A Cygnus spacecraft that has only been able to deploy one of its two solar arrays as it travels to the International Space Station (ISS) on a supply mission is currently being evaluated by NASA in an unusual turn of events for what is often such a reliable ship.
Although NASA has chosen to further investigate the situation before making a final decision on whether to carry out the maneuver early on Wednesday, as originally scheduled, the spacecraft’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, feels it is safe for the Cygnus to connect with the ISS.
Early on Monday morning, the Cygnus NG-18 spacecraft launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia aboard an Antares rocket after being delayed by a fire alarm at the launch control center.
The two circular solar arrays on the Cygnus, which help to power the spacecraft, should have been deployed about three hours after the launchpad, as is customary for this workhorse spacecraft. But something didn’t work out this time.
The second solar array’s irregular deployment is still not entirely understood. While engineers on the ground are attempting to determine whether the deployment can still be carried out safely, Northrop Grumman believes connecting the spacecraft with the ISS will still be feasible even if it cannot. However, NASA is worried that a problem with the spacecraft’s health could arise during docking, possibly leading to more issues for the Cygnus or even the space station itself.
NASA said on Monday that the Cygnus cargo spaceship, which was launched by Northrop Grumman earlier today, November 7, has successfully deployed one of its two solar arrays.
Northrop Grumman is closely collaborating with NASA and gathering information about the second array deployment, it continued. NASA is evaluating this information as well as the configuration needed for capture and berthing after Northrop Grumman informed them that Cygnus has enough power to finish its primary mission on Wednesday, November 9.
Since the first one in 2013, Cygnus has so far completed 17 successful trips to the ISS. It’s only missed the orbital outpost once, and that was in 2013, when a catastrophic rocket failure occurred shortly after a launch.
Along with the customary load of scientific experiments to conduct in the station’s microgravity, the Cygnus NG-18 spacecraft, named Sally Ride in honor of the American space pioneer, is delivering more than 8,000 pounds of provisions for the crew. There is a lot on board, so you know NASA and Northrop Grumman are working hard to make sure the docking goes smoothly.