Our teams have completed the NG-11 Launch Readiness Review (LRR) and we are GO for launch of #Antares carrying the #Cygnus spacecraft to the @Space_Station! The 5-minute launch window will open at 4:46 pm EDT tomorrow Be sure to watch live on @NASA TV! #NorthropGrumman
Weather stands at 95% favorable for the April 17 launch of Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, according to the latest range forecast. At this time, cloud ceilings and ground winds are the primary weather concerns for a launch attempt on Wednesday afternoon.
A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft is seen during sunrise on Pad-0A, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Northrop Grumman’s 11th contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station will deliver about 7,600 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA’s commercial partner Northrop Grumman is scheduled to launch its Antares rocket carrying its Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station at 4:46 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 17.
Loaded with 7,600 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware, this is Northrop Grumman’s 11th commercial resupply NASA-contracted mission. It will launch from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, on the state’s Eastern Shore.
High pressure will continue to provide pleasant conditions today to the Delmarva before moving offshore this evening and overnight. Another area of high pressure dips south into the northeast states tonight into Wednesday, forcing a cold front south over the northern Eastern Shore tomorrow morning, then eventually the Wallops area. Once the front moves through, winds will shift to an east-northeasterly direction and increase with wind gusts in the upper teens while advecting scattered low-level cloudiness across the range. Upper level cloudiness will also be increasing during the afternoon as a weak upper-level disturbance approaches the Eastern Shore.
"What's on Board" science briefing for NG-11 mission. Scientists and researchers discuss their experiments to launch aboard Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. Credit : NASA
Did you know that cargo vehicles don’t autonomously dock to @Space_Station? Instead, they park close by and we capture them with #CanadaArm2 – called a “grapple.” We're practicing that maneuver a lot this week to be ready for Friday’s planned arrival of #Cygnus NG-11.
NASA ‘Nose’ Importance of Humans, Robots Exploring Together
NASA is sending humans forward to the Moon, this time to stay. Upcoming expeditions to the Moon will require making every moment of astronaut time outside the safety of the Gateway in orbit and lunar lander system on the surface count. Robotics will enable lunar crews to do more while minimizing their risk.
Spacecraft and habitats rely on extensive cooling systems. Just as coolant in a car is used to cool its engine, ammonia is circulated through a huge system of pumps, reservoirs and radiators on station to cool its complex life support systems, spacecraft equipment and science experiments. RELL is a “sniffer,” or a robotic, remote-controlled tool that helps mission operators detect the location of external ammonia leaks on space station and rapidly confirm a successful repair.
The Robotic External Leak Locator flight unit before launch. Credits: NASA
“RELL capabilities help mitigate the risk of the potentially severe impacts to the space station presented by an external ammonia leak,” said Christopher Craw, ISS Senior Systems Integration Lead at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
When it arrives at ISS, this will be the second RELL on board and will serve as a spare. The first flight RELL is already on board station where it successfully located a leak in one of these systems, significantly reducing astronaut time required outside of station to inspect and repair the leak.
“The decision to build and fly another flight unit seemed like the obvious choice to ensure this capability was going to be available to the ISS Program through the rest of spacecraft’s life,” said Adam Naids, ISS Hardware Development Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Astronaut Shane Kimbrough with RELL aboard the International Space Station. Credits: NASA
After Cygnus delivers the second RELL to station, the plan is to store the unit until an ammonia leak is detected. Then, a game of “hot and cold” would begin. Affixed to the Canadian Space Agency’s Dextre robot arm, RELL would be moved around the outside of station using its mass spectrometer “sniffer” to locate ammonia leaks. When RELL is directed toward a leak, it returns a higher signal. The higher the signal, the closer the leak. This process allows RELL to pinpoint the source of any given ammonia leak, giving space station managers the information they need to understand and correct the problem.
Before RELL, astronauts manually searched for leaks on spacewalks, which always carry an element of risk. The Leak Locator that is currently stationed in-orbit has proven its worth, paving the way for the second unit.
The Robotic External Leak Locator on the end of the Dextre robot in February 2017. Credits: NASA
Both RELL units will eventually be stored in the Robotics Tool Stowage, or RiTS, which is still in development. Once installed to the outside of station, RiTS will store the instruments so they are available when needed to track down a leak.
The RELL design includes two sensors: a mass spectrometer and a total pressure gauge.
The mass spectrometer measures the number of molecules present in any molecular mass to create a “mass spectrum” reading. Based on this data, analysts determine the composition of present gases. The mass spectrometer can distinguish between trace orbital gasses, which occur naturally, and chemicals potentially originating on station, such as ammonia. This tool can tell the difference from a football field length away.
The total pressure gauge measures the total pressure in space. After the general vicinity of a leak is known, the pressure gauge is able to pinpoint it within a few inches in real time.
The benefits of leak detection have already been proven on station, and this ability could be similarly helpful for long-term human habitation on the lunar Gateway, a lunar habitat, and perhaps one day a crewed voyage to Mars. At its core, RELL is a robotics-controlled characterizer of the local environment. This same ability could be used to determine the composition of nearby environments for exploration on the lunar surface, and for scientific and resource utilization purposes.
The president’s direction from Space Policy Directive-1 galvanizes NASA’s return to the Moon and builds on progress on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, collaborations with U.S industry and international partners, and knowledge gained from current robotic assets at the Moon and Mars.
Whether reducing the risk to astronauts on station or one day “sniffing out” the environment of an extraterrestrial world, the human-robotics collaboration demonstrated by RELL will be a vital part of NASA’s exploration future.
By Kathryn Cawdrey NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Ground crews at Wallops Island, Virginia, are installing time-sensitive cargo into Northrop Grumman's Cygnus supply ship overnight before liftoff aboard an Antares rocket at 4:46 p.m. EDT (2046 GMT) Wednesday on a mission to the International Space Station.
The Antares rocket rolled out to launch pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Monday morning. The Antares emerged from its horizontal integration facility and rode a self-propelled transporter for the one-mile road trip to pad 0A.
After rolling up the ramp to the pad, Northrop Grumman crews raised the Antares rocket vertical for final checkouts and a combined systems test, which verifies all connections between the launch pad, the Antares rocket and its transporter/erector, and the Cygnus spacecraft.
Officials also met Tuesday for a launch readiness review and cleared the Antares rocket for flight, with the five-hour countdown timed to begin at 11:46 a.m. EDT (1546 GMT).
There is a 95 percent chance of favorable weather for launch Wednesday.
The Cygnus spacecraft will lift off with 7,575 pounds (3,436 kilograms) of supplies, experiments and CubeSats to begin the day-and-a-half-long journey to the space station.
The supply ship will complete an automated approach to the orbiting research complex early Friday, with capture by the station's Canadian-built robotic arm at 5:30 a.m. EDT (0930 GMT).
The cargo mission will be the 11th launch of a Cygnus resupply freighter under a $2.89 billion contract with NASA. One of the missions failed on launch in 2014.
The mission set for liftoff Wednesday is designated NG-11. The Cygnus supply ship has been christened the "S.S. Roger Chaffee" after the late NASA astronaut who perished in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967.
For the first time on this mission, the Cygnus supply ship is being loaded with time-sensitive cargo overnight using a mobile clean room positioned over the top of the Antares rocket's payload shroud.
After lowering the rocket horizontal Tuesday evening, technicians moved the clean room in place and opened the top of the Antares fairing, which was modified to accommodate the late-load procedure.
More than 300 pounds (about 150 kilograms) of equipment was to be loaded into the Cygnus supply ship overnight, including a habitat with 40 mice heading to the space station for researchers to study their immune systems' response to spaceflight.
The NG-11 mission marks the first time a rodent research payload has flown aboard a Cygnus supply ship.
The Antares rocket is expected to be rotated back vertical around daybreak Wednesday in preparation for the countdown.
A two-stage Northrop Grumman Antares rocket rolled out of its horizontal integration facility Monday for the mile-journey south to launch pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, where liftoff on a space station resupply mission is scheduled for Wednesday.
Riding a self-propelled transporter/erector along a two-lane road, the Antares rocket completed the one-mile journey to pad 0A with an uphill trip up the ramp leading to the seaside launch mount. The 139-foot-tall (42.5-meter) Antares rocket was raised vertical at pad 0A for final pre-flight checkouts Monday night.
After passing a combined systems test, in which engineers verified all connections between the Antares rocket, ground systems and the Cygnus supply ship, the launcher was rotated back horizontal Tuesday evening for final loading of time-sensitive cargo.
The late-load procedure marks the first time Northrop Grumman has added time-sensitive payloads to the Cygnus spacecraft less than 24 hours before liftoff. The capability allows teams to load fresh food and research specimens shortly before launch, and crews plan to add a habitat containing mice for immune system research on the Cygnus spacecraft slated to lift off Wednesday.
The launch of Northrop Grumman’s NG-11 cargo mission is set for 4:46 p.m. EDT (2046 GMT) Wednesday, and the supply ship is set to arrive at the space station Friday.
Two RD-181 main engines, burning kerosene and liquid oxygen, will drive the Antares launcher off the pad with approximately 864,000 pounds of thrust.
It’s a beautiful morning at @NASA_Wallops! Are you ready for a rocket launch? We are! Launch is set for this afternoon at 4:46pm EDT. Can’t watch in person? Tune in to @NASA TV for live coverage beginning at 4:00pm. #NorthropGrumman#Antares#Cygnus
We've got a full mission launching today - 3 #CubeSats in our external #Cygnus deployer, 1 hosted payload to stay inside the deployer, 7 #CubeSats for @Space_Station, plant growth research & an incredible fiber optics #ZBLAN experiment. Our #LEO ecosystem is busy as ever! #NG11
Technicians working at pad 0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia have completed the final loading of cargo into Northrop Grumman's Cygnus supply ship, and the Antares rocket has been raised vertical again in preparation for today's countdown.
Specialists removed the top of the Antares rocket's payload shroud and opened the forward hatch to the Cygnus spacecraft Tuesday evening to load time-sensitive cargo into the supply ship. This mission is the first time Northrop Grumman has introduced the new capability to install equipment into the cargo craft's pressurized module less than 24 hours before liftoff.
The items loaded Tuesday night included a habitat with 40 mice heading to the International Space Station to help researchers study how microgravity affects the animals' immune system.
With the work complete, ground crews closed the hatch and placed the top of the payload fairing back on the rocket, then raised Antares vertical earlier this morning.
Liftoff of the 139-foot-tall (42.5-meter) rocket is set for 4:46:06 p.m. EDT (2046:06 GMT).
Here's a view of the Antares rocket at pad 0A after sunrise today, captured by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls.