Cygnus cargo ship is trying to reach space station with only 1 solar array deployed

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A private cargo ship’s trip to the International Space Station (ISS) isn’t going as planned.

Northop Grumman’s robotic Cygnus cargo ship launched toward the ISS this morning (Nov. 7) from Virginia, packed with more than 4.1 tons (3.7 metric tons) of food and other supplies for the astronauts aboard the orbiting lab. 

The launch went smoothly, but Cygnus encountered some trouble after separating from its Antares rocket ride: The freighter has managed to unfurl just one of its two solar arrays. 

Mission team members are working to troubleshoot the glitch, but Cygnus may still be able to power its way to the space station for a scheduled Wednesday (Nov. 9) meetup even if a fix isn’t found.

“Northrop Grumman has reported to NASA that Cygnus has sufficient power to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Wednesday, Nov. 9, to complete its primary mission, and NASA is assessing this and the configuration required for capture and berthing,” NASA officials wrote in a brief update today (opens in new tab).

Related: Facts about the International Space Station

This Cygnus vehicle, named the SS Sally Ride after the first American woman to reach space, will deliver more payload by mass to the ISS than any previous Northop Grumman freighter, if all goes as planned.

SS Sally Ride’s cargo manifest includes 3,608 pounds (1,637 kilograms) of crew supplies, 2,375 pounds (1,077 kg) of vehicle hardware, 1,873 pounds (850 kg) of science gear, 145 pounds (66 kg) of spacewalk equipment and 172 pounds (78 kg) of computer resources, NASA officials said.

Among the many science experiments flying on the cargo ship is a 3D printer known as the BioFabrication Facility (opens in new tab), which is designed to print organ-like tissues in microgravity, and a study that will assess how the space environment affects ovarian cells.

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Cygnus is one of three robotic spacecraft that currently ferry cargo to the ISS, along with Russia’s Progress vehicle and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

Cygnus and Progress are expendable craft that burn up in Earth’s atmosphere when their time in orbit is up. Dragon, by contrast, returns to Earth in one piece for future reuse.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).


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