• Orbital ATK’s eighth contracted cargo delivery flight to the International Space Stationsuccessfully launched at 7:19 a.m. EST on an Antares rocket from Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 carrying the Cygnus OA-8 resupply spacecraft. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
  • Orbital ATKAntaresrocket lifts off on Nov. 12, 2017 carrying the S.S. Gene Cernan Cygnus OA-8 cargo spacecraft from Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
  • Sunset launchpad view of Orbital ATK Antares rocket and Cygnus OA-8 resupply spaceship the evening before blastoff to the International Space Station on Nov. 12, 2017.
    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
  • Cygnus depart 1
    The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft is unberthed from the ISS while attached to the Canadarm2 before it was released back into Earth orbit on Dec 6, 2017.
    Credit: Randy Bresnik/NASA

S.S. Gene Cernan Cargo Ship Departs International Space Station, Deploys CubeSats

Ken Kremer Space UpClose 8 Dec 2017

The “S.S. Gene Cernan” Orbital ATK cargo ship successfully departed the International Space Station (ISS), Wednesday morning, Dec. 6, after a three week stay and quickly began a secondary science mission phase by flying to a higher altitude and deploy more than a dozen CubeSats into low Earth orbit.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft was christened the “S.S. Gene Cernan” and named in honor of NASA’s Apollo 17 lunar landing commander; Gene Cernan.

The Cygnus cargo freighter was released from the grip of the stations Canadarm2 robotic arm at 8:11 a.m. ET Dec. 6 by NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba as the vehicles were flying 257 miles (411 km) over the east coast of Brazil and the South Atlantic Ocean.

The pair of Expedition 53 Flight Engineers carried out the release of the Cygnus OA-8 vessel while working at a robotics work station inside the 7-windowed domed Cupola module.

The Cygnus had been detached a day earlier from its berthing port on the Earth-facing side of the station’s Unity module on Dec. 5 by ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to prepare for the release and study the effects of remaining in the arms grip for a day.

NASA says this “will aid in rendezvous and docking operations for future U.S. commercial crew vehicles arriving for a linkup to Harmony’s international docking adapters.”

Vande Hei and Acaba commanded the end effector snares to open and gently release Cygnus from the end of the 57.7-foot-long (17.6 meter-long) Canadian-built robotic arm while traveling at 17500 MPH.

“I want to congratulate everybody involved in this outstanding Cygnus mission,” said Acaba. “A lot of people put lots of time, talent and dedication into this, and it was a huge honor for all of us on the space station to be able to participate in it.”

Cygnus then successfully carried out a 3 minute long departure burn 1 minute after being released to increase the separation rate between the station and the vehicle.

Altogether Cygnus had been joined to the station for a 22 day stay after delivering nearly 7,400 pounds (3,350 kg) of science experiments, research gear, station equipment and crew supplies.

The mission began with the spectacular launch of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket on Sunday Nov. 12 from Virginia’s eastern shore that propelled the Cygnus cargo freighter to an on-time arrival two days later on Tuesday Nov. 14.

“Our stay at the International Space Station proved to be extremely productive and further demonstrated expanded capabilities for Cygnus beyond our core functions of delivery and disposal,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group, in a statement.

“Cygnus performed flawlessly as an in-orbit science platform while attached to the space station for the first time. Our work continues as we now begin the next phase of the mission to deploy a record number of cubesats.”

A few hours after departing the orbiting outpost Cygnus successfully released 14 CubeSats from an externally mounted NanoRacks deployer.

“The S.S Gene Cernan #Cygnus has successfully completed all three NanoRacks cubesat deployments!” Orbital ATK announced.

“Eight of the cubesats will join Spire Global’s commercial weather satellite constellation for global ship tracking. The NanoRacks manifest also includes cubesats from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Additionally, AeroCube B/C consists of two water-based propulsion satellites assembled by the Aerospace Corp. for NASA’s Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration, or OCSD, marking the first propulsive satellites to deploy from the Cygnus spacecraft,” said Orbital ATK.

Cygnus OA-8 also is packed with a record setting amount of more than 6,200 pounds oftrash and other items marked for disposal during its planned destructive reentry Monday, Dec. 18, into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

The S.S. Gene Cernan launch manifest included equipment and samples for dozens of scientific investigations including those that will study communication and navigation, microbiology, animal biology and plant biology. The ISS science program supports over 300 ongoing research investigations.

Apollo 17 was NASA’s final lunar landing mission. Gere Cernan was the last man to walk on the Moon.

Details of the Cygnus OA-8 launch manifest:
  • Crew Supplies 2,734.1 lbs. / 1,240 kg
  • Science Investigations 1631.42 lbs. / 740 kg
  • Spacewalk Equipment 291.0 lbs. / 132 kg
  • Vehicle Hardware 1,875.2 lbs. / 851 kg
  • Computer Resources 75.0 lbs. / 34 kg
  • Total Cargo: 7,359.0 lbs. / 3,338 kg
  • Total Pressurized Cargo with Packaging: 7,118.7 lbs. / 3,229 kg
  • Unpressurized Cargo (NanoRacks Deployer): 240.3 lbs. / 109 kg
Under the Commercial Resupply Services-1 (CRS-1) contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 66,000 pounds (30,000 kilograms) of cargo to the space station. OA-8 is the eighth of these missions.

The Cygnus OA-8 spacecraft is Orbital ATK’s eighth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station under the unmanned Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)program to stock the station with supplies on a continuing basis.

The next Cygnus launch is currently slated for around May 1, 2018 from NASA Wallops.

Beginning in 2019, the company will carry out a minimum of six cargo missions under NASA’s CRS-2 contract using a more advanced version of Cygnus.

Watch for Ken’s continuing Antares/Cygnus mission and launch reporting from on site atNASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA

Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.