NASA commercial cargo provider Orbital ATK is targeting its seventh commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for 9 p.m., EDT Friday, March 24, the start of a 30-minute launch window. Coverage of the launch begins at 8 p.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website. An option exists to move the launch earlier to March 23, if the Eastern Range becomes available.
Two prelaunch briefings will air the day prior to launch. At 1 p.m., scientists and researchers will discuss some of the investigations to be delivered to the station, and at 4 p.m., mission managers will provide an overview and status of launch operations.
Dubbed S.S. John Glenn, the Cygnus spacecraft name is a tribute to the former astronaut and U.S. Senator from Ohio. It will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Coverage of the spacecraft’s solar array deployment will begin at 10:40 p.m., March 24, and will include post-launch interviews on console with mission managers.
Under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, Cygnus will carry more than 7,600 pounds of science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.
The new experiments will include magnetized tools to make it easier to reproduce experiments on Earth, an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment, and an advanced plant habitat for studying plant physiology and growth of fresh food in space. Cygnus also is carrying 38 CubeSats, including many built by university students from around the world as part of the QB50 program. The CubeSats are scheduled to deploy from either the spacecraft or space station in the coming months.
When Cygnus arrives to the space station, Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the space station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2, to take hold of the spacecraft. After Canadarm2 captures Cygnus, ground commands will be sent for the station’s arm to rotate and install it on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.
Cygnus will remain on the station until June, when it will depart with several tons of trash for a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Prior to re-entry, a third experiment to test will be conducted to study how fire burns in space.
This is Orbital ATK’s third launch from Cape Canaveral. Missions from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia are scheduled to resume for the eighth and subsequent contracted flights.
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