A cargo spacecraft will undock from the International Space Station on Tuesday to re-enter Earth. However, it will not land, but burn up in the atmosphere, ending its nearly a decade-long service. Operated by Northrop Grumann, the robotic Cygnus freighter dubbed SS Piers will have a fiery end over the Pacific Ocean.
The freighter will undock from the flying laboratory at 6:05 a.m. EDT (3:35 pm IST) after being latched to the Space Station since February of this year. The spacecraft has so far delivered 50,802 kilograms of equipment and supplies to the astronaut crews aboard the ISS.
"The Cygnus vehicle launched in February will remain docked until later this month when it will depart the station and conduct a satellite deployment before performing a safe, controlled re-entry over the Pacific Ocean," Northrop Grumman Corporation said in a statement.
The spacecraft was named S.S. Piers Sellers in honour of British-American climate scientist who launched on three missions to the International Space Station. The cargo spacecraft had reached space on top of a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island in Virginia.
"Experience gained by the Cygnus program is also being applied to other Northrop Grumman human space programs. Cygnus is the basis of the Habitation and Logistics Outpost, or HALO, the first module planned for NASA's Lunar Gateway which will orbit the moon and serve as a staging point for exploration of the lunar surface and enable future exploration beyond the moon," Steve Krein, vice president, civil and commercial space, tactical space systems, Northrop Grumman said in a statement.
SPACE STATION ALTITUDE RAISED
Before departing, the Cygnus spacecraft performed a key step and boosted the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS). Cygnus fired its main onboard engine to adjust the orbit of the station to the desired altitude to support upcoming operations. The flying laboratory operated just over 400 kilometers above the surface of the planet.
Reboost is the latest in a series of improvements Northrop Grumman has made to the spacecraft to meet customer needs since its first mission to the station in 2013. The company has increased the amount of cargo it can carry to the station with a larger cargo module.
"This reboost of the ISS using Cygnus adds a critical capability to help maintain and support the space station. It also demonstrates the enormous capability Cygnus offers the ISS and future space exploration efforts," Steve Krein added.
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