NASA and Orbital ATK announced that the Cygnus spacecraft was successfully released from the International Space Station at 08:22 a.m. EST Monday after providing supplies to the space station. 

Now the Cygnus will continue with its secondary missions: the Saffire-II experiment and the deployment of CubeSats to improve weather forecast instruments in space. The Cygnus spacecraft will return to Earth on November 27 in a destructive reentry.

Artist’s rendering of the Cygnus spacecraft approaching the International Space Station. Image Credit: Orbitec

Cygnus stayed in the ISS for 29 days while delivering essential supplies to astronauts on board. The spacecraft carried 5,290 lbs (2,400 kg) of provisions and experiments for the station under the Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) contract with NASA. Cygnus OA-5 mission is Orbital ATK sixth commercial contract service for the National Aviation and Space Administration. The company’s seventh resupply mission is scheduled for spring 2017.

The Saffire-II payload experiment aims to study combustion behavior in microgravity, and the data produced in space will be downloaded via telemetry. The Saffire-II experiment will be activated at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and at Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia when Cygnus reaches a safe distance from the ISS.

The other phase of the second part of the OA-5 mission consists on releasing several CubeSats into orbit to conduct meteorological research. Cygnus will release four LEMUR CubeSats from an external deployer Friday. The CubeSats will reach a remote sensing satellite constellation that provides global shipping tracking and weather monitoring, says NASA. 

After completing the mission, the Cygnus’s engines will fire twice, pushing the spacecraft into Earth’s atmosphere. It will burn up above the Pacific Ocean.

Orbital ATK (Nasdaq: OA) is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies that is currently working with NASA to supply the ISS. It is both a prime contractor and merchant supplier, and besides space, it also works with defense and aviation fields. The OA-5 mission, “S.S. Alan Poindexter,” is the second time Orbital ATK uses a Cygnus spacecraft as a platform to conduct experiments in space.

“Cygnus had a successful, month-long stay at the International Space Station, delivering critical cargo to the astronauts,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “Now, we get another opportunity to showcase this unique spacecraft’s expanded capabilities beyond its core cargo delivery function. To use Cygnus yet again as a research platform demonstrates a versatility and flexibility that we are proud to offer to our customers.”

The “S.S. Alan Poindexter” encounter with the ISS

The OA-5 mission was launched on October 17, 2016, aboard an upgraded Antares rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility. The upgraded rocket had new RD-18 engines which provided increased performance and flexibility to the Cygnus cargo delivery service.

The Cygnus was launched into low-Earth orbit, and from a low parking orbit, the spacecraft used maneuvers to get to the ISS where the station’s crew used a robotic arm to berthed the Cygnus to the station.

Robotic arm operator, Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, commanded the Candadarm2 robotic arm Monday that released Cygnus after it completed the first part of its mission to the ISS while the space station was flying 251 miles over the Pacific Ocean, NASA reports.

Source: Orbit ATK