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Space Station Is Reached By Falcon 9’s Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft Launch

On January 30, a Northrop Cygnus cargo spacecraft was launched to the International Space Station by a SpaceX Falcon 9 with success.

At 12:07 p.m. Eastern, Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida fired the Falcon 9. About fifteen minutes later, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on the NG-20 commercial resupply station to the ISS was launched into orbit. On its tenth mission, the Falcon 9 first stage made a comeback touchdown at Cape Canaveral.

This was the inaugural launch of Cygnus using a Falcon 9. Except for two that flew on United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 vehicles following an Antares launch failure in 2014, the majority of prior Cygnus missions were carried out by Northrop Grumman’s own Antares rocket.

While working with Firefly Aerospace on the Antares 330, a new version of the rocket that replaces the Russian-manufactured engines and Ukrainian-built first stage with a stage and engines made by Firefly, Northrop acquired three Falcon 9 launches for Cygnus. Launches of that spacecraft could start as early as mid-2025.

During a briefing on January 26, Northrop stated that they had not made many modifications to the Cygnus spacecraft or its processing flow in order to make room for the Falcon 9. During the same briefing, SpaceX announced that they had added a door to the Falcon 9 payload fairing, allowing the Cygnus spacecraft to be accessed by the late cargo load prior to flight.

The spacecraft, which Northrop has dubbed “S.S. Patricia ‘Patty’ Hilliard Robertson” in honour of the late NASA astronaut, is expected to touch down at the station early on February 1 and be berthed by the robotic arm Canadarm2. Cygnus intends to spend a minimum of one hundred days at the station.

For the International Space Station, the Cygnus is transporting 3,726 kg of cargo, nearly equally divided between crew supplies, research and development, and vehicle hardware. Research payloads include biological studies as well as outside-the-station demonstrations of GITAI-developed robotic arms and a surgical robot system.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Spaceborne Computer-2 is one of the payloads. Without sending a lot of data back to the ground, the computer may use artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyse data from previous investigations conducted on the station. At a briefing on January 26, principal investigator Mark Fernandez declared, “I can compute faster than you can download.”

The computer, which has four 30-terabyte solid state drives and a new operating system, is an updated version of one that was previously flown on the station. “Any and all of the raw data you generate up there will be able to be stored, processed, and returned to Earth faster and better than ever,” he stated.

NG-20 is being used by LambdaVision, a business that creates artificial retinas that are best generated in microgravity, to launch its ninth experiment to the station. Over the course of the last eight missions, we have improved our manufacturing process. Now, we’re trying to scale up this procedure,” LambdaVision CEO Nicole Wagner stated.

As her business explores future manufacturing on the International Space Station (ISS) or commercial successors, she stated, “In the past couple of flights we have looked at scale: how do we take everything that we have learned to date and build on that so we can generate more artificial retinas.”

NG-20’s vehicle hardware includes spare parts for station components including the oxygen generator and workout equipment, as well as a kit for the installation of an additional set of iROSA solar arrays outside the station at a later time. Rather than equipment that needs to be repaired right once, “all these spares are essentially spare parts for future repairs,” stated Dina Contella, NASA’s operations integration manager for the International Space Station, at a briefing on January 26.

NASA is utilising NG-20, as it has with previous cargo missions, to supply the crew with a variety of fresh foods, like as hummus and hazelnut spread. “A bunch of ice cream,” Contella continued.

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