million titanium space toilet to the ISS.