On November 7th the 18th Antares rocket launched another Cygnus spacecraft towards the ISS.
The launch was delayed one day after a fire alarm at the spacecraft control center forced its evacuation.
The second launch attempt was also exciting, as a boat sailed into the launch exclusion zone.
Luckily that was not a curious passerby but one of NASA’s own boats used to secure the zone drifting into it because of an engine failure.
The rocket lifted off at 10:27 UTC, just before sunrise local time, and caught the sun at altitude resulting in a striking illuminated plume on the first stage.
At second stage separation, the stack briefly tumbled and recontacted one of the rocket’s fairings. The attitude was corrected after ignition of the second stage motor but this did cause some damage to the spacecraft.
This attitude deviation was noted by livestream viewers at the time, but the live visualization software Northrop Grumman uses has produced some results in the past that clearly weren’t accurate, so there were questions whether the incident on the launch actually happened. More on that later, but first a little bit on the spacecraft itself.
Orbital Sciences began the tradition of naming their Cygnus spacecraft after significant people in the US space program and Northrop Grumman has continued this after buying the company, naming this spacecraft the S.S Sally Ride. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space on STS-7. Her second and final mission to space was STS-41G, which was the first spaceflight with two female crewmembers.
She died of cancer in 2012.
Northrop Grumman stated that the spacecraft did not deploy one of its two solar panels, but that it would be able to complete its mission with some payloads powered down.
When it docked to the station, cameras revealed one of the solar panels was indeed not fully deployed. The reason, according to the company, was an acoustic blanket lodged in the deployment mechanism. The insides of both fairings are covered in acoustic blankets to protect the spacecraft from the rocket’s sound causing damage. So the attitude problem seen in the animation did happen.
NG-18 was absolutely packed to the gills. It brought about 3.7 metric tons of supplies to the station. According to one of the NG managers they had half a kilogram of mass margin left when it was completely filled.
NG-18 will remain at the ISS for two and a half months as astronauts unpack it and fill it back up with trash from the station. It may do one or more boosts of the station’s orbit during that time.
This Antares was the second to last Russian engine outfitted Antares 230 Northrop has in the US. After the next launch they will move to launching Cygnus on Falcon 9 while Firefly Aerospace develops the first stage of their Beta rocket which will be used in the new Antares 300.
Read More: https://news.northropgrumman.com/news/releases/northrop-grummans-18th-cygnus-cargo-resupply-spacecraft-arrives-at-international-space-station