Late Christmas presents and space-traveling ants are not your typical pairing. But that’s the kind of cargo astronauts will be unpacking after a private ship docked on the International Space Station Sunday.
The Cygnus spacecraft took off on January 9 and spent two and a half days on a high speed orbital chase before docking with the station. Astronauts used a robotic arm to capture the capsule. (Via Bay News 9)
The Cygnus is the first operational mission for Orbital Science, which partnered up with NASA in a $1.9-billion contract. It joins company SpaceX in providing supply missions to the ISS. (Via CNN)
Orbital is set to send at least eight resupply missions to the station by 2016. SpaceX’s $1.6 billion deal with NASA is already underway, with two of its 12 missions completed. (Via Space.com)
Ken Kramer of Universe Today writes: "The goal of Orbital Science's Cygnus – and the SpaceX Dragon – is to restore America's cargo delivery capabilities to low Earth orbit and the ISS that was totally lost following the forced retirement of NASA's Space Shuttles."
The Cygnus was packed with 2,800 pounds of station supplies and research experiments. That includes eight ant farms for weightlessness research and late Christmas gifts for the six astronauts. (Via NASA)
Those gifts would have been on time, but the Cygnus experienced setbacks ahead of its scheduled launch in mid-December.
The first flight was delayed because of a cooling system malfunction on the ISS. The rescheduled launch set for last week got cut following cold temperatures from the polar vortex and a surprise solar flare. (Via WBBH)
Sadly the life of the cargo ship is a short one. After 37 days astronauts will load the Cygnus up with trash and let it disintegrate as it falls back into Earth’s atmosphere. (Via International Business Times)
Astronauts will begin unloading the bus-sized spacecraft on Monday. SpaceX has set its next scheduled launch for February 22, and Orbital will take up the following mission slated for May 1.