Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft has finally reached the International Space Station on Thursday, May 24, carrying about 7,400 pounds of research equipment, cargo, and basic supplies like clothing and food, for the station’s Expedition 55 crew members.
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle used the space station’s robotic arm to capture the uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft at around 5:26 a.m. EDT (0926 GMT).
The Cygnus spacecraft was launched on Monday, May 21, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia using an Antares 230 rocket also built by the Virginia-based company Orbital ATK. Notably, the Cygnus the S.S. J.R. Thompson has been named after NASA veteran and Orbital ATK executive, J.R. Thompson, who passed away last November.
Among the science experiments delivered by the cargo spacecraft is the Cold Atom Laboratory which has been developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The ice chest sized apparatus will use lasers to create the coldest spot in the universe on the orbiting space station. Another experiment called Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology is aimed at studying how long-duration spaceflight affects the DNA of astronauts, plants and microbes.
There’s also a handheld sextant that will help in testing how the centuries-old navigation tool could be used to navigate spacecraft in an emergency. Another science experiment will study the solidification of cement in microgravity. Multiple pouches of cement and water have been sent to the space station which astronauts will mix. The samples will be sent back to Earth for comparison with the results obtained from similar pouches mixed on Earth.
The spacecraft will also deploy a few tiny satellites, called CubeSats that will test new technologies for Earth observations.
The Cygnus spacecraft will bid a goodbye to the space station in July this year. It will drop out of orbit and burn up over the South Pacific Ocean with several tons of trash no longer needed on the space station.