Thales Alenia Space enjoys their role in Orbital ATK's Cygnus mission, having made a major contribution to its success.
The latest Cygnus resupply spacecraft, named in honor of John Glenn, one of NASA's seven original astronauts, has been successfully launched by an Atlas rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and is headed to the International Space Station (ISS). The Cygnus spacecraft comprises two modules: Orbital ATK’s Service Module and the Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM), developed and built by Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67 percent) and Leonardo (33 percent).
This is Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply mission to the ISS. The PCM carries over 3,300 kilograms (7,275 pounds) of cargo, including supplies for the crew, spare parts and equipment for scientific experiments, spanning astronomy, biology, crystal growth, technology development and other fields. In addition, the spacecraft is carrying an advanced plant habitat designed to help researchers better understand how plants grow in space.
Once the Cygnus spacecraft reaches the International Space Station, it will be captured by the robotic arm and docked to the Nadir port of Node 1. After the Cygnus spacecraft completes its mission, it will be loaded with waste (which can weigh as much as the original cargo), detached from the station, and sent back through the Earth’s atmosphere, safely burning up in the process.
But even the re-entry will offer an opportunity for further research: the third Spacecraft Fire Experiment, or Saffire III, will provide a unique environment for studying fires in microgravity.
Thales Alenia Space has supplied Cygnus cargo modules to Orbital ATK since the start of the program. The first contract in 2009 covered the delivery of nine modules, while a second contract in 2016 provided for the construction of nine more. Seven PCMs have been launched to date, four in the original version and three in the enhanced version. Built by Thales Alenia Space’s Turin plant using a new friction welding system, the new modules feature a lighter and more efficient design that increases payload weight and volume, while also accommodating irregularly shaped containers. Thales Alenia Space will deliver two new modules in 2017.