Last week, Orbital ATK successfully launched its Cygnusâ„¢ spacecraft to the International Space Station aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle. Orbital ATKâ€™s composite structures and retro motors supported the launch of the ULA Atlas V rocket. The company manufactured a 10-foot wide composite heat shield for the launch vehicle using advanced fiber placement manufacturing techniques at its Iuka, Miss., facility.
The launch marks the companyâ€™s seventh operational cargo resupply mission for NASA under its Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract. The spacecraft, named the S.S. John Glenn in honor of the late astronaut, will also become the third Cygnus to conduct scientific experiments following its departure from the station.
As Orbital ATK explains, the Cygnus system consists of a common service module and pressurized cargo module. The service module was built and tested at Orbital ATKâ€™s manufacturing facility in Dulles, Va. The enhanced Cygnus also uses Orbital ATKâ€™s UltraFlexâ„¢ solar arrays, which are the latest in lightweight, space-qualified, electrical power technology. Orbital ATK manufactured the Cygnusâ€™ arrays, tanks and composite structures at its California facilities.
For this mission, Cygnus is carrying a variety of essential items including food, clothing, crew supplies, spare parts, laboratory equipment and scientific experiments. Once Cygnus departs the space station, the spacecraft will execute three secondary missions. Cygnus will carry a payload experiment to study the behavior of a large fire in microgravity onboard the spacecraft. The final experiment will provide crucial data about the extreme conditions a spacecraft encounters when reentering the Earthâ€™s atmosphere. This specific experiment will also test the performance of different heat shield materials that may be used on future U.S. space missions.