Northrop Grumman successfully deployed the Cygnus payload spacecraft to the International Space Station via its Antares rocket at the beginning of this month. Antares rocket departed the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia at 9:15 p.m local time. The NG-14 Cygnus space vehicle detached from the rocket about ten minutes after takeoff.
The mission was initially slated for the end of September, but the weather changes pushed it further ahead to October. At the beginning of October, an attempted launch mission came ended due to software malfunction at the control center. The Cygnus payload obtained its name in commemoration of the NASA astronaut whose life came to an end aboard the STS-107 spacecraft mission close to two decades ago. This payload hosted over 3500 kilograms of scientific cargo, equipment, and other products. The Cygnus payload arrived at the International Space Station on October 5th.
The Cygnus mission is the first for such cargoes since the pandemic began. Northrop Grumman’s chief of launch operations, Kurt Eberly, explained that the pandemic has toughened the engineers to be clinical in their development of payloads and launch operations. Northrop Grumman stated that all systems are ready to resume operations with the new normal. Nevertheless, there are some operations that the technicians will require to maintain social distance while executing them.
Northrop Grumman explained that they have prepared all mechanisms to ensure that the technicians wear protective clothing while at the closest distance. The company has proved its capacity to implement the health regulations while resuming operations, although the technicians say the clothing makes the work tedious. Northrop Grumman’s operations manager, Frank DeMauro, admitted that they have developed systems to allow the spacecraft controllers to execute their functions from home. The company revealed that it has created a secure connection between these controllers’ devices working at home and their servers at the control centers to prevent cybercriminals from accessing the controls.
The controllers will only physically visit the control centers on essential programs like deployment of a rocket hosting payloads and the integration of the spacecraft’s communication system with those of the control center. Additionally, the controllers will be available during the reception of payloads from commercial customers to ensure they understand the nature of the cargo they are transporting to space. Northrop Grumman revealed that they are developing a virtual view for the controllers on Earth to observe the astronauts performing spacewalks from the ISS. The astronauts spacewalking will fit the cameras on their spacesuits to monitor their motion and gravitational outline. Finally, NASA has been collaborating with Northrop Grumman to design special facilities for use at the ISS. For instance, space toilets are one of the payloads that the agency sent to space via the Cygnus spacecraft.