International space station cygnus spacecraft

After solar panel failure, cargo spacecraft docks with ISS

The International Space Station docked Wednesday morning with a cargo spacecraft, even though it was equipped with one solar panel that could be used to power the spacecraft’s two-day journey through space.

Northrop Grumman, a US defense contractor, launched the Cygnus spacecraft from NASA’s Wallops Island launch site, Virginia on Monday atop an Antares rocket. It was carrying 8,200 pounds worth of supplies and science experiments for astronauts aboard the ISS.

NASA announced that Cygnus was separated from its rocket after it reached orbit. NASA said that one of its two solar arrays had failed to deploy just a few hours later.

NASA released a statement Tuesday confirming that ground teams attempted to resolve the problem, by trying to open the solar panel. However, they failed to succeed. NASA and Northrop Grumman (which designed and built Cygnus’ capsule) decided to stop trying to resolve the issue and instead focus on safe rendezvous with ISS. They noted that the spacecraft had enough power to complete its journey. Northrop Grumman didn’t immediately respond Tuesday evening to a request for more information.

NASA’s Tuesday statement stated that the Cygnus team was gathering information about why the second array didn’t deploy as planned.

The docking occurred at 5.20 a.m. ET Wednesday morning, as the ISS flew above the Indian Ocean.

NASA astronaut Nicole Mann used NASA’s robotic arm to grab the Cygnus capsule and pull it towards the ISS as it approached.

Orbital ATK is an aerospace and defense company that was acquired by Northrop Grumman. It was chosen in 2014 to work with SpaceX and Elon Musk to create cargo vehicles capable of carrying cargo to the ISS. Since its inception, the Cygnus spacecraft has flown routine cargo missions to ISS for many years. It has already completed 18 successful missions.

It also has one failure. The Antares rocket, also designed by Orbital ATK was destroyed shortly after takeoff and the Cygnus program grounded for over a year.

This week’s mission saw the Cygnus capsule named the S.S. Sally Ride in honor of the first American woman who flew into space. NASA stated that the resupply capsule will remain at the station until January, before departing for a destructive return into Earth’s atmosphere.

According to NASA, the cargo on this mission contains supplies that will support more than 250 science experiments and other research endeavors. It also contains fresh fruits and vegetables for crew members, as well as holiday treats.

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