The Cygnus spacecraft, dedicated to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), has been successfully launched by an Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia. Cygnus comprises two main sections: a Service Module from Northrop Grumman, and an enhanced Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) developed and built by Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%). This is the 13th operational mission from Cygnus.
The Cygnus resupply vehicle is a lifeline for astronauts on the International Space Station since 2013, designed to transport the precious cargo that enables the work and life on the ISS, including oxygen, water, scientific experiments, crew supplies, and spare parts. Since end of 2015, the enhanced configuration features a more efficient design able to accommodate more payload weight (over 3,500 kg) and volume.
Life in space and Space for Life
The newly launched cargo carries the Mobile SpaceLab, a tissue and cell culturing facility, Plant Habitat-02, which will cultivate radishes in the Advanced Plant Habitat facility as a model plant that is nutritious and edible. It also carries the Spacecraft Fire Experiment-IV (Saffire-IV) investigation, which will use the Cygnus resupply vehicle after it leaves the space station to examine the development of a fire in different materials and environmental conditions. This latest experiment is vital for developing flame-resistant materials and fire prevention measures.
Although fascinating, Space is a very hostile environment. Humankind urges to explore it, trying to push the boundaries of our scientific and technical knowledge. Learning from Space and understanding its environment is a good way to improve our existence on Earth and in Space. Human space exploration allowed us to improve technology and expand new industries, and here lies the vital importance of Cygnus. By enabling astronauts to receive all the required supplies and equipment, they can live and work properly, far away from home, and therefore complete their major mission. The missions, handled by astronauts in cooperation with space agencies, laboratories, industries and scientific organizations, definitely contribute to improve life on Earth, anticipating as well major milestones regarding space exploration or human exploration of Mars.
Cygnus: a 10-year success story with Northrop Grumman
Thales Alenia Space has supplied cargo modules to Northrop Grumman since the start of the Cygnus program. The first contract in 2009 was for the delivery of nine modules, while a second contract in 2016 added nine more. Thirteen operational PCMs plus a demo module have been launched to date, four in the original version and ten in the enhanced version. Thales Alenia Space has supplied over 50% of the Internal Space Station’s pressurized volume, including Nodes 2 and 3, the Multipurpose Module (MMP), Multipurpose Logistics Modules (MPLM), Cupola, Columbus lab structure, the pressurized cargo module for ATV resupply vessels and the structure for the Bishop commercial airlock from NanoRacks.
Pioneering the future of space exploration
This launch further confirms Thales Alenia Space’s ongoing contribution to the success of Cygnus cargo missions and its ability to support future space exploration missions, bringing its expertise to expand the frontiers of knowledge. Capitalizing on its expertise regarding orbital infrastructures and thanks to the work being done on innovative solutions, including reusable space transport vehicles. Thales Alenia Space designs the future of space exploration.
Date: Feb 17, 2020