Northrop Grumman’s uncrewed NG-18 Cygnus spacecraft departed from the International Space Station (ISS) on April 21, 2023.
Flight controllers on the ground, assisted by UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, sent commands to the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach Cygnus from the Unity module.
Following a deorbit maneuver, Cygnus began a controlled destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
The NG-18 resupply mission was launched aboard an Antares 230+ rocket on Nov. 7, 2022, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia.
The spacecraft managed to reach the ISS despite, after launch, one of the two solar arrays failed to deploy.
Later Cygnus successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS) on Nov. 9, 2022. It delivered more than 3,700 kg of equipment, payloads, and supplies to the ISS.
Among the cargo were also the first two CubeSats developed by Uganda and Zimbabwe for the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite Project (BIRDS), a program created by Japan to support space engineers in non-space-faring nations.
These CubeSats are part of the BIRDS-5 constellation that performs multispectral observations of Earth.
Northrop Grumman’s tradition
Northrop Grumman’s tradition is to name each Cygnus spacecraft in honor of an individual who has made great contributions to human spaceflight.The NG-18 Cygnus spacecraft was named after former NASA astronaut Sally Ride.
Ride was one of the 35 astronauts selected to join NASA’s Astronaut Group 8 (the first to include women) in 1978.
She served as the first female CAPCOM, the astronaut on Earth that communicates with the crew members in space.
In 1983 she became the first American woman to fly in space on board the STS-7, the Space Shuttle Challenger’s second mission.
Antares and Cygnus
Antares is a two-stage vehicle that provides low-Earth orbit (LEO) launch capability developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Northrop Grumman).
Its purpose is to launch the Cygnus spacecraft toward the ISS as part of NASA’s COTS and CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) programs.
Cygnus is a cargo spacecraft that can deliver up to 3.000 kg of payload (3.500 and more on recent models) to the International Space Station for NASA.
It is used to carry crew supplies, equipment, scientific experiments, and then take refuse away. Its Pressurized Module is manufactured by Thales Alenia Space in Italy.
Northrop Grumman started delivering cargo to the International Space Station in 2014 and, in 2016, it was selected to continue deliveries until at least 2024.
Since its first CRS mission Cygnus completed 16 supply missions to the ISS, with only one failure in 2014 due to the explosion of the Antares 130 rocket shortly after liftoff.