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Antares Rocket Blasts Off To Deliver Cygnus Cargo Ship To The ISS

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Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket lifted off from Wallops Island, Virginia on Wednesday, April 17, to deliver supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

If all goes according to plan, the uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the orbiting laboratory by Friday, April 19. This is the 11th cargo flight of Northrop Grumman for NASA.

"A beautiful day, a fantastic launch," said Joel Montalbano, deputy space station program manager at NASA. "It's great to have another cargo vehicle on its way to the International Space Station."

Cargo Delivery For ISS

The Cygnus spacecraft is carrying 3,447 kilograms of science gear and supplies to the six inhabitants of the ISS. This is the heaviest load that the spacecraft has to deliver to the orbiting laboratory.

For the two-day flight, the Cygnus spacecraft used a new "late load capability" that allowed NASA to pack some time-sensitive cargo 24-hours before liftoff. Previous missions required the cargo to be loaded to the spacecraft at least four days before launch.

Pete Hasbrook, manager for space station science at NASA, added that the science gear will support at least 30 of the ongoing scientific experiments on the orbiting laboratory.

One of the items that will be delivered to the ISS is a small robot called the Astrobee. The free-flying mechanical helper will assist scientists in developing and testing new technologies in microgravity.

Astrobee operates in automated mode or through remote control. NASA said the robot does not need to be constantly monitored by the astronauts onboard the ISS.

Another item that is currently on board the Cygnus spacecraft is a Bio-Analyzer of the Canadian Space Agency. The instrument will aid in life sciences research by performing detection and quantification of cell surface molecules on a per cell basis and assessing soluble molecule concentration from a liquid sample.

The Bio-Analyzer only requires a few drops of liquid and completely eliminates the need to freeze samples.

Small Satellites Deployed To Low-Orbit

Wednesday's mission also deployed ThinSats (tiny satellites) that were built by elementary and high school students. The Antares rocket carried 60 ThinSats on its upper stage up to the low-orbit.

According to Kurt Eberly, Antares vice president for Northrop Grumman, the students will collect and analyze data transmitted by the ThinSats for five days before the satellites deorbit and burn in the atmosphere.

Small CubeSats attached to the exterior of Cygnus will be deployed when the spacecraft departs from the ISS this coming summer.

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