Cygnus NG-13 resupply flight to the ISS
Launch: The Cygnus NG-13 spacecraft was launched on 15 February 2020 (20:21 GMT) on an Antares 230+ rocket from Virginia Space’s MARS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. This was Northrop Grumman’s 13th commercial resupply NASA-contracted mission. Cygnus was loaded with more the 3,630 kg of research, crew supplies and hardware. 1) 2) 3)
This is the second mission under Northrop’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA. These resupply missions help NASA deliver critical research to the orbiting lab and increase its ability to conduct new investigations.
Orbit: Near circular orbit, altitude of ~ 400 km, inclination = 51.6º, period of~92 minutes.
Figure 1: A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket is seen as it is rolled out of the Horizontal Integration Facility to launch Pad-0A, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia (photo Credit: NASA, Aubrey Gemignani)
Northrop Grumman has named the Cygnus NG-13 spacecraft the S.S. Robert H. Lawrence to honor Air Force Maj. Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr., who was the first African-American ever selected to fly in space. In June 1967, Lawrence was selected to be an astronaut for the U.S. Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory, a military space station, but was killed on Dec. 8, 1967 in a tragic accident when his F-104 Starfighter supersonic jet crashed. He was 32 at the time.
New Research to the ISS aboard Cygnus NG-13
• Mobile SpaceLab: The Mobile SpaceLab is a tissue and cell culturing facility offering investigators a quick-turnaround platform to perform sophisticated microgravity biology experiments. Such experiments are critical for determining how microgravity affects human physiology and identifying ways to mitigate negative effects. The platform can work in multiple configurations, allowing investigators to tailor the facility to their needs.
Mobile SpaceLab launches and returns on resupply spacecraft. It performs experiments autonomously with ground monitoring. The crew is responsible for moving the payload from the resupply vehicle to a designated ISS EXPRESS Rack and back to a vehicle for return to ground. This process allows investigators to get their research in orbit quickly and gather sophisticated data using the automated capabilities. Experiments can run for up to one month.
• OsteoOmics investigates the molecular mechanisms behind bone loss in microgravity.
• Phage Evolution, examines the effects of microgravity and radiation exposure on viruses that target human bacteria without harming human cells or the body’s beneficial bacteria population. The investigation results could ultimately help protect the health of astronauts on future missions.
• The Mochii investigation provides an initial demonstration of a new miniature SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) with spectroscopy. Mochii will demonstrate real-time, on-site imaging and measurements of micro- and nanostructures aboard the space station. This capability could accelerate answers to many scientific inquiries and mission decisions and serve the public as a powerful and unique microgravity research platform.
• Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications (SLPSRA) enables human spaceflight exploration to expand the frontiers of knowledge, capability, and opportunity in space and pioneers scientific discovery in and beyond low-Earth orbit to drive advances in science, technology, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, and economic vitality. SLPSRA investigations launching on Northrop Grumman (NG) Commercial Resupply Services-13 (CRS-13) mission are: 4)
• Spectrum-001: Experiments on the International Space Station with the Spectrum Multi-Spectral Fluorescence Imager will help us meet that requirement by exploring the effects of microgravity on plants and micro-organisms. This research will lead to more robust and healthier food sources, both in space and on Earth.
- The Spectrum hardware, which launched to the space station aboard Cygnus NG CRS-12 on 2 November 2019, consists of an environmentally-controlled chamber to grow biological organisms and an imaging system to photograph these organisms as they grow. The imaging system uses a 71 Megapixel monochrome camera and a color filter wheel for taking fluorescent images of proteins produced by plants and other biological organisms. Spectrum allows researchers to vary the light intensity, light duration, CO2 levels, nutrient levels, and growth positions on a rotating carousel within the environmentally controlled chamber, and use a variety of colored filters to identify the genes that turn off and turn on when conditions are varied. Spectrum will help scientists understand how plants and other organisms cope with the stresses of spaceflight at a genetic level, what conditions help plants grow their best in space, and how farmers can make healthier plants on Earth.
- The Spectrum hardware will undergo science testing using the Spectrum-001 science payload launching to space station aboard NG CRS-13. Arabidopsis plant seeds, yeast, and fluorescent beads will fly to the space station on NG CRS-13 for this important test to validate the hardware can meet science needs under microgravity conditions. The Spectrum-001 experiment was developed by a team of scientists from universities and private industry.
• ISS Vegetable Production System-03 (Veggie) (VEG-03 J/K/L): Red romaine lettuce, Amara mustard, and ‘Extra Dwarf’ pak choi seeds will be sent to the space station for three separate experiments that test a new seed handling material, a new crop in space and the efficiency of the current Veggie growing technologies.
- VEG-03 J will test seed film, a new way to handle seeds similar to a breath freshener strips, developed at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The seed film prevents seeds from popping from their carriers and racing around the room when they are unpacked in the microgravity conditions aboard the space station, and will help astronauts store, handle, and plant crops easily. When it is time to start the experiment on station, an astronaut will place the strips of seed film into plant pillows within a Vegetable Production System (Veggie) then will add water. The water-soluble films will dissolve away to initiate plant growth. The films can also be used to deliver fertilizer or enzymes to jumpstart seed germination and help new seedlings grow. The VEG-03 J experiment uses ‘Outredgeous’ red romaine lettuce seeds. This is a crop the crew has grown and eaten on station several times in the past.
- VEG-03 K and VEG-03 L will use seeds that were planted into plant pillows on Earth then flown to the space station.
- VEG-03 K will test how well Amara mustard grows in space. Also known as Ethiopian kale, the researchers at Kennedy have nicknamed it “steak plant” because it has a strong umami flavor. Amara mustard is a dark leafy green and contains a lot of important nutrients, like vitamins C and K. It was tested and developed for two years at Kennedy before it was approved for testing in microgravity on the space station. VEG-03 K will mark Amara’s debut in space.
- VEG-03 L will be the second test of ‘Extra Dwarf’ pak choi. It is a short, crisp leafy green with a refreshing flavor and a good nutritional profile, including as much vitamin C as an orange by weight. It was first tested on Earth by students participating in the Fairchild Growing Beyond Earth Challenge – a collaboration between NASA and Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, which provides more than 200 middle school and high school students in 35 states an opportunity to help NASA test and select the best plants to be used as space crops. Potential space crops were grown in classrooms at different elevations with different humidity levels, and microbiomes. The watering schedules were also different. The theory was that if a crop can grow well in 100 classrooms, then it’s robust and a good candidate for space. The students who participated in the first round of testing are waiting eagerly to see if their plants will qualify as galactic travelers.
• The Spacecraft Fire Experiment-IV (Saffire-IV) investigation, which will use the Cygnus resupply vehicle after it leaves the space station to examine the development and growth of a fire in different materials and environmental conditions. Understanding how fires spread in space is vital for developing flame-resistant materials and fire prevention measures.
Space station to forge ultra-fast connections with ColKa (Columbus Ka-band antenna)
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station plan to install a high-speed radio link to enable almost real-time connections with Earth. The upgrade to the ESA Columbus laboratory will relay data from experiments on the Station back to Earth almost instantaneously. The refrigerator-sized device will fly to the Station aboard Northrop Grumman’s 13th Cygnus supply ship on 13 February. 5)
The device will send signals from the Station, which orbits at an altitude of 400 km above Earth, even further into space, where they will be picked up by European satellites in geostationary orbit 36,000 km above the surface.
The EDRS (European Data Relay Satellites) remain in constant communication with the same ground station on Earth, unlike the Station, which switches from one to another as it loops around the planet every 90 minutes.
Dubbed ColKa(Columbus Ka-band antenna), the upgraded system will provide speeds of up to 50 Mbit/s for downlink and up to 2 Mbit/s for uplink. This will allow astronauts and researchers to benefit from a direct link with Europe at home broadband speeds – delivering a whole family’s worth of video streaming for science and communications.
A spacewalk later this year will be dedicated to upgrading the Columbus module. Two astronauts will take ColKa through the Station’s airlock and bolt it to the outside of Columbus. The antenna connects to a dedicated plug outside Columbus that feeds the data from the facilities and computers inside.
Columbus was conceived and designed over 20 years ago, when the internet was in its infancy. The laboratory was launched to the Station in 2008 and uses the Station’s network and NASA’s infrastructure for communications with the Columbus Control Center at DLR.
The upgrade will ensure faster communications, independent from the NASA system, to relay data from more and more experiments allowing researchers on Earth to access their experiments at all times for another decade to come.
Colka was designed and built by British and Italian companies as prime contractors, using products from Norway, Belgium, France, Canada and Germany, some of which have been qualified under ESA’s ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems) program.
Colka will use the infrastructure for the European Data Relay System developed as a Partnership Project between ESA and Airbus, as part of ESA’s efforts to federate industry around large-scale programs, stimulating technology developments to achieve economic benefits.
The know-how gained from designing, building and running ColKa will be instrumental for ESA’s communications package under the Esprit project that is being designed for the lunar Gateway – an outpost over 1000 times farther from Earth than the International Space Station.
Figure 2: The communications antenna for the Columbus module on the ISS undergoes testing prior to launch. Dubbed ColKa for ‘Columbus Ka-band antenna’, the upgraded system will allow astronauts and researchers to benefit from a direct link with Europe at home broadband speeds of up to 50 Mbit/s for downlink and up to 2 Mbit/s for uplink. It will use the EDRS to transmit information from the ISS upwards to the EDRS satellites that orbit higher above the Earth and enable a direct link to Europe at all times (image credit: ESA) 6)
Small satellites hitching ride to space on Cygnus 7)
Three small satellites are hitching a ride to the International Space Station aboard the Cygnus supply ship. Two of the spacecraft are sponsored by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Another was developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.
• The Red-Eye 2 microsatellite is the second in a series of Red-Eye satellites developed by DARPA. The Red-Eye satellites aim “to develop and demonstrate technologies that increase the utility of low-cost microsatellites,” according to NASA.
- The first Red-Eye satellite launched to the station aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship last year, then was released from the NanoRacks Kaber deployer in June 2019.
- “Red-Eye will demonstrate lightweight, low-power, gimballed inter-satellite communications links appropriate for the class of satellites approximately 100 kg in size,” NASA wrote in a summary of the experiment. “Red-Eye will also demonstrate new attitude control components, onboard processors, and software-defined radios.”
Two CubeSat-class satellites are also aboard the Cygnus supply ship for release from the space station’s smaller satellite deployer.
• The DeMi (Deformable Mirror Demonstration Mission), a 3U CubeSat, was developed at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The deformable mirror instrument will demonstrate technologies that could be used on future space telescopes making high-contrast observations of exoplanets around bright stars. Such precision observations, which will use coronagraphs to blot out the light of the star, require the use of deformable mirrors inside the telescope that can be adjusted using internal actuators, according to MIT. DARPA is funding the DeMi experiment, and Aurora Flight Sciences is managing the mission (see DeMi description on the eoPortal).
- The deformable mirrors “can correct image plane aberrations and speckles caused by imperfections, thermal distortions, and diffraction in the telescope and optics that would otherwise corrupt the wavefront and allow leaking starlight to contaminate coronagraphic images,” MIT scientists wrote in a summary of the demonstration.
• NASA’s TechEdSat-10 nanosatellite, a 6U CubeSat, is the next in a line of experimental CubeSats developed at the Ames Research Center in California. According to NASA, the TechEdSat 10 spacecraft will function as a high temperature, accurate deorbit reentry nanosatellite.
Cygnus NG-13 is scheduled to arrive at the orbiting laboratory around 4:05 a.m. (EST) on February 18. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Cygnus, while NASA’s Jessica Meir monitors telemetry.
The Cygnus spacecraft will remain attached to the space station until around May 11, when it will depart to begin the second phase of its mission.
Status of Cygnus NG-13
• May 20, 2020: NASA ignited another set of space fire experiments last week when Saffire IV lit a number of longer, stronger flames inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Saffire, NASA’s Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project, is a series of six experiments that investigate how fires grow and spread in space, especially aboard future spacecraft bound for the Moon and Mars. 8)
- Just like Saffires I, II and III, the researchers began the experiment in Cygnus after it completed its primary International Space Station resupply mission and departed to a safe distance away from the station.
- One of the unique features of Saffire IV, is that after two material burns, a carbon dioxide scrubber and smoke eater were used to remove particulate and carbon monoxide. The instrument to monitor combustion gases and the smoke eater filter are prototypes of what will be used on the Orion spacecraft.
- “We want to take what we learned from the first three Saffire experiments and see how flames spread and grow in other spacecraft conditions,” says Gary Ruff, Saffire project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “We also loaded Saffire IV with more diagnostic equipment to see how effectively we can detect fires, measure combustion products, and evaluate future fire response and clean up technologies.”
Figure 3: During the Saffire IV experiment, researchers burned a sample of SIBAL cloth, a composite of 75% cotton and 25% fiberglass. As the flame spreads shortly after ignition, you can see bright speckles behind, which are glowing char on the cloth (video credit: NASA)
- Saffire, built by Zin Technologies, Inc. in Cleveland, is equipped with numerous sensors that detect oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, smoke concentration and diameter, and temperatures at different places in the Cygnus vehicle. Four cameras were mounted inside to show the size and spread of the flame.
- The first three Saffire experiments had limited-sized fires and examined ignition and spread over similar materials. Results showed that flames spread quickly and achieved a steady size and burn rate, unlike here on Earth where flames tend to continue to grow. Scientists also learned that the size of the spacecraft had more effect on the fire than anticipated.
- Saffire’s most important goal is to understand fire behavior in space so safety measures can be developed to deal with fire emergencies, when astronauts do not have the option to exit spacecraft or quickly return to Earth. Imagery and data returned from the Saffire investigations will be important for Artemis missions to the Moon and future missions to Mars.
- Two additional Saffire experiments are scheduled for this October and March of 2021, as NASA continues to develop safer ways to operate future crewed exploration missions.
Figure 4: This edge view of Saffire’s flame shows it developing over a one-centimeter thick sample of a plexiglass type material found on spacecraft. The blue color is typical of microgravity flames and moves from left to right at 20 cm per second (image credit: NASA)
• May 11, 2020 (Monday): The Cygnus spacecraft successfully departed the International Space Station three months after arriving at the space station to deliver about 7,500 of scientific experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory. 9)
- The automated cargo carrier,named the S.S. Robert Lawrence Jr., was released from the space station’s Canadian-built robotic arm at 12:09 p.m. EDT (16:09 GMT) Monday. The Cygnus spacecraft arrived at the space station Feb. 18, three days after launching aboard an Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia. 10)
- During the Cygnus spacecraft’s 83-day stay at the space station, astronauts unpacked the gear loaded inside the ship’s pressurized cargo compartment, and replaced it with trash and other unnecessary equipment for disposal.
- After leaving the station, the Cygnus spacecraft will change its orbit to fly a safe distance away before kicking off an extended mission.
- The Cygnus will deploy CubeSats Wednesday and host a NASA combustion experiment inside its pressurized cabin before Northrop Grumman controllers command the spacecraft to a destructive reentry over the South Pacific Ocean on May 29.
- The CubeSats will eject from a Slingshot deployer mounted on the Cygnus spacecraft’s forward hatch. The Slingshot deployed, developed by SEOPS LLC, will release a pair of nanosatellites, according to NASA.
- The pair of small spacecraft “will research ways to improve space communication techniques and GPS mapping systems,” NASA said.
- The NASA flame combustion experiment (Saffire-IV) housed inside the Cygnus pressurized module will examine how flames propagate in microgravity. It’s the fourth in a series of NASA Saffire experiments developed at the Glenn Research Center in Ohio that have flown on Cygnus missions.
- Previous combustion investigations in space have been limited in size and scope because of concerns about the dangers to astronauts. But the Cygnus will be far away from the space station when the Saffire experiment begins, allowing scientists to ignite larger samples to see how flames behave in space.
- For the first time, the Saffire experiment on the NG-13 mission will ignite four burn samples, two of which will be ignited with the the air pressure inside the Cygnus spacecraft equivalent to sea level on Earth. Then the Cygnus module will be partially depressurized — and its oxygen content increased — to see how the oxygen-rich, lower-pressure environment affects the combustion of the other two samples.
- The experiment will also test fire detection technology for use on future spacecraft, and automated fire clean-up systems.
Figure 5: In this frame from NASA TV, the U.S. Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman is pictured moments after being released from the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm (image credit: NASA)
• February 19, 2020: The Cygnus space freighter is open for business at the Unity module where it will stay for the next three months. The Expedition 62 crew has begun unloading over three tons of science, supplies and station hardware delivered Tuesday (18 February) to replenish the orbital lab. 11)
- NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan opened Cygnus’ hatch a few hours after its capture and installation Tuesday morning. Afterward, the duo entered the vehicle and began unpacking and setting up over a ton of new science new experiments. The critical research is being stowed in station science freezers, activated in research racks and readied for upcoming operations.
- Meir removed science freezers containing research samples from Cygnus and installed them in EXPRESS racks aboard the station. She also began reviewing operations for the just-delivered OsteOmics-02 study to prevent bone loss on Earth and in space.
- Morgan retrieved a variety of research hardware from Cygnus and began integrating and activating them in station systems. The new Mobile SpaceLab, a tissue and cell culturing facility, was installed and powered up on an EXPRESS rack.
- In the afternoon, the NASA Flight Engineers joined Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos to review emergency procedures. The trio went over the steps they would take in the unlikely event of a fire, pressure leak or ammonia leak aboard the station. The veteran cosmonaut spent the majority of Wednesday on the upkeep of Russian lab systems.
- During the crew’s lunchtime a series of nine nanosatellites were deployed outside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. They will each study different phenomena such as X-rays from distant pulsars, atmospheric and natural events and the effects of space radiation on hardware.
Figure 6: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir observes a floating sphere of water formed by microgravity (image credit: NASA)
• February 18, 2020: After its capture this morning at 4:05 a.m. EST, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 6:16 a.m. At the time of installation, the space station was flying over south of New Zealand. 12)
- The spacecraft’s arrival brings more than 3400 kg of research and supplies to space station.
Figure 7: ISS configuration of 18 February 2020. Three spaceships are parked at the space station including the U.S. Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft and Russia’s Progress 74 resupply ship and Soyuz MS-15 crew ship (image credit: NASA)
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).