The Cygnus commercial cargo spacecraft will depart from the International Space Station on Tuesday, concluding a demonstration mission that should clear the way for Orbital Sciences Corp. to begin regular resupply missions to the station.
Cygnus has been docked in orbit since Sept. 29 after a Sept. 19 launch on Orbital’s Antares rocket.
The craft carried about 1,300 pounds of clothes, food and experiments to astronauts on the station. Cygnus will be loaded up with trash and other excess material before its Tuesday departure.
Using the space station’s robot arm, astronauts will detach the craft. Orbital engineers will then pilot Cygnus on a descent into Earth’s atmosphere, where the craft will be safely destroyed.
Orbital is the second private company to successfully send a craft to NASA’s orbiting science laboratory. The Dragon spacecraft built by SpaceX became the first commercial ship to dock with the station last year.
The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is to outsource future cargo resupply missions — and eventually crew transport to the station — to private companies in the U.S. The space agency currently relies on Russia’s Soyuz capsules to send crews into orbit.
The Expedition 37 crew aboard the station is anticipating an increased level of traffic in the next several weeks.
A European Space Agency cargo ship docked on orbit will depart the space station on Oct. 28. Three new crew members of Expedition 38 are set to launch to the station on a Soyuz capsule Nov. 6.
U.S. astronaut Richard Mastracchio, cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will join Oleg Kotov, Sergey Ryazanskiy and Michael Hopkins on orbit.
Go to nasa.gov/nasatv to view live coverage of the Cygnus spacecraft’s departure. Coverage begins at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Contact reporter Alex Macon at 409-683-5244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.