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NG-17 launches on time to deliver cargo to ISS

February19th at 12:40 PM Est atop Antares 230+ from Pad 0A at Wallops Island

When the S.S. Piers Sellers lifted off Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility early this afternoon it became the seventeenth planned flight of the Northrop Grumman robotic resupply spacecraft Cygnus and its sixteenth flight to the ISS (International Space Station) under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. With a cold front just having moved into the Virginia area weather cleared up creating near perfect, if not chilly conditions for launch. With a score of scientific explorations onboard NG-17 had an exemplary flight.

The first stage engines burned for their desired three minutes and eighteen seconds before coming to MECO (Maine Engine Shut Off) at 52.1 miles in altitude. About three miles higher the first stage separated from the rest. As the second stage continued to climb, the fairings dropped off around 68.9 miles in altitude. At 70 miles up, or about four minutes into flight the rockets second stage ignited, then burned for just under three minutes, bring the payload (Cygnus) into an orbit roughly 110 miles above our heads. From there the capsule left behind the second stage and began the rest of its orbital journey towards the International Space Station.

Weather today was the primary concern for a delay in launch, forecasts put the probability of go at 75% with clouds and ground winds as the major concerns. There was also the risk of dangerous upper-level winds as a possible scrub maker. But as the sun rose over a chilly 35-degree Wallops Island there wasn't a cloud in sight. Ground winds did reach gusts of up to twenty miles an hour, but the threshold for an Antares launch is thirty-three miles per hour so they were not an issue. Those pesky upper-level winds also seemed to diminish as the day went on and the cold front moving in came and went quicker than expected. That being said there was a few slight risks still for the launch to scrub. Firstly, a nitrogen sensor on the rocket was faulty and a team had to be dispatched to the pad in order to fix this. They became about fifteen minutes behind schedule in the countdown but were able to make that time up in further proceedings. The last bit of drama to unfold was the aerial surveillance radar plane was forced to land for a short time, it was unclear exactly what the issue was, but they were able to get airborne again with plenty of time left to launch.

The first major experiment onboard is all about protecting our skin. Deterioration of skin tissue is a normal part of aging that occurs over the decades. Microgravity causes changes in the body similar to aging, but things happen more quickly in space and also becomes easier to study than on Earth as well. The U.S. National Lab’s Colgate Skin Aging study evaluates cellular and molecular changes inside engineered human skin cells in that microgravity. Age related skin changes are more than simply cosmetic changes. Skin, the body’s largest organ performs numerous functions, including protection from infection, regulation of temperature, and sensory input. Therefore, loss of function or structural stability in skin can lead to many potential health problems. Results from this experiment could show that engineered cells could possibly serve as a model to rapidly assess products aiming to protect skin from the aging process down on Earth.

Our second experiment is testing a new drug that may lead to interventions that are more effective, with less toxic side effects to patients. The National Lab’s MicroQuin 3D Tumor will examine the effects of the drug on breast and prostate cancer cells in orbit. while in microgravity these cells will grow in a more natural three-dimensional model, making it easier to characterize their structures, gene expressions, cell signaling, and their responses to the drug. Results will hopefully provide new insight into the cell proteins targeted by the drug and help advance development of other drugs that target cancerous cells inside the human body.

In space there is no oxygen, so every bit of air that the astronauts need to survive must be brought up or created. Currently the sensors aboard the ISS which read the stations hydrogen levels must be replaced every 201 days. Cygnus will bring up with it the OGA H2 Sensor Demo, that will test new sensors for the station’s oxygen generation system. OGS produces breathable oxygen via electrolysis, or separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is then either vented overboard (into space) or sent to a post processing system where it is recombined with waste carbon dioxide to form water. Sensors currently ensure that none of the hydrogen enters the oxygen stream in the cabin, but are sensitive to moisture, nitrogen, and often drift in calibration along with other issues that lead to problems. If we hope to go deeper into space for longer amount of times technology must be improved and this is a step in that direction. As with most experiments onboard this may also have uses back down on our planet, such as us in underwater facilities and in remote dangerous locations.

Along with better ways to supply oxygen, stronger batteries will also be needed for those long duration, deep space voyages. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and their Space AsLib will demonstrate the operation of a lithium-ion secondary battery capable of safe, stable operation under extreme temperatures and in a vacuum environment. This batter uses solid, inorganic, and flame retardant materials and will not leak liquid which makes it safer and more reliable. Researchers are hoping to prove this battery’s worth for a variety of potential uses in space and for use in other harsh environments on Earth.

As with better technology needed for those long duration flights, crew safety will always be priority number one. That is right where this next experiment comes in, improving fire safety. SoFIE (The Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction) facility will enable studies of flammable materials and the ignition of fires in realistic atmospheric conditions. To represent current and planned space exploration missions it will use a CIR (Combustion Integrated Rack) to enable testing at different oxygen concentrations and pressures. Since evidence suggests that fires may be more hazardous in reduced gravity, safety measures are taken extremely seriously, and results of these tests may help improve designs of future extravehicular activity suits, informing selection of safer materials for cabins and capsules and help determine the best techniques for fire suppression in space.

Of course, no CRS mission is complete without launching some living organism into orbit. This mission calls for plants. XROOTS will use hydroponic (water based) and aeroponic (air based) techniques instead of the space soil or growth medium currently used to grow flora in orbit. The use of these materials is for small scale and do not do well in a space environment. Researchers are aiming to provide insight into development of larger-scale systems to grow food crops for future space exploration and habitats.

besides the research materials being brought up there is a variety of different hardware to be used aboard the space station. As with every item launched aboard the Cygnus capsule, every item is of vital importance and serves a role while in use by the crews of the International Space Station. This hardware is listed below courtesy of a list provided by NASA.

  • ISS Power Augmentation (IPA) Mod Kit – Critical hardware to be installed during the upcoming ISS Roll-Out Solar Array (IROSA) EVAs, allowing the ISS Program to continue deploying the upgraded solar arrays.

  • NanoRacks Airlock (NRAL) Trash Deployer – Augmenting disposal capability onboard the space station, the NRAL Trash Deployer will be installed this spring and provide NASA the ability to safely dispose of large pieces of trash.

  • Multifiltration Bed (MFB) – Supporting the Water Processor Assembly (WPA), this spare unit will help replace a degraded fleet of units on-orbit to improve water quality.

  • Hydrogen Sensor Tech Demo – This exploration-focused technology demonstration will test newly developed sensors for the Oxygen Generator Assembly (OGA).

  • Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) Acoustic Covers – Supporting future acoustic surveys and crew use, these covers will be installed to help augment the performance of this next-generation toilet.

  • Nitrogen Purge Orbital Replacement Unit (ORU) – Used to purge the Oxygen Generator Assembly (OGA) cell stack upon shutdown as a protection mechanism. This unit will serve as a critical spare upon replacing the on-orbit unit that is currently degraded.

  • Commercial Crew Vehicle Emergency Breathing Air Assembly (CEBAA) Regulator Manifold Assembly (RMA) – Critical hardware completing the capability to support as many as five crew members for up to 1 hour during a space station emergency ammonia leak.

  • Nitrogen/Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) Oxygen Recharge Tank Assembly (RTA) – Two gas vestibules filled with oxygen to resupply the oxygen high-pressure gas tank (HPGT). This resupply will support the crew in orbit during scheduled EVAs in 2022.

  • Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) Air Tanks – Twelve disposable air tanks to support gas resupply and routine cabin repress activities on-orbit.

  • Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments (ACME) Data Camera Package – Scheduled for installation and use with the upcoming Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE) payload in the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR), this camera will provide critical optics capabilities for the life of the investigation.

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