Cygnus is an expendable American cargo spacecraft developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation but manufactured and launched by Northrop Grumman Space Systems as part of NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. It is usually launched by Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility, although three flights were on ULA's Atlas V and three are planned for SpaceX's Falcon 9, in both cases launching from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It transports supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) following the retirement of the American Space Shuttle. Since August 2000, ISS resupply missions have been regularly flown by the Russian Progress spacecraft, as well as by the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, and the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle. With the Cygnus spacecraft and the SpaceX Dragon, NASA seeks to increase its partnerships with domestic commercial aviation and aeronautics industry.[2]

The Enhanced variant of Cygnus is seen approaching the ISS.
Cygnus spacecraft approaching the International Space Station for the NG-12 mission
ManufacturerNorthrop Grumman
Country of originUnited States
OperatorNorthrop Grumman
ApplicationsISS resupply
Spacecraft typeUncrewed cargo vehicle
Launch mass6,600 kg
Dry mass3,400 kg
Payload capacity3,000 kg
Volume18.9 m3
Power3.5 kW
Design life1 week to 2 years [1]
Length5.1 m
Diameter3.07 m
StatusIn service
On order5
Maiden launch18 September 2013
Last launch30 January 2024

Cygnus is the Latinized Greek word for swan and a northern constellation.

Development edit

The NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (third from left) in front of the Cygnus spacecraft in May 2012.

With Rocketplane Kistler unable to meet funding obligations for its K-1 launch vehicle under the terms of the COTS agreement, NASA decided on 18 October 2007 to terminate its contract with Rocketplane Kistler and re-award its contract after a competition.[3] On 19 February 2008, NASA announced that it had chosen Orbital Sciences as the new winner.[4] On 23 December 2008, NASA awarded Orbital Sciences a $1.9 billion contract under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. Under this contract, Orbital Sciences agreed to deliver up to 20 tons of cargo to the ISS through 2016 in eight Cygnus spacecraft flights.[2]

By April 2010, Orbital had displayed a full-scale model of the Cygnus cargo delivery spacecraft at the National Space Symposium (NSS) in Colorado Springs, CO.[5]

Launched on an Antares (renamed from Taurus II) medium-class launch vehicle or Atlas V, the first Cygnus flight was originally planned to occur in December 2010.[6]·[7] The Cygnus demonstration mission was successfully launched on 18 September 2013.[8] On 12 January 2014, the first scheduled Cygnus resupply mission arrived at the space station; the capsule carried Christmas presents and fresh fruit for the astronauts. Its arrival was delayed, first by the need to repair the station, and then by frigid weather at the launch site and solar flares that forced postponements.[8]·[9]

With the December 2015 launch of Orb CRS-4 on Atlas V, the enhanced version of Cygnus made its debut. While it was planned from the beginning to fly on the fifth mission, the Orb CRS-3 failure and subsequent move to Atlas V meant a delay. However, lessons learned on packing and the extra capabilities of the Atlas allowed payload to be increased to 3,500 kg (7,700 lb).[10]

Design edit

A scale drawing of the Standard (left) and Enhanced (right) Cygnus.

The Cygnus spacecraft consists of two basic components: the Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) and the Service Module (SM). The PCM is manufactured by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, (Italy). The first PCMs had an empty mass of 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) [11] and a volume of 18 m3 (640 cu ft).[12] The service module is built by Orbital ATK and is based on their GEOStar and LEOStar spacecraft buses as well as components from the development of the Dawn spacecraft. It has a gross mass of 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) with propulsion provided by 32 monopropellant thrusters for attitude control. The SM also carries one BT-4 main engine [13] burning hypergolic propellants hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide (the propellant mass is 800 kg (1,800 lb) [14][15]). The service module is capable of producing up to 4 kW of electrical power via two gallium arsenide solar arrays.[12] On 12 November 2009, Dutch Space announced it would provide the solar arrays for the first Cygnus spacecraft.[16]

The Standard Cygnus being unberthed from the Harmony module.

The fourth and all subsequent Cygnus spacecraft are the "Enhanced" variant, as the standard version has been retired.[17] These have a stretched 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) empty weight PCM with interior volume increased by 50% to 27 m3 (950 cu ft) and the service module uses Orbital ATK Ultraflex solar arrays providing the same power as the previous arrays at a lower mass.[12]·[17] A new upper stage built by Orbital ATK, the Castor 30XL, is used together with the enhanced Cygnus. With a more powerful upper stage and lighter solar arrays, the Cygnus payload delivered to the ISS can be increased by 700 kg (1,500 lb).[18]

During nominal CRS missions, Cygnus maneuvers close to the International Space Station, where the Canadarm2 robotic arm grapples the spacecraft and berths it to a Common Berthing Mechanism on the Harmony module in a similar fashion to the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle and the retired SpaceX Dragon,[12] but not the other active American CRS Dragon 2 vehicle, which docks autonomously. For typical missions, Cygnus remains berthed for about 30 days.[19]·[20] Unlike Dragon 2 and the earlier Dragon, Cygnus does not provide cargo return capability. However, it can be loaded with obsolete equipment and trash for destructive reentry like the Russian Progress vehicles.[21]

An earlier proposed version of Cygnus would have replaced the PCM with the Unpressurized Cargo Module (UCM), based on NASA's ExPRESS Logistics Carrier, and would have been used to transport unpressurized cargo, such as ISS Orbital Replacement Units.[6]·[22] Another proposed variant would have replaced the PCM with the Return Cargo Module (RCM), which would have allowed Cygnus to return cargo to Earth.[6]·

In August 2023, Northrop Grumman announced a further enlarged Mission B version of Cygnus, with a 1.5 m (4.9 ft) stretch to the payload module and payload mass increased to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb). This version is expected to enter service with the NG-23 mission in 2025 (the first to use the new Antares 330 launch vehicle).[23]

Lunar Gateway module variant edit

In August 2019, NASA decided to sole source its design for the Minimal Habitation Module (Habitation and Logistics Outpost, or HALO) of the Lunar Gateway to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, which offered a minimalist 6.1 m (20 ft) by 3 m (9.8 ft) design based directly on the Enhanced Cygnus, as well as a larger 7 m (23 ft) by 4.4 m (14 ft) design[24][25] having radial docking ports, body-mounted radiators (BMRs), batteries and communications antennas added on the outside. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems opted to build the minimalist design, which offered the advantage of component compatibility and expedited testing of life support systems on existing Cygnus spacecraft.[26][27] On 5 June 2020, NASA awarded Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems a $187 million contract to complete the preliminary design of HALO. NASA will sign a separate contract with Northrop for the fabrication of the HALO, and for integration with the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), being built by Maxar.[26][27]

Missions edit

List includes only missions that have flown and six planned missions. As of January 2024 two missions are currently planned to be launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-40, and three from Wallops on an Antares 330. Cygnus is the only cargo freighter to launch on four different orbital launchers, that is, Antares 100 series, Atlas V, Antares 200 series and Falcon 9 Block 5 rockets.[28]

Each mission is named for a notable member of the Human spaceflight community, often but not exclusively former NASA astronauts.

Cygnus spacecraft missions
# Mission Patch Payload Variant Launch date Rocket Payload mass Outcome Ref.
0 Cygnus Mass Simulator Cygnus Payload Simulator N.A. 21 April 2013, 21:00:00 UTC Antares 110 Success [29]·[30]
First Antares launch, demonstrated Antares's performance and capability to place its payload on a precise target orbit.[31]
1 Orb-D1
G. David Low
Cygnus 1
Orbital Sciences COTS Demo Flight
Standard 18 September 2013, 14:58:00 UTC Antares 110 1,299 lb (589 kg) Success [32]·[33]·[29]·[34]
First Cygnus mission, first mission to rendezvous with ISS, first mission to berth with ISS, second launch of Antares. Mission Directors: Mike Orlowski (lead) and Ken Peek. The rendezvous between the new Cygnus cargo freighter and the International Space Station was delayed due to a computer data link problem,[35] but the issue was resolved and berthing followed shortly thereafter.[36]
2 Orb-1
C. Gordon Fullerton
  Orbital-1 Standard 9 January 2014, 18:07:05 UTC Antares 120 2,780 lb (1,260 kg) Success [33]·[29]·[37]·[34]
First Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) mission for Cygnus, first Antares launch using the Castor 30B upperstage.
3 Orb-2
Janice E. Voss
  Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 2 Standard 13 July 2014, 16:52:14 UTC Antares 120 3,293 lb (1,494 kg) Success [29]·[34]
Second Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) mission for Cygnus.
4 Orb-3
Deke Slayton
  Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 3 Standard 28 October 2014, 22:22:38 UTC Antares 130 4,883 lb (2,215 kg) Failure [38]·[34]
First Antares launch to use Castor 30XL upperstage, delayed due to boat in launch safe zone. Second takeoff attempt suffered a catastrophic anomaly resulting in an explosion shortly after launch. Contents of the cargo included food and care packages for the crew, parts, experiments, and the Arkyd-3 Flight Test (Non-optical) Satellite from Planetary Resources.
5 OA-4
Deke Slayton II
  Orbital ATK CRS Flight 4 Enhanced 6 December 2015, 21:44:57 UTC Atlas V 401 7,746 lb (3,514 kg) Success [39]·[40]·[34]
First Enhanced Cygnus mission; Orbital Sciences contracted with United Launch Alliance to launch this Cygnus on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
6 OA-6
Rick Husband
  Orbital ATK CRS Flight 6 Enhanced 23 March 2016, 03:05:52 UTC Atlas V 401 7,758 lb (3,519 kg) Success [39]·[41]·[40]·[42]·[34]
Second mission to fly on an Atlas V. Orbital Sciences had an option with United Launch Alliance to conduct a third Cygnus launch on an Atlas V rocket if necessary.
7 OA-5
Alan Poindexter
  Orbital ATK CRS Flight 5 Enhanced 17 October 2016, 23:45:36 UTC Antares 230 5,163 lb (2,342 kg) Success [43]·[44]·[45]
The Antares 230 rocket carrying Cygnus lifted off at 23:45:36 UTC, 17 October 2016. Successful rendezvous was achieved on 23 October 2016 at 14:53 UTC.
8 OA-7
John Glenn
  Orbital ATK CRS Flight 7 Enhanced 18 April 2017, 15:11:26 UTC Atlas V 401 7,443 lb (3,376 kg) Success [46][47]·[41]·[40]·[42]·[34]
9 OA-8E
Gene Cernan
  Orbital ATK CRS Flight 8 Enhanced 12 November 2017, 12:19:51 UTC Antares 230 7,359 lb (3,338 kg) Success [48][47]·[41]·[40]·[42]
11 November 2017, launch was scrubbed just before launch when a general aviation aircraft entered the hazard zone and did not respond to calls.[49]
10 OA-9E
J.R. Thompson
  Orbital ATK CRS Flight 9 Enhanced 21 May 2018, 08:44:06 UTC Antares 230 7,385 lb (3,350 kg) Success [50][51]
It became the first time a commercial vehicle performed ISS reboosting when, at 20:25 UTC on July 10, 2018 , Cygnus’s main engine was fired for about 50 seconds. Although it was just a reboost test, it raised the altitude by about 295 feet, according to NASA.[52]
11 NG-10
John Young
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 10 Enhanced 17 November 2018, 09:01:31 UTC Antares 230 7,386 lb (3,350 kg) Success [53]·[54]
12 NG-11
Roger Chaffee
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 11 Enhanced 17 April 2019, 20:46:07 UTC Antares 230 7,575 lb (3,436 kg) Success [55]
13 NG-12
Alan Bean
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 12 Enhanced 2 November 2019, 13:59:47 UTC Antares 230+ 8,221 lb (3,729 kg) Success
14 NG-13
Robert H. Lawrence
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 13 Enhanced 15 February 2020, 20:21:01 UTC Antares 230+ 8,009 lb (3,633 kg) Success [56]
9 February 2020, launch was scrubbed due to a ground support issue.[57]
15 NG-14
Kalpana Chawla
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 14 Enhanced 3 October 2020, 01:16:14 UTC Antares 230+ 7,624 lb (3,458 kg) Success [58]
1 October 2020, launch delayed at 11:00 due to boat in range[59]

1 October 2020, launch was scrubbed due to a ground support issue[60]

16 NG-15
Katherine Johnson
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 15 Enhanced 20 February 2021, 17:36:50 UTC Antares 230+ 8,400 lb (3,800 kg) Success
17 NG-16
Ellison Onizuka
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 16 Enhanced 10 August 2021, 22:01:05 UTC Antares 230+ 8,208 lb (3,723 kg) Success [61]
18 NG-17
Piers Sellers
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 17 Enhanced 19 February 2022, 17:40:03 UTC Antares 230+ 8,049 lb (3,651 kg) Success
Performed the first operational limited reboost of ISS by a commercial vehicle on 25 June 2022 after it was aborted after few seconds on 20 June 2022.[62][63]
19 NG-18
Sally Ride
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 18 Enhanced 7 November 2022, 10:32:42 UTC Antares 230+ 8,173 lb (3,707 kg) Success [64][65][66]
6 November 2022, scrubbed due to fire alarm in mission control.[67]
20 NG-19
Laurel Clark
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 19 Enhanced 2 August 2023, 00:31:14 UTC[65] Antares 230+ 8,345 lb (3,785 kg) Success [68]
21 NG-20
Patricia “Patty” Hilliard Robertson
  Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 20 Enhanced 30 January 2024[69] Falcon 9 Block 5 ♺, B1077.10 TBA TBA
Northrop Grummam contracted with SpaceX to launch this Cygnus on a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
22 NG-21
TBA Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 21 Enhanced March 2024[70] Falcon 9 Block 5 TBA TBA
23 NG-22
TBA Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 22 Enhanced July 2024[71] Falcon 9 Block 5 TBA TBA
24 NG-23
TBA Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 23 Enhanced June 2025[72] Antares 330 TBA TBA
First flight of the Antares 330.
25 NG-24
TBA Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 24 Enhanced January 2026[73] Antares 330 TBA TBA
25 NG-25
TBA Northrop Grumman CRS Flight 25 Enhanced 2026[74] Antares 330 TBA TBA

In March 2022, NASA ordered six additional flights, Cygnus NG-20 to NG-25, to resupply the ISS through 2026.[75]

See also edit

References edit

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External links edit