The Cygnus cargo spacecraft that reached the International Space Station (ISS) earlier this year with 7,385 lbs. (3,350 kilograms) of supplies and science equipment including the Cold Atom Laboratory, for the Expedition 55-56 astronauts, has finally bid a goodbye to the space station.
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor used the station’s 58-foot (18 meters) robotic arm Canadarm2 to release the cargo vehicle in the early-morning hours of July 15, 2018.
“It was really cool watching Cygnus depart,” astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor said. “[It was] almost a little surreal to watch a cargo vehicle like that depart the station and then to see it from a distance and just think this was just a normal day at the office.”
The Cygnus OA-9 spacecraft, also known as the “S.S. J.R. Thompson,” has been built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS). It was launched on an Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. It has been named “S.S. J.R. Thompson,” in honor of James Robert “J.R.” who was NASA’s former deputy administrator and Orbital ATK executive.
For the next two weeks, the spacecraft will remain in low Earth orbit to complete its task of deploying six small satellites called CubeSats using the external NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer. After deploying the CiubeStats, it will deorbit and make its way toward Earth, burning up in the atmosphere somewhere above the Pacific Ocean. The cargo vehicle is currently loaded up with 6,600 pounds (3,000 kilograms) of trash which will get disposed when the spacecraft burns up in Earth’s atmosphere upon arrival.
Notably, the Cygnus spacecraft is non-reusable as it will get destroyed at the end of each mission. The next Cygnus vehicle, OA-10, is scheduled to launch to the ISS in late November this year, again aboard an Antares booster that will be launched from Wallops Island, Virginia. The exact launch date will be announced in the coming months.