Press Release

Orbital’s Cygnus Spacecraft Selected by NASA to Host Experimental FIre Safety Payload

By SpaceRef Editor
August 8, 2013
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Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), one of the world’s leading space technology companies, today announced it has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to host a scientific payload that will improve spacecraft fire safety for future space exploration vehicles. Known as the Spacecraft Fire Experiment (Saffire), the payload will be hosted aboard Orbital’s Cygnus(TM) advanced maneuvering spacecraft and is planned for flight by mid-2015.

“While the primary mission of Cygnus is to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), Saffire will demonstrate the ability of Cygnus to provide important secondary mission capabilities, including as a platform to conduct a wide variety of experiments and demonstrations beneficial to the scientific and engineering community,” said Mr. Frank DeMauro, Orbital’s Cygnus Program Manager.

“After completing its cargo delivery mission, Cygnus has the capability of remaining in space for months at a time and provide substantial power, data and propulsion support to hosted payloads,” DeMauro added. “This affords researchers ample time to conduct experiments in a real-world space environment at an affordable cost, a very attractive feature for scientists looking to conduct short- to medium-duration research and for space industry communities developing flight heritage data for materials and systems.”

The self-contained Saffire payload, built by NASA’s Glenn Research Center (GRC), will test the flammability of large samples of various types of materials in low-gravity environments. It will be integrated into Cygnus’ Pressurized Cargo Module and remain in place throughout the duration of the cargo delivery mission.

Orbital is currently under contract for one mission, but NASA is preparing three flight systems, Saffire I, II and III, each dedicated to a separate Saffire Cygnus mission. Saffire I will test one fabric sample, while Saffire II will test 10 fabric samples and Saffire III will test a hybrid of the Saffire I and II samples.

“Currently, most flammability data for materials in microgravity is obtained during short-duration, drop-tower tests with small sample sizes,” said Mr. Carl Walz, Orbital’s Vice President for Human Spaceflight and a former NASA astronaut. “There is very little data on large-scale material flammability in low-gravity environments. Gathering this type of data will enable NASA to enhance safe operations of new space vehicles that are being designed for long-duration travel to the Moon, asteroids and other destinations.”

“The Cygnus design has been modified to provide a standard interface capability for future internally and externally hosted payloads, similar to the system we have used for hosted payloads on our commercial communications satellites. This will provide low-cost, short-lead time and regular spaceflight opportunities for a variety of future government and commercial hosted payloads,” said DeMauro.

About Cygnus Orbital developed Cygnus as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) joint research and development initiative with NASA. Beginning later this year, Orbital will conduct eight Cygnus missions to deliver approximately 20,000 kilograms of cargo to the ISS, including crew supplies, spare parts and equipment, and scientific experiments. Each Cygnus will launch aboard an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, VA.

A low-risk design spacecraft, Cygnus consists of a common Service Module (SM) and a Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM). The SM incorporates avionics, power and propulsion systems already successfully flown aboard Orbital’s LEOStar(TM) and GEOStar(TM) satellite product lines. The PCM, designed and built by Thales Alenia Space under a subcontract from Orbital, is based on the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM). For more information on Cygnus, click here.

About Orbital

Orbital develops and manufactures small- and medium-class rockets and space systems for commercial, military and civil government customers. The company’s primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including low-Earth orbit, geosynchronous-Earth orbit and planetary spacecraft for communications, remote sensing, scientific and defense missions; human-rated space systems for Earth-orbit, lunar and other missions; ground- and air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles. Orbital also provides satellite subsystems and space-related technical services to government agencies and laboratories. More information about Orbital can be found at

SpaceRef staff editor.