NASA Science and Cargo Launches on Northrop Grumman Resupply Mission to Space Station

Northrop Grumman Antares Rocket with Cygnus Supply Spacecraft

The Northrop Grumman Cygnus spaceship sits atop an Antares rocket at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach
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A Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft is en route to the International Space Station with more than 8,200 pounds of scientific research and cargo after launching at 6:01 p.m. EDT Tuesday of


Founded in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civil space program and for aerospace and aerospace research. Its vision is to “discover and extend knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

“>NASA‘s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. At 8:46 p.m., the spacecraft’s solar panels were successfully deployed to collect sunlight to power Cygnus on its journey to the station.

Northrop Grumman Antares Rocket Launch August 2021

In this black-and-white infrared image, a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft is launched from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Northrop Grumman’s 16th contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA will provide nearly 8,200 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the International Space Station and its crew. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Cygnus is expected to arrive at the space station around 6:10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 12. NASA Television, de NASA app, and desks website will report live on the spacecraft’s approach and arrival from 4:45 am

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur will use the space station’s robot Canadarm2 to capture Cygnus upon arrival, while ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet monitors telemetry during the rendezvous, capture and installation at the Unity’s Earth-facing port. module.

Robotic Arm Operators for Cygnus Capture

This is Northrop Grumman’s 16th cargo flight to the space station and the fifth under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract with NASA. Cygnus launched on an Antares 230+ rocket from Pad 0A of the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops.

The resupply flight will support dozens of new and existing investigations. Included in the scientific studies that Cygnus is providing to the space station are:

From fabric to home

Using resources available on the moon and


Mars is the second smallest planet in our solar system and the fourth planet from the sun. Iron oxide is common on the surface of Mars, resulting in its reddish color and its nickname ‘The Red Planet’. The name Mars comes from the Roman god of war.

“>Mars to build structures and habitats could reduce the amount of material future explorers must take from Earth, significantly reducing launch mass and cost. The Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) study demonstrates 3D printing on the space station using a material that simulates regolith, or loose rock and soil, found on the surfaces of planetary bodies such as the moon. Results may help determine the feasibility of using regolith as a raw material and 3D printing as a technique for on-demand construction of habitats and other structures in future space exploration missions.

Preservation of muscles

As people age and become more sedentary on Earth, they gradually lose muscle mass, a condition called sarcopenia. Identifying drugs to treat this condition is difficult because it develops over decades. Cardinal Muscle test of microgravity can be used as a research tool to understand and prevent sarcopenia. The study, funded by the National Science Foundation in collaboration with the ISS US National Laboratory, seeks to determine whether an engineered tissue platform in microgravity shapes the characteristic muscle tubes found in muscle tissue. Such a platform could provide a way to rapidly assess potential drugs ahead of clinical trials.

Getting the heat out of space travel

Longer space missions will have to generate more energy and produce more heat to be dissipated. Transitioning from current single-phase heat transfer systems to two-phase thermal management systems reduces the size and weight of the system and allows for more efficient heat dissipation. Because more heat energy is exchanged through evaporation and condensation, a two-phase system can dissipate more heat for the same weight than current single-phase systems. The Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment (FBCE) aims to develop a facility for collecting data on two-phase flow and heat transfer in microgravity. Comparisons of microgravity and Earth gravity data are needed to validate numerical simulation tools for thermal management system design.

Cooler Re-entry

The Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment (KREPE) demonstrates an affordable thermal protection system (TPS) to protect spacecraft and their contents during reentry. Making these systems efficient remains one of the biggest challenges for space exploration, but the unique environment of atmospheric inputs makes it difficult to accurately replicate the conditions in ground simulations. TPS designers rely on numerical models that often lack flight validation. This research serves as an inexpensive way to compare these models with current flight data and validate possible designs. Before the technology was flown on the space station, researchers conducted a high-altitude balloon test to validate the performance of the electronics and communications.

Getting the carbon dioxide out

Four Bed CO2 scrubber demonstrates a technology to remove carbon dioxide from a spacecraft. Based on the current system and lessons learned from nearly 20 years of operation, the Four Bed CO2 Scrubber includes mechanical upgrades and an improved, longer-lasting absorbent material that reduces erosion and dust. Absorption beds remove water vapor and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, return water vapor to the cabin and release carbon dioxide overboard or divert it to a system that uses it to produce water. This technology could improve the reliability and performance of carbon dioxide removal systems in future spacecraft, help maintain crew health and ensure mission success. It has potential applications on Earth in closed environments that require removal of carbon dioxide to protect workers and equipment.

Mold in microgravity

An ESA investigation, Blob, have students aged 10 to 18 study a naturally occurring slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, who is capable of basic forms of learning and adaptation. Although it is only one cell and has no brain, Blob can move, feed, organize itself and even pass on knowledge to other slime molds. Students replicate experiments conducted by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet to see how de Blob’s behavior is affected by microgravity. Using time-lapse video from space, students can compare the speed, shape and growth of the slime molds in space and on the ground. The French space agency Center National d’Etudes Spatiales and the French National Center for Scientific Research coordinate Blob.

These are just a few of the hundreds of studies currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the fields of biology and biotechnology, natural sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during extended space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration missions as part of NASA’s exploration approach to the Moon and Mars, including lunar missions through NASA’s Artemis Program.

Cygnus will also provide a new mounting bracket that astronauts will attach to the port side of the station’s spine during a spacewalk scheduled for late August. The mounting bracket allows the installation of one of the next few new solar panels at a later date.

The Cygnus spacecraft will remain in the space station until November before removing several thousand pounds of debris through its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

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