After a successful attempt to boost the International Space Station into a higher orbit earlier this week, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus NG-17 spacecraft has burned up in a controlled destructive descent.
The Cygnus spacecraft — whose official name is the S.S. Piers Sellers, after the late NASA astronaut and climatologist — made berth at the International Space Station (ISS) on February 21. At the time, it was carrying more than 8,300 lb (3,760 kg) of provisions, cargo, scientific experiments, and other sundry supplies. The S.S. Piers Sellers even brought a secondary lithium-ion battery to demo for the ISS, and a new system designed to test a suite of hydroponic and aeroponic techniques in microgravity.
The uncrewed Northrop Grumman resupply ship departed from the ISS on Tuesday at 7:05 a.m. EDT (1105 GMT). After release by the station’s robotic Canadarm 2, Cygnus carried out the rest of its work in LEO (Low Earth Orbit). Before it began its descent, it also deployed a batch of CubeSats for NASA.
The ship made a destructive re-entry late last night (June 29th). This means that during its descent, Cygnus burned up entirely, along with its payload of ISS trash.
Cygnus cast off from the ISS about an hour later than NASA originally intended. NASA officials explained that the delay prevented any encounters with space debris. Furthermore, Northrup Grumman said that the extra hour was enough to put Cygnus in a better physical position for communication with its earth-based controllers.
Ever since Putin invaded Ukraine, the global space community has been doing an uncomfortable shuffle. While the ISS is technically a joint endeavor of all its participating space agencies, Russian innovation and hardware do a lot of heavy lifting up there in LEO. So much heavy lifting, in fact, that heretofore the ISS has depended on Russia’s Progress spacecraft for orbital re-boosts. But you know that old canard about how progress is the opposite of Congress? In this case, progress is the opposite of Progress.
Geopolitical tensions in the former Eastern bloc show no signs of ebbing anytime soon. On the contrary, Putin has doubled and tripled down on his expansionist rhetoric, even as the “de-nazification” narrative falls apart inside his own borders. Worse, Roscosmos has taken a posture of deliberate antagonism. Russia has formally withdrawn international access to their Soyuz rockets, ejected ESA staff at cooperative launch sites, and ended international operations at their Baikonur cosmodrome.
Moving away from reliance on Russian launch vehicles was a priority at NASA long before this year’s invasion. As we’ve discussed before, NASA’s Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs are courting multiple domestic space corporations. The hope is that it’ll all dovetail nicely. As NASA pursues its directive to begin opening low-earth orbit to commercial interests, the agency can also look to a range of domestic rocket partners for lifting various payloads to space.
You Can Now Help NASA Hunt For Martian Clouds
NASA Kicks Off Artemis Lunar Program with CAPSTONE Launch
Astronomers Release New, High-Detail Map of Asteroid 16 Psyche