In a rare turn of events for a vehicle normally so reliable, NASA is currently evaluating the condition of a Cygnus spacecraft that only managed to deploy one of its two solar arrays while en route to the International Space Station (ISS) on a resupply mission.
Spacecraft manufacturer Northrop Grumman believes it is safe for the Cygnus to dock with the ISS, but NASA has decided to investigate the situation further before making a final decision on whether to go ahead with the maneuver as originally planned to be held early Wednesday.
After a launch delay due to a fire alarm at the control center, the Cygnus NG-18 spacecraft lifted off early Monday morning aboard an Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
As is usual with this workhorse spacecraft, the Cygnus should deploy its two circular solar arrays, which will help power the craft, about three hours after leaving the launch pad. But this time something went wrong.
It is currently not clear why the second solar system could not be used in the usual way. Engineers on the ground are trying to determine if the deployment can still be conducted safely, although Northrop Grumman believes docking the spacecraft with the ISS will still be possible if that is not possible. However, NASA is concerned that the condition of the spacecraft could cause problems during docking, potentially creating further problems for the Cygnus or even the space station itself.
“Following launch earlier this morning, November 7, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo ship successfully deployed one of its two solar arrays,” NASA said said in a message shared on his website on Monday.
It continued, “Northrop Grumman is collecting data on the second array deployment and is working closely with NASA. Northrop Grumman has reported to NASA that Cygnus has sufficient power to rendezvous with the ISS on Wednesday, November 9 to complete its primary mission, and NASA is evaluating this and the configuration needed for acquisition and docking .
Cygnus has completed 17 successful missions to the ISS since its first mission in 2013. Only once did it fail to reach the orbiting outpost, but that was due to a catastrophic rocket failure shortly after a 2013 launch.
The Cygnus NG-18 spacecraft — named in honor of American space pioneer Sally Ride — carries more than 8,000 pounds of supplies for the crew, along with the usual cargo of science experiments conducted in the station’s microgravity conditions. With so much on board, rest assured that NASA and Northrop Grumman are working tirelessly to ensure docking is hassle-free.
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