Northrop Grumman Cygnus launches NASA Science, Cargo on International Space Station

Launch of the Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Author: Bill Ingals / NASA

Fresh stock 8,300 pounds research and cargo launched from[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 12:40 p.m. EST on Saturday, February 19, aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft, and is now traveling to the International Space Station.

The Cygnus spacecraft, which was launched on an Antares rocket, is scheduled to arrive at the space station around 4:35 a.m. on Monday, February 21. NASA Television, the NASA app, and agency’s website will provide live coverage of the spacecraft’s approach and arrival beginning at 3 a.m.

Northrop Grumman Antares Rocket Liftoff NASA Wallops Flight Facility

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket liftoff from pad 0A at 12:40 p.m. EST from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on February 19, 2022. The Cygnus spacecraft, carrying 8,300 pounds of science investigations and cargo, is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Monday, February 21. Credit: NASA Wallops/Allison Stancil

NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Kayla Barron will capture Cygnus with the station’s robotic Canadarm2 upon its arrival. The spacecraft will then be installed on the Earth-facing port of the station’s Unity module.

This is Northrop Grumman’s 17th contract replenishment mission under a second contract for commercial replenishment services with NASA. The delivery includes critical materials in support of dozens of more than 250 scientific and research studies taking place during NASA’s Expedition 66 mission aboard the space station.

Research conducted by Cygnus includes:

Protecting our skin

Deterioration of skin tissue, a normal part of aging, has been going on for decades. Microgravity leads to changes in the body such as aging, but they occur much faster, so they are easier to study. Aging Colgate skin will evaluate cellular and molecular changes in engineered human skin cells under microgravity conditions. The results could help accelerate the development of products aimed at protecting the skin from the aging process on Earth.

Aging Colgate skin

Prepare tissue culture plates for Colgate Skin Aging, which evaluates changes in skin cells in microgravity and can help provide a model for evaluating skin protection products against the effects of aging. Credit: Colgate-Palmolive

Testing of tumor drugs

Tumor MicroQuin 3D will study the effects of therapeutic agents on breast and prostate cancer cells. These cells can grow in a more natural 3D model in microgravity, which facilitates the characterization of their structure, gene expression, cell signaling, and response to treatment. The results may provide a new insight into the cellular protein that the drug targets, and help advance the development of other cancer drugs.

Breast cancer cells treated with MicroQuin Therapeutic

This image shows the immunofluorescence of breast cancer cells treated with the therapeutic agent MicroQuin. Staining shows a normal nucleus (blue) and therapeutic (green) localized in the endoplasmic reticulum of the cell (red). The drug causes the cytoskeleton (yellow) to break down, causing cell death. Author: Scott Robinson, MicroQuin

Improving hydrogen sensors

The Demonstration of advanced hydrogen sensor technology will test new sensors for the space station’s oxygen generation system. Modern sensors ensure that hydrogen does not enter the oxygen cabin, but can be sensitive to moisture, nitrogen and other problems that require replacement every 201 days. This technology can provide more robust sensors for situations where rapid replacement is impractical, reducing the amount of spare parts needed for long space missions such as the moon or[{” attribute=””>Mars.

OGA H2 Sensor Demo

Hardware for the OGA H2 Sensor Demo shown in preparation for flight. This technology demonstration tests new sensors for detecting hydrogen in oxygen generating systems on spacecraft. Credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Better batteries

Space Demonstration for All Solid-State Li Ion Battery (Space As-Lib), an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will feature the operation of a lithium-ion secondary battery capable of safe, stable operation under extreme temperatures and in a vacuum environment. The battery uses solid, inorganic, and flame-retardant materials that do not leak, making it safer and more reliable. Results could demonstrate the battery’s performance for various potential uses in space and other planetary environments. Solid-state batteries also have potential applications in harsh environments and the automotive and aerospace industries.

Space As-Lib Hardware

The Space As-Lib hardware is shown undergoing thermal vacuum testing prior to launch. Credit: JAXA

Plants in space

Current systems for growing plants in space use soil or a growth medium. These systems are small and do not scale well in a space environment due to mass, containment, maintenance, and sanitation issues. To address these issues, eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) will use water- and air-based methods instead, reducing overall system mass. Results could provide insight into the development of larger-scale systems to grow food crops for future space exploration and habitats. Components of the system could also enhance plant cultivation in greenhouses on Earth and contribute to better food security.


Green onion plants grown using aeroponics are held to display their roots. The XROOTS study tests hydroponic (water-based) and aeroponic (air-based) techniques to grow plants in space. Credit: Sierra Space

Improving fire safety

Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE) will enable studies of the flammability of materials and ignition of fires in realistic atmospheric conditions. This facility uses the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR), which allows for testing at different oxygen concentrations and pressures that represent current and planned space exploration missions. Gravity influences flames on Earth, but in microgravity, fire acts differently and can behave in unexpected ways aboard the space station. Some evidence suggests that fires may be more hazardous in reduced gravity. Results could help ensure crew safety by improving design of extravehicular activity suits, and cabin materials, improve our ability to determine the best techniques for suppressing fires in space.

Findings from these and other investigations aboard the space station will contribute to keeping astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration missions as part of NASA’s Moon and Mars efforts, including lunar missions through the agency’s Artemis program.

Cygnus will also deliver critical hardware to be installed during the upcoming ISS Roll-Out Solar Array (IROSA) spacewalks, as well as other components for the successful functioning of astronaut life on the space station, such as a trash deployer and acoustic covers for the waste management system.

This Cygnus mission is the first to feature enhanced capabilities that will allow the spacecraft to perform a reboost, using its engines to adjust the space station’s orbit as a standard service for NASA. The agency has one reboost is planned while Cygnus is connected to the orbiting laboratory. A test of the maneuver was performed in 2018 during Cygnus’ ninth resupply mission.

Cygnus will remain at the space station until May before it deploys CubeSats, then disposes of several thousand pounds of trash during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, which will result in its destruction. Northrop Grumman Cygnus launches NASA Science, Cargo on International Space Station

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