Antares rocket launches heaviest Cygnus cargo ship ever to space station for NASA

WALLOPS ISLAND (VA) A Northrop Grumman-built Cygnus cargo vessel blasted off Tuesday night from Virginia (Aug. 10) carrying essential supplies for astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS).The uncrewed Cygnus NG-16 spacecraft, which is perched atop a Antares two-stage rocket, blasted off from Pad 0A, NASA's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island in Virginia at 6:01 p.m. ET (2201 GMT) Tuesday evening. This was the end of the five-minute window.As the Antares rocket, which measures 139 feet tall (43 meters), soared off its launch platform in Virginia this evening, it was clear as day. Although a possible wayward boat and a Helium valve problem almost stopped today's launch attempt from happening, the teams managed to overcome the problems and make it a spectacular launch."And we have liftoff from Antares for NG-16 mission," NASA's rocket director stated during a live broadcast. Courtney Beasley from NASA's public affairs office provided live commentary from Houston Mission Control.Video: Antares launches Cygnus NG-16 spacecraft into spaceRelated: Blobs in Space and Other Cool Science Launching to the Space StationNorthrop Grumman Antares launches the Cygnus NG-16 cargo resupply satellite to the International Space Station via NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Aug. 10, 2021. NASA TV image creditIt is carrying more than 4 tonnes (3,719 kg) of scientific equipment and supplies to Expedition 65 astronauts aboard the space station. The craft is also loaded with new hardware, and other equipment to support the station's solar arrays."Sweet 16".Known as NG-16, this mission marks Northrop Grumman’s 15th operational resupply launch from the space station since 2014. It is also the fifth Antares to fly with the more powerful 230+ configuration. This configuration allows payloads to be loaded on the spacecraft earlier than usual. This means that there is more science."I'm looking forward to our sweet sixteen mission [on Tuesday]," Frank DeMauro (Vice President and General Manager for Tactical Space at Northrop Grumman), said during a prelaunch press conference on Monday, Aug. 9. "Northrop Grumman is pleased to support NASA, our commercial partners, as we continue the journey of human space exploration."Northrop Grumman Antares rocket carrying Cygnus NG-16 cargo ships is ready for launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island (Virginia), on Aug. 10, 2021. (Image credit: Terry Zaperach/NASA)Two Russian-made RD-181 engines power the rocket's first stage. They are fueled with rocket-grade kerosene and can produce 864,000 lbs of thrust upon liftoff. Just three minutes into flight, the first stage was separated from its upper stage.The payload fairing was removed shortly after and the Cygnus was exposed to the outer space. The solid-fuel upper stage powered the Cygnus into its initial orbit, allowing it to launch its journey to the station. The cargo craft will spend the next two days searching for the orbital outpost, before being berthed to the station by a robotic arm.Megan McArthur, NASA astronaut, will capture the vessel at 6:10 AM EDT (1010 GMT) on Thursday. Thomas Pesquet, ESA astronaut serving as back-up. After three months, the craft will be at the station and will then detach from itself.Remembering the pastNorthrop Grumman manufactures both the Antares rocket as well as the Cygnus spacecraft. The company has a tradition where it names its spacecraft after fallen heroes that have made significant contributions to human spaceflight.The company named its Cygnus cargo vessel after Ellison Onizuka in honor of this flight. He was the first Asian-American astronaut to be sent into space by NASA. In 1986, he died onboard the Challenger spacecraft.After a successful career as a test pilot in the military, Onizuka was chosen by NASA to be an astronaut in 1978. His inspiration was for the Asian-American community as well as those looking to expand their horizons.DeMauro stated that it is a tradition in the Cygnus to name each one after an individual who has played a key role in human spaceflight. "Onizuka gave his life in service of human exploration and was an inspiration to others striving for the stars."Image 1 of 3 The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launches Cygnus NG-16 cargo resupply satellite to the International Space Station, from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Aug. 10, 2021. (Image credit NASA TV) Image 2 A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launches Cygnus-NG-16 cargo resupply craft to the International Space Station, from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Aug. 10, 2021. (Image credit NASA TV) Image 3 from 3 The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launches Cygnus-NG-16 cargo resupply craft to the International Space Station, via NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Aug. 10, 2021. NASA TV image creditSpecial deliveryA variety of time-sensitive cargo items are contained within the Cygnus, including biological payloads as well as a slime mold (a brainless blob). Researchers will examine the unique organism's ability to communicate, move and even eat without a brain.NASA will also send two payloads to space that will study human muscle cells. One of them, Cardinal muscle, will be able to find treatments for the muscle-wasting disease sarcopenia. This disease is responsible for 30% of all skeletal muscle loss on Earth.The Palo Alto Veterans Institute for Research team, led by Ngan Huang from Stanford University, will grow muscle fibers in space. This will allow them to determine if they can be used for testing effective treatments.Another muscle-related experiment was done in partnership with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The anti-atrophy research investigation will focus on muscle cells and treatments. This includes a C-14 sequin atrophy inhibitor and celestial, a muscle growth accelerator.To test their effectiveness in microgravity, these two treatments will be applied on muscle fibers that were grown on the space station.Space BlobsImage 1 of 3 "Blob", a French space agency CNES, is an educational experiment. Students between the ages of 10 and 18 are invited to explore the Blob, a naturally occurring slime mold or Physarum Polycephalum. (Image credit to A. Dussutour/CNRS). Image 2 of 3 "Blob", a French space agency, is an educational experiment. Students between the ages of 10 and 18 are invited to explore the Blob, a naturally occurring slime mold or Physarum Polycephalum. (Image credit to A. Dussutour/CNRS. Image 3 of 3. The naturally occurring slime mold Physarum Polycephalum can be moved, fed, organized, and transmitted knowledge to other slime moulds. (Image credit: A. Dussutour/CNRS)Slime molds are single-celled organisms similar to amoebas but have a rapid growth rate. Slime molds are easy to grow in a laboratory and can easily reach several meters in size. Researchers will examine how slime molds behave when placed in space.Audrey Dussutour (CRCA senior researcher), stated in a statement that slime molds are studied for their plasticity. They can also learn and recall, share information with their fellow creatures, and navigate a maze in the same way as animals that seem more advanced.Thomas Pesquet from ESA will be running the experiment. It will also be used to inspire children in Europe to become interested in biology.Related: Astronomers use slime mold models to map the filaments in the cosmic webPrepare for the futureA technician inspects the Four Bed CO2 Scrubber at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, Alabama. NASA MSFC image creditA new carbon dioxide scrubber will also be aboard the Cygnus. This hardware will ensure crew members have breathable air and allow them to test new technologies for future missions.The space station's current system removes water vapor from the atmosphere. The water vapor is collected, cycled through the system, and then returned to the cabin. Simultaneously the carbon dioxide can be diverted to a reduction device, where it can be converted into water, and/or expelled from spacecraft.It's an established system that has been in use for almost 20 years. Why is NASA sending a brand new one?NASA is updating various systems at the orbital outpost in order to prolong the station's life and to ensure astronauts are safe on long-duration missions. NASA wants to return to Mars and the moon one day, and this system will ensure that crews aboard spacecraft and stations of the future are healthy.NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, Alabama worked together to ensure that the new system is more durable and has fewer failures. It will be tested for a year, and samples for carbon dioxide beds will then be sent back to Earth for analysis.If everything goes according to plan, the hardware will be subject to more rigorous testing before it is integrated into future spacecraft.Northrop Grumman Antares rocket with the Cygnus NG-16 resupply satellite arrives at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on Aug. 6, 2021 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. (Image credit: Brian Bonsteel/NASA)Construction of spaceNASA will return to the moon in the latter part of this decade. The lunar surface will be home to astronauts who will need to construct infrastructure and habitats. Crewed missions can't transport construction equipment to the Moon.Instead, the agency issued a request to see if we could use materials on the lunar surface to create durable habitats.Made in Space can help you 3D print whatever you need. Five years ago, the company now known as Redwire sent the first 3D printer into space.Redwire's chief technology officer Michael Snyder told that some improvements are being made to the printer. The Cygnus was loaded with hardware and 3D-printing materials, including JSC-1A, a simulated lunar regolith. It will be installed at the orbiting laboratory and will print three different slabs de regolith which will then be returned to Earth for analysis.This image is of the Additive Manufacturing Facility that was used in the Redwire Regolith Printer investigation. (Image credit: Redwire)The current printer will have the new printer head installed. It is approximately the same size as a loaf bread. The simulant will be heated, bound and squeezed into slabs using regolith feedstock and binding agent. The process has been extensively tested here on the ground but not in space. Synder and his Redwire engineering team want to ensure that the process works in microgravity.If all goes according to plan, this technology could be used in the future for durable habitats, landing pad and roads on other planets.Snyder claims that the entire job will require minimal crew time. The crew will then install the components and then leave the printer while the ground crew operates it. Each print job takes between two and three's Snyder said that "they basically set it and forget about it." "On station crew's time and effort is very valuable, so we want them to be as hands-off as possible."Microgravity presents its own challenges. Stuff floating in microgravity is possible because hot air doesn’t rise like it does on Earth. The ISS is the most advanced lab in the world. After printing all three samples, the ISS will pack them up for a return trip to Earth.Snyder states that the Earth team will conduct destructive tests on the slabs. If analysis shows that the print job on Earth is comparable to terrestrial counterparts, then the process could work on Mars or the moon. (As an example, the moon's gravity is six times stronger than that of Earth's, while Mars' gravity is three times less than Earth's.The components of the KREPE capsule's reentry capsule. Image credit: Alexandre Martin Lab/University of KentuckyTPS is a new type of thermal protection material being tested by researchers at the University of Kentucky. Three different capsules carrying different materials will launch to the ISS as part of the Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment. The three capsules then blast off in a blaze to glory as Cygnus leaves the stations to make a fiery return home to Earth.Cygnus capsules are not designed to withstand the heat of reentry. The capsules that are designed to withstand the heat of reentry will be released from the spacecraft as it plummets through atmosphere. They will then splash down in Atlantic Ocean.Researchers claim they won't be able to recover the capsules, but will retrieve loads of data from a suite onboard sensors. They will analyze the data and determine the efficiency of each material.Cygnus will be attached to the station until November.Follow Amy Thompson @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @Spacedotcom