Northrup Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft carried out a successful reboost of International Space Station Saturday, June 25, 2022. Cygnus NG-17 “Piers Sellers” is the first US-based spacecraft to provide a significant orbital adjustment of ISS since the space shuttles retired in 2011.
Russia’s progress Cargo vehicles have been the primary source of station reinforcements, attitude control and maneuvers to avoid debris.
“This reinforcement of the ISS with Cygnus adds a critical capability to help maintain and support the space station,” he said. Steve KerinVice President, Civil and Commercial Space, Tactical Space Systems, Northrop Grumman, in a press release.
“It also demonstrates the tremendous capability Cygnus offers ISS and future space exploration efforts.”
What happened – Cygnus fired its gimbal delta engine for a total of 301 seconds, raising the station’s perigee by about 0.8 kilometers (1/2 mile) and its apogee by almost 0.2 kilometers (0.1 miles) for a test of “this improved ability for a standard service for NASA, said Northrup Grumman.
“This Cygnus mission is the first to have this enhanced capability as a standard NASA service.”
Cygnus had been docked to the ISS since February and has now resigned, leaving on June 28.
Back in 2018, the ninth Cygnus supply mission tested the reboost capacity by performing a short 50-second firing of its main engine, raising the station’s height by 90 meters (295 feet).
The thruster launch on June 25 was actually the second attempt to raise the station’s orbit with the Cygnus NG-17, as the maneuver on June 20 was interrupted after only five seconds. Northrup Grumman said the abortion was triggered automatically and came as a “preventative measure”. An examination by engineers showed that the observed parameters were as expected and acceptable.
Why it matters – Having the United States’ capacity to propel the ISS came to the fore as an issue following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February 2022.
Following sanctions against Russia by the United States and other countries included in the space station consortium, thinly veiled threats by Dmitry Rogozinthe director general of the Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos) indicated it Russia perhaps ending its cooperation in space; he also suggested that the country could use the ISS as a weapon.
The Russian news agency RIA Novosti also showed a CGI video showing the Russian modules detached from the ISS. Other ointments on social media from Rogozin and others made for a few tense months, but the mood seemed to have cooled lately.
Russia and the ISS
NASA says that normally all propulsion of the International Space Station is provided by the Russian segments and Russian cargo ships. A set of propellers on the Zvezda module can be used, but they are mainly reserved for when Soyuz can not perform the task, as fuel on board the station is limited. The American gyroscopes provide daily attitude control or control the station’s orientation.
“Russian thrusters are used for attitude control during dynamic events such as docking of spacecraft and provide attitude control reset when the gyroscope reaches its control limit.” at NASA.
What’s next – Of course, since Cygnus has now left, the space station remains dependent on the Russian sources for all necessary maneuvers. While the head of SpaceX has indicated Dragon capsules can help maneuver the station, they do not currently have that ability.
Northrup Grumman said that the provision of reboosts and thruster capacity is the latest in a series of improvements made to the spacecraft since its first mission to the station in 2013.
The company has increased the amount of cargo it can transport to the station with a larger load module, added lighter and more powerful solar panels and fuel tanks, and upgraded many of its systems to make reboost possible.
To date, the Cygnus spacecraft has delivered more than 5,000 kilograms, or 112,000 pounds, of equipment and supplies to the astronaut crews aboard the ISS. The Cygnus vehicle was packed with garbage before being unloaded, and it carried out a controlled re-entry across the Pacific Ocean on June 29.
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