On Saturday, June 25, 2022, Northrup Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft completed a successful resupply of the International Space Station. Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the Cygnus NG-17 “Pierce Sellers” is the first US-based spacecraft to significantly alter the orbit of the ISS. The main vehicle for station reboot, attitude control and wreck avoidance procedures has been Russia’s Progress cargo ship.
According to Steve Kerin, Northrop Grumman’s Vice President of Civil and Commercial Space, Tactical Space Systems, “This reboot of the ISS using Cygnus adds a significant capability to assist in maintaining and operating the space station.” Cygnus offers the vast potential of the ISS and upcoming space exploration tasks are also demonstrated.
Cygnus fired its gimbaled Delta Velocity engine for a total of 301 seconds, raising the station’s perigee by about 0.8 kilometers (1/2 mi) and its apogee by about 0.2 kilometers (.1 mi) so that “a K for this increased capacity” to be tested. Standard service for NASA,” Northrup Grumman said. “This Cygnus mission is the first for NASA to offer this enhanced capability as standard service.”
Cygnus had been docked to the ISS since February and has now departed except on June 28. Back in 2018, the ninth Cygnus resupply mission tested the reboot capability by conducting a short 50-second burn of its main engine, which increased the station’s speed. Height of 90 m (295 ft). The thruster firing on 25 June was actually the second attempt to raise the station’s orbit with a Cygnus NG-17, as the maneuver on 20 June was aborted after only five seconds. Northrup Grumman said abortion was triggered spontaneously and came as a “precautionary measure.” An investigation by the engineers showed that the observed parameters were expected and acceptable.
NASA says that generally, all International Space Station propulsion is provided by Russian segments and Russian cargo spacecraft. A set of thrusters can be used on the Zvezda module, however, they are mainly reserved for when the Soyuz cannot conduct the task, as the propellant on the station is limited. US gyroscopes provide day-to-day control or control of the orientation of the station. “Russian thrusters are used for attitude control during dynamic events such as spacecraft docking and provide attitude control recovery when gyroscopes reach their control limits,” NASA said.
Leveraging US capabilities to provide propulsion to the ISS emerged as an issue following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. Following sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and other countries that are part of the space station consortium, Dmitry Rogozin, director general of the Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos), indicated that Russia may end 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 module separating from the ISS. Other volleys on social media from Rogozin and others have been tense for a few months, but the temperatures seem to have cooled recently.
Of course, since Cygnus is now gone, the space station continues to rely on Russian sources for any necessary maneuvers. While the head of SpaceX has informed that Dragon capsules could help propel the station, they do not currently have that capability.
Providing reboost and thruster capabilities is the latest in a series of improvements made to the spacecraft since its first mission to the station in 2013, Northrup Grumman said. The company has increased the amount of cargo carried to the station with larger cargo modules, added lighter and more powerful solar arrays and fuel tanks, and upgraded many of its systems to make it possible to operate.
So far, the Cygnus spacecraft has delivered more than 5,000 kilograms of 112,000 pounds of equipment and supplies to the astronaut crew aboard the ISS. The Cygnus vehicle was littered with garbage prior to undocking, and it made a controlled re-entry over the Pacific Ocean on 29 June.
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