NASA is constantly adding new missions to their impressively busy calendar, launching various spacecrafts into space throughout the year. All of those spacecrafts are doing important work to research space so that we can understand our solar system like never before. A crucial component of NASA’s work is the transporting of supplies back and forth between space. Hence, that’s where the Cygnus Spacecraft comes in. This cargo spacecraft is tasked with one simple but important role: bringing supplies to and from space.
Now that the Cygnus Spacecraft has successfully completed its mission, there is a resurgence of interest in what this unique vehicle does for NASA’s operations.
The NASA Cygnus Spacecraft
The Cygnus Spacecraft is an expendable spacecraft, meaning that it is only made to fulfill one mission before it is no longer in use. After the American Space Shuttle was retired, a new spacecraft was needed to bring supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), a modular space station that orbits the Earth, which brings together space agencies from five different countries, and serves the purpose of acting as a hub for space research that unites the countries that are leading space exploration.
One goal of the Cygnus Spacecraft was to offer more American participation to the union of the countries, by adding supplies to the space station following other countries that have successfully done so. It’s a relatively simple spacecraft with two components, which are the Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) and the Service Module (SM). While it is designed to transport cargo to the space station, it is not meant for returning goods and supplies to Earth. It can, however, act as a trash collector, taking unwanted objects that do not need to stay in the space station.
Cygnus reaches the space station by closely following its orbit, and the station’s robotic arm grapples it to install it onto the station’s Harmony node. Then, it returns to Earth’s atmosphere to self-destruct, with the “trash” it has brought back with it.
The Cygnus Spacecraft in the News
The Cygnus Spacecraft is due to return on January 6th 2021, after supplying the space station with over 8,000 pounds of supplies directly to astronauts. This is after it remained at the space station for three months, although initially, it was intended to be there for one month. NASA has chosen to stream the event.
The success of the Cygnus Spacecraft means that supplies can be transported to the International Space Station is a streamlined way, which doesn’t just help NASA’s needs but those of space travel internationally. Now that it’s on its way back to Earth, researchers will build upon its development to continue efficiently delivering supplies throughout space.