ISLAND ISLAND, Washington – A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket successfully launches a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station on November 2, ushering in a new era in cargo delivery for the station.
The Antares 230 + rocket lifted from Pad 0-A in the regional cosmodrome in the Mid-Atlantic here at 9:59 a.m. Eastern. The Cygnus spacecraft, named after Northrop Grumman by SS Alan Bean after the end of the Apollo-era astronaut, separated from the upper stage of the rocket about eight and a half hours later.
Cygnus is scheduled to arrive on ISS on November 4, grabbed at the station's robotic arm at about 4:10 am East and arrived at the station later that morning. He will remain at the station until January.
The mission, designated NG-1
"I would describe CRS-2 as more of a step-change in system capabilities," said Frank Demauro, vice president and general manager of space systems at Northrop Grumman, during a NASA Wallops flight pre-briefing here , 1 November.
One change is the ability to carry more cargo. Cygnus has loaded 3,705 kilograms of cargo, more than any previous mission. The spacecraft can now carry 10 medium deck cabinets full of payload, compared to six from the previous Cygnus mission in April. The spacecraft also has enhanced capabilities and telemetry capabilities for these payloads, allowing researchers to keep in contact with them during the two-day trip to the station.
In a previous Cygnus mission, Northrop introduced a late-load cargo capacity that allows time-sensitive loads such as biological experiments to be loaded on a spacecraft within 24 hours of launch. A similar late-load capability was already available on SpaceX's Dragon ship.
The NG-12 mission means that for the first time two Cygnus spacecraft are in orbit at the same time. Cygnus from the NG-11 mission, which departs the station in early August, remains in orbit to demonstrate the spacecraft's ability to perform a long-range free-flight mission. "This continues to be extremely successful," DeMauro says.
With the launch of the NG-12 Cygnus controllers will test their ability to operate two spacecraft simultaneously. "We believe this is key capacity for NASA or other government agencies or the commercial industries," he says.
DeMauro said that Northrop would begin planning the end of the NG-11 mission after the NG-12 Cygnus arrives at the ISS. "We have not set a deadline for when we will return it," he told NG-11 Cygnus. "I don't expect it to be that long after the NG-12 in orbit."
The increased load and increased mass of the Cygnus itself required improvements to the Antares launch vehicle. This launch marks the debut of the Antares 230+, a version of Antares that has changed in terms of increased structural strength in the first stage. This eliminates what Kurt Eberley, vice president of Antares at Northrop Grumman, called the "throttle", in which the engines of the first stage of the RD-181 rocket collapsed at maximum dynamic pressure. Instead, the engines remain at 100% thrust for nearly 200 seconds. This change, along with others, in order to reduce the mass of the vehicle and place the Cygnus in a slightly lower orbit, increases the useful capacity of the vehicle by about 800 kilograms.
Eberly said that this version of Antares was "stuffed" with the NASA 2 launch contract, making it eligible for NASA scientific mission launches as well. "This allows us to be more competitive and lift more payloads and address more markets," he said. To date, CRS contracts are the only customers for a medium-lift rocket.
Cygnus payload: kubzite, cookies and cosmic rays
The payload for the NG-12 Cygnus mission includes nearly 2000 kilograms of research. They cover the usual range of payloads for demonstrating science and technology, from biological research to materials science.
Included in Cygnus is the AstroRad vest, developed by the Israeli company StemRad and Lockheed Martin. Astronauts will wear a vest to test its characteristics, protecting them from radiation from solar storms. The suit is personalized to provide "selective shielding" for key organs, said Oren Milstein, co-founder and CEO of StemRad, and its high-density polyethylene material can provide the same level of shielding as the much heavier shield in storm spacecraft.
Another payload is an oven developed by Nanoracks and Zero Gravity Kitchen to test the ability to bake food in space. The first use of the small oven will be to bake cookies in partnership with the Doubletree hotel chain.
While the experiment may sound trivial, companies view it as a benchmark for future human activities in space, such as commercial space stations or long-term missions beyond Earth. "What will these people need to have a good experience?" Said Mary Murphy, senior director of domestic payloads at Nanoracks. Something as simple as baking in space, she said, "can make people have a comfortable experience with the possibility of a long space flight."
Several cubes are on Cygnus for later deployment. Two of them are for the National Intelligence Office as part of a program called IMPACT to perform space validation of 14 technologies for potential later use in NRO operational missions.
Cubesites use a standardized interface as part of an unclassified initiative called the Greenlighting program to allow experiments to be easily added to qubits, said Major Michael Felten of the NRO in a November 2 interview. One example is to test a microprocessor originally designed for the oil and gas industry to see if it can be used in space applications.
"We use the results of research and development in terms of space efficiency and viability and degradation of these components to influence the choice of new technologies in our future operating systems," he said. "This allows us to select the latest and most capable components for our future collection capabilities."
Also, Cygnus is hardware to repair Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) tools outside the station. This experiment, set at the station in 2011 for an initial three-year mission to measure high-energy cosmic rays, continues to operate today, but its cooling system fails.
Cygnus offers a new cooling system and special tools that astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano will use in a series of five space paths to repair AMS. Kirk Shereman, NASA ISS program manager, said at a pre-launch briefing that these space paths are likely to begin in mid-November. A separate set of battery replacement space lanes in the station's power system, interrupted by a failed battery charger last month, will resume after AMS space lanes.
A refurbished AMS may operate in the 2020s, pending decisions by ISS partners to extend the station's operations beyond its current 2024 deadline. Sam Ting, a Nobel laureate physicist who is a principal AMS researcher, says an expanded mission will allow him to deal with issues ranging from the abundance of antimatter to the confirmation of a model for dark matter.  "AMS will continue to collect and analyze life-long data from the space station, because whenever precision tools such as AMS are used to investigate the unknown, new and exciting discoveries can be expected," he said.
NG -12 commissioning is part of the busy period of the station. A Japanese freighter HTV-8, launched in September, leaves for the station on November 1st. Both Russia's Progress cargo ship and SpaceX Dragon cargo ship are scheduled to fly to the ISS in early December.
Two other companies have CRS -2 cargo agreements with NASA. In 2020, SpaceX will move to its CRS-2 contract using a cargo version of its Crew Dragon spacecraft. Sierra Nevada Corporation will begin flying its Dream Chaser spacecraft in development to the ISS at the end of 2021. All three CRS-2 contracts include a minimum of six company missions by 2024.