Cygnus Completes First Commercial Cargo Run to Station

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus cargo craft moves away from the International Space Station's robotic arm shortly after its release. (Credit: NASA TV)
Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo craft moves away from the International Space Station’s robotic arm shortly after its release. (Credit: NASA TV)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus spacecraft, which delivered nearly one-and-a-half tons of supplies and scientific equipment to the International Space Station in January, completed its first commercial cargo mission to the orbiting laboratory Tuesday.

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, with assistance from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, used the station’s 57-foot Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node at 5:15 a.m. EST.  While Wakata monitored data and kept in contact with the team at Houston’s Mission Control Center, Hopkins released Cygnus from the robotic arm at 6:41 a.m.

At the time of release, the station was orbiting about 260 miles over the southern Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Argentina and Uruguay.

From their vantage point inside the station’s cupola observation deck, the two flight engineers monitored telemetry from Cygnus as the unpiloted resupply ship — now loaded with trash — conducted a 1-minute, 30-second departure burn to move a safe distance away from the station.

The U.S. commercial cargo craft will begin its deorbit sequence shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday to enable it to slip out of orbit for a destructive entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Cygnus will burn up over the Pacific Ocean later that afternoon.

During its first official commercial resupply mission, designated Orbital-1, Cygnus delivered 2,780 pounds of supplies to the space station, including vital science experiments for the Expedition 38 crew. Cygnus launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Jan. 9 aboard an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and arrived at the complex Jan. 12.

The departure of Cygnus clears the way for the arrival of Space Exploration Technologies’ Dragon cargo ship on its third commercial resupply mission, SpaceX-3.  Dragon is set to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 16.