The International Space Station's three-person crew is gearing up for the launch and subsequent arrival of Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo ship. The spacecraft's launch has been delayed a number of times over the last four months as Orbital ATK readies the upgraded Antares 230 booster.
To prepare for the eventual arrival, currently slated for mid-October, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi – both on their first spaceflight – have been practicing robotic capture techniques necessary to grapple the Cygnus cargo craft.
When Cygnus launches – currently scheduled for 9:13 p.m. EDT Oct. 13 (01:13 GMT) – it will take around two days to catch up and rendezvous with the space station. Once the craft is within about 10 meters below the outpost, the duo will work at the Robotic Work Station inside the cupola to control the 17.5-meter-long Canadarm2.
Using the robotic arm, the astronauts will grapple Cygnus. Then controllers on the ground will finish the job of remotely moving the cargo craft to its final location – the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.
Cygnus will deliver supplies, science experiments and hardware to the outpost. The spacecraft, named the S.S. Alan Poindexter will remain berthed to Unity for up to two months before being loaded with trash and unberthed.
Once the cargo ship moves a safe distance away from the station, a remote experiment will take place. An experiment called SAFFIRE-II will activate a flame that burns through various materials in an enclosed space. It is a follow up to the SAFFIRE-I experiment in March of this year.
After being performed, and all the data is transmitted back to Earth, the spacecraft will be commanded to deorbit and burn up in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
Orbital ATK had the option of launching Antares as early as Oct. 9, however the company opted to try for Oct. 13 to give Hurricane Matthew plenty of time to pass. The storm is currently in the Caribbean and is expected to make its way up the Eastern Coast of the U.S. over the weekend.
Video courtesy of NASA Johnson