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Cygnus (spacecraft)

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Title: Cygnus (spacecraft)  
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Subject: International Space Station, Cygnus CRS Orb-3, Cygnus CRS Orb-4, Launch Services Program, Cygnus CRS Orb-5
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Cygnus (spacecraft)

Cygnus spacecraft

The Standard variant of Cygnus is seen approaching the ISS.
Role: To be used to supply the International Space Station with cargo
Crew: 0
Carrier Rocket: Antares or Atlas V
Vehicle nos. 1–3
Vehicle nos. 4+
Height:[1] 3.66 metres (12.0 ft) 4.86 metres (15.9 ft)
PCM diameter:[1] 3.07 metres (10.1 ft) 3.07 metres (10.1 ft)
Mass (dry):[1] 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lb) 1,800 kilograms (4,000 lb)
Volume:[2] 18.9 m3 (670 cu ft) 27 m3 (950 cu ft)
Delivered Payload:[2] 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) Antares 230: 3,200 kg (7,100 lb)[3]
Atlas V: 3,500 kg (7,700 lb)[3][4]
Disposal Payload: 1,200 kg (2,600 lb) 1,200 kg (2,600 lb)
Endurance: One week to two years[5]
Propellant: MMH/MON-3[6]
Peak power: 3.5 kW[5]

The Cygnus spacecraft is an American automated cargo spacecraft developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) developmental program. It is launched by Orbital's Antares rocket and is designed to transport supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) following the retirement of the American Space Shuttle. Since August 2000 ISS resupply missions have been regularly flown by Russian Progress spacecraft, as well as by the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, and the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle. With the Cygnus spacecraft and the SpaceX Dragon, NASA seeks to increase its partnerships with domestic commercial aviation and aeronautics industry.[7]

Cygnus is the Latinized Greek word for swan and a northern constellation.


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (third from left) in front of the Cygnus spacecraft in May 2012

With Rocketplane Kistler unable to meet funding obligations for its K-1 launch vehicle under the terms of the COTS agreement, NASA decided on October 18, 2007 to terminate its contract with Rocketplane Kistler and re-award its contract after a competition.[8] On February 19, 2008 NASA announced that it had chosen Orbital Sciences as the new winner.[9] On December 23, 2008, NASA awarded Orbital Sciences a $1.9 billion contract under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. Under this contract, Orbital Sciences will deliver up to 20 tons of cargo to the ISS through 2016 in eight Cygnus spacecraft flights.[7]

By April 2010 Orbital had displayed a full-scale model of the Cygnus cargo delivery spacecraft at the National Space Symposium (NSS) in Colorado Springs, CO.[10]

Launched on an Antares (renamed from Taurus II) medium-class launch vehicle, the first Cygnus flight was originally planned to occur in December 2010.[11][12] The Cygnus demonstration mission was successfully launched on September 18, 2013.[13] On January 12, 2014, the first scheduled Cygnus resupply mission arrived at the space station; the capsule carried Christmas presents and fresh fruit for the astronauts. Its arrival was delayed, first by the need to repair the station, and then by frigid weather at the launch site and solar flares that forced postponements.[13][14]

With the December 2015 launch of Orb CRS-4 on Atlas V, the Enhanced version will make its debut. While it was planned from the beginning to fly on the fifth mission, the Orb CRS-3 failure and subsequent move to Atlas V meant a delay. On the other hand, the lessons learned on packing and the extra capabilities of the Atlas allowed payload to be increased to 3,500 kg (7,700 lb).[15]


Scale drawing of the Standard (left) and Enhanced (right) Cygnus

The Cygnus spacecraft consists of two basic components: the Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) and the Service Module (SM). The PCM is manufactured by Thales Alenia Space in Turin (Italy), the initial PCMs have a volume of 18 m3.[2] The service module is built by Orbital and is based on their STAR spacecraft bus as well as components from the development of the Dawn spacecraft. It is currently expected to have a gross mass of 1,800 kg with propulsion provided by thrusters using the hypergolic propellants hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide and is capable of producing up to 4 kW of electrical power via two gallium arsenide solar arrays.[2] On November 12, 2009, Dutch Space announced it will provide the solar arrays for the initial Cygnus spacecraft.[16]

Cygnus being unberthed from the Harmony module

The fourth and all subsequent Cygnus spacecraft are planned to be of the "enhanced" variant.[17] These will use a stretched PCM which increases the interior volume to 27 m3 and the service module will use ATK Ultraflex solar arrays which will provide the same amount of power as the previous solar arrays but at a lower mass.[2][17] A new upper stage, the Castor 30XL, will be used in conjunction with the enhanced Cygnus; because of the more powerful upper stage and the lighter solar arrays, the payload that Cygnus can deliver to the ISS will be increased by 700 kg.[18]

During nominal CRS missions, Cygnus maneuvers close to the International Space Station, where the Canadarm2 robotic arm grapples the spacecraft and berths it to a Common Berthing Mechanism on the Harmony module in a similar fashion to the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle and the other American CRS vehicle, the SpaceX Dragon.[2] For typical missions, Cygnus is planned to remain berthed for about 30 days.[19][20] Cygnus does not provide return capability, but can be loaded with obsolete equipment and trash for destructive reentry similar to the Russian Progress vehicles.[21]

A formerly planned variant of Cygnus would have replaced the PCM with the Unpressurized Cargo Module (UCM), based on NASA's ExPRESS Logistics Carrier, and would have been used to transport unpressurized cargo, such as ISS Orbital Replacement Units.[11][22] Another proposed variant would have replaced the PCM with the Return Cargo Module (RCM), which would have allowed Cygnus to return cargo to Earth.[11]


List includes only currently manifested missions. Eight missions are currently planned to be launched from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Launch Pad 0A on Antares, while two are planned to be launched on Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral SLC-41.[23]

The PCM of each mission thus far has been named after a deceased NASA astronaut.

Cygnus (spacecraft) Missions
# Mission Payload Variant Launch Date
Rocket Outcome Notes Ref.
1 Cygnus Orb-D1 G. David Low
Cygnus 1
Orbital Sciences COTS Demo Flight
Standard 18 September 2013 Antares 110 Success First Cygnus mission, first mission to rendezvous with ISS, first mission to berth with ISS, second launch of Antares. The rendezvous between the new Cygnus cargo freighter and the International Space Station was delayed due to a computer data link problem,[24] but the issue was resolved and berthing followed shortly thereafter.[25] [26][27][28]
2 Orb CRS-1 C. Gordon Fullerton
Standard 9 January 2014 Antares 120 Success First Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) mission for Cygnus, First Antares launch using the Castor 30B upperstage [27][28][29]
3 Orb CRS-2 Janice E. Voss
Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 2
Standard 13 July 2014 Success [28]
4 Orb CRS-3 Deke Slayton
Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 3
Standard 28 October 2014 Antares 130 Failure First Antares launch to use Castor 30XL upperstage, delayed due to boat in launch safe zone. Second takeoff attempt suffered a catastrophic anomaly resulting in an explosion shortly after launch. Contents of the cargo included: Food and care packages for the crew, parts, experiments, and the Arkyd-3 Flight Test (Non-optical) Satellite from Planetary Resources. [30]
5 Orb CRS-4 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 4 Enhanced 3 December 2015 Atlas V Planned First Enhanced Cygnus mission; Orbital Sciences announced that this mission will be launched on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. [31][32]
6 Orb CRS-6 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 6 Enhanced 10 March 2016 Planned Second mission to fly on an Atlas V. Orbital Sciences has an option with United Launch Alliance to conduct a third Cygnus launch on an Atlas V rocket if necessary. [31][33][32][34]
7 Orb CRS-5 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 5 Enhanced 31 May 2016 Antares 230 Planned [35][33][32][34]
8 Orb CRS-7 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 7 Enhanced 4 October 2016 Antares 230 Planned [35][33][32][34]
9 Orb CRS-8E Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 8 Enhanced 2017 Antares 230 Planned [35][33][32][34]
10 Orb CRS-9E Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 9 Enhanced 2017 Antares 230 Planned [23]
11 Orb CRS-10E Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 10 Enhanced 2018 Antares 230 Planned [23]

See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b c d e f
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b c
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^ a b c
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ a b
  32. ^ a b c d e
  33. ^ a b c d
  34. ^ a b c d
  35. ^ a b c
  36. ^ . Dragonlab datasheet, v.2.1, 2009-09-18. accessed 2011-01-02.

External links

  • Orbital Sciences news page for Cygnus
  • Thales Alenia Space page for Cygnus
  • Computer animation of the Standard Cygnus delivering cargo to the ISS - Youtube
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