Cygnus cargo ship heads to ISS with covered solar panel

Cygnus cargo ship heads to ISS with covered solar panel

A Cygnus freighter made it to the International Space Station despite half of its solar panel array failing.

The Cygnus vehicle, built by Northrop Grumman and named SS Sally Ride – named after the late physicist and the first American to fly in space in 1983 – was launched on Monday atop the company’s Antares 230+ rocket from the port Mid-Atlantic regional space in Virginia.

Mission Control later discovered that one of its two solar panels had failed to deploy properly. Engineers gave up trying to fix the problem and said the spacecraft had enough power to reach the ISS in its less than ideal state. Luckily, they were right, and as it got closer, astronaut Nicole Mann brought it in using the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm Wednesday at 0520 ET (1020 UTC).

“During a rocket stage separation event, debris from an Antares acoustic blanket became lodged in one of the mechanisms of the Cygnus solar generator, preventing it from opening,” said Cyrus Dhalla, vice president and general manager, Tactical Space Systems at Northrop Grumman, in a statement. “A successful docking was achieved thanks to the robust design of Cygnus and the resilience and ingenuity of the NASA and Northrop Grumman teams.”

The Cygnus freighter is carrying 3,719.5 kg (8,200 pounds) of cargo and science experiments Experiments include: human heart cells and a partial human knee meniscus (astronauts will use a 3D bioprinter to help scientists compare the differences between human tissue printed in microgravity and on Earth); bovine ovarian cells (which could one day improve fertility treatments in space); samples of mudslides (which will be studied to understand how mudslides after forest fires can topple large rocks and debris and destroy buildings); and three cubesats.

The cubesats will be launched to observe the Earth and agricultural growth. Cygnus also brought a mounting bracket, which the astronauts will attach to the starboard side of the station’s truss assembly during a planned spacewalk next week. The instrument will also be used to install a new set of solar panels later this year.

The vehicle will remain attached to the ISS until January and will be filled with waste before being sent back to Earth to be destroyed upon re-entry into the atmosphere. ®

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