Orbital ATK's Cygnus Successfully Launched on Seventh Cargo Delivery Mission to International Space Station

19 April 2017

Orbital ATK, a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, successfully launched its Cygnus™ spacecraft to the International Space Station aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle with approximately 7,600 pounds (3,450 kilograms) of cargo as well as 38 cubesats, many built by university students, which will be deployed directly from either the space station or the spacecraft in the coming months. The Atlas V rocket lifted off at 11:11 a.m. (EDT) today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch marks the company’s seventh operational cargo resupply mission (OA-7) for NASA under its Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract. The spacecraft, named the S.S. John Glenn in honor of the late astronaut, will also become the third Cygnus to conduct scientific experiments following its departure from the station.

“Today’s successful launch reflects the remarkable efforts of our Orbital ATK team which has now delivered its fourth Cygnus to the space station in little over a year from two different launch locations,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “We are also pleased that Cygnus will once again display its versatility as an in-orbit science platform for conducting experiments and payload operations for key customers. Finally, congratulations to NASA, ULA and Orbital ATK for their shared teamwork in commemorating a champion of human spaceflight through the S.S. John Glenn. We are proud to dedicate this mission to John and his family.”

Following a 21-minute ascent, the S.S. John Glenn was successfully deployed into its intended orbit. Orbital ATK’s engineering team confirmed that reliable communications have been established and that the vehicle’s solar arrays are fully deployed, providing the necessary electrical power to operate the spacecraft.

Cygnus will be grappled the morning of April 22 and remain attached to the space station for approximately three months before departing with roughly 3,300 pounds (1,500 kilograms) of disposable cargo for a safe, destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. Cygnus’ large-volume and pressurized disposal cargo capability, a critical service to NASA, is unique among America’s commercial cargo providers.

For this mission, Cygnus is carrying a variety of essential items including food, clothing, crew supplies, spare parts, laboratory equipment and scientific experiments. Among the cargo that will be delivered are four powered, mid-deck lockers. Resembling freezers, these lockers receive power from Cygnus in order to maintain a constant internal temperature after they are loaded into the pressurized cargo module. Each locker will carry critical science experiments for the crew.

Once Cygnus departs the space station, the spacecraft will execute three secondary OA-7 missions.  Cygnus will carry the Saffire-III payload experiment to study the behavior of a large fire in microgravity onboard the spacecraft. Data from this experiment will be downloaded via telemetry to researchers on the ground. In addition, a NanoRacks deployer will release four cubesats used for weather monitoring and global ship tracking. The final experiment will use three Reentry Data Collection Flight Recorders to provide crucial data about the extreme conditions a spacecraft encounters when reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. This specific experiment will also test the performance of different heat shield materials that may be used on future U.S.  space missions.

The Cygnus system consists of a common service module and pressurized cargo module. The service module was built and tested at Orbital ATK’s manufacturing facility in Dulles, Virginia. The enhanced Cygnus also uses Orbital ATK’s UltraFlex™ solar arrays, which are the latest in lightweight, space-qualified, electrical power technology. Orbital ATK manufactured the arrays and composite structures at its Goleta and San Diego, California, facilities, and the propellant tanks for the Cygnus spacecraft at its Commerce, California, site.

Orbital ATK’s composite structures and retro motors also supported today’s launch of the ULA Atlas V rocket. The company manufactured a 10-foot diameter composite heat shield for the launch vehicle, using advanced fiber placement manufacturing techniques at its Iuka, Mississippi facility. The Elkton, Maryland facility contributed eight Orbital ATK retro motors, providing thrust for separation of the spent first stage.

Pending NASA’s specific cargo needs, Orbital ATK is prepared to launch two additional CRS missions scheduled this year that will launch aboard the company’s Antares rockets from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Beginning in 2019, Orbital ATK will conduct a minimum of six initial cargo missions under NASA’s CRS-2 contract.