A private Cygnus freighter is set to launch on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday (Feb. 19), and you can watch the whole thing live.
Launch coverage is scheduled to start Saturday at 12:15 p.m. EST (1715 GMT) on the NASA website, the NASA app, NASA social media and here at Space.com.
The robotic Cygnus is scheduled to launch atop an Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 12:39 p.m. EST (1739 GMT), kicking off a 1.5-day journey to the ISS. Timing, however, is subject to technical factors and weather conditions.
Video: Watch astronauts capture Cygnus NG-16 in orbit
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmJt3Hj2pZYIf you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you might be able to see that Antares streaking through the sky, according to NASA. So go outside around launch time and have a look.
Assuming the mission goes to plan, Cygnus should arrive at the ISS around 4:35 a.m. EST (0935 GMT) on Monday (Feb. 21), delivering about 8,300 pounds (3,765 kilograms) of supplies. Space.com will carry NASA’s coverage of that event, starting at 3 a.m. EST (0800 GMT).
Expedition 66 NASA astronaut Raja Chari will capture Cygnus with the orbiting lab’s robotic Canadarm2, with fellow agency astronaut Kayla Barron acting as backup. Following capture, Mission Control will send commands to Canadarm2 to rotate and install the spacecraft on the station’s Unity module on the port facing Earth.
Cygnus is built by the aerospace company Northrop Grumman. Saturday’s launch will mark the beginning of the 17th Cygnus resupply flight, so the mission is known as NG-17.
“NG-17 kicks off a very busy and exciting spring,” Jennifer Buckley, deputy chief scientist for the International Space Station program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said during a press conference on Feb. 11.
Buckley said that two more NASA-funded cargo resupply missions will follow NG-17 in the spring, although the agency has not published which spacecraft are expected to go to orbit yet on its forthcoming launches calendar.
NASA has a choice of Cygnus or SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to conduct robotic resupply missions to the ISS. Dragon can hold refrigerated experiments and bring scientific gear back down to Earth; it survives reentry and can be reused. Cygnus vehicles, by contrast, are disposable; they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere after leaving the ISS. NG-17’s departure from the orbiting lab is expected sometime in May, NASA officials said.
There’s a third robotic resupply vehicle in operation as well: Russia’s Progress freighter. The latest Progress mission arrived at the ISS early Thursday morning (Feb. 17), delivering about 2.8 tons of supplies and hardware.
The Cygnus flying on NG-17 is named after NASA astronaut Piers Sellers, who spent 35 days in space across three space shuttle missions that assisted with the construction of the ISS. Sellers, also a climate scientist and deputy director of Goddard Space Flight Center’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate, died in 2016 after a diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The S.S. Piers Sellers will have a large haul of science investigations on board, including:
- Colgate Skin Aging experiment, led by Colgate. It “evaluates cellular and molecular changes in engineered human skin cells in microgravity,” according to a NASA press release. Changes in such cells have implications for matters such as fighting off infection or regulating body temperature, which are some of the functions of skin.
- MicroQuin 3D Tumor, led by MicroQuin. It “examines the effects of a drug on breast and prostate cancer cells in space,” NASA says. Microgravity encourages these cells to grow in three dimensions, which allows investigators a chance to scrutinize the structure.
- OGA H2 Sensor Demo (OGS) , led by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. It “tests new sensors for the space station’s oxygen generation system.” OGS separates hydrogen from oxygen through electrolysis. While current sensors ensure no hydrogen comes into the cabin, they are sensitive to factors like moisture and require swapping out every 201 days.
- Space As-Lib, an experiment from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency examining “a lithium-ion secondary battery capable of safe, stable operation under extreme temperatures and in a vacuum environment.” The battery has flame-retardant materials and does not leak liquid, among other attributes.
- The eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) investigation, led by Sierra Nevada Corp. This experiment tests plant growth in hydroponic (water-based) and aeroponic (air-based) systems, instead of using soil. If successful, these systems could reduce the mass of plant experiments, researchers say.
- Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE), a new combustion facility that will be installed in the Combustion Investigation Rack, located on the U.S. Laboratory Module (Destiny) for safe combustion research.
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