CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – Weather is 90% ‘GO’ for the launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Atlas V 401 rocket is scheduled to liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during a 30-minute launch window that opens at approximately 11:05 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.
Atlas V Launch Weather
According to the latest weather forecast from the United States Air Force 45th Weather Squadron, there is a 90% percent chance overall of acceptable weather conditions for Tuesday’s launch. The primary weather concerns for launch are cumulus clouds. If the launch is scrubbed today, favorable weather conditions for launch decrease to 80% on Wednesday.
Cygnus OA-6 Payload
The Cygnus OA-6 payload will carry supplies for the astronauts along with science experiments and equipment. The spacecraft is also carrying more than two dozen nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science including Earth observations.
The science cargo includes a “Gecko Gripper” testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos’ feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn’t wear off; Strata-1 which is designed to evaluate how soil on small, airless bodies such as asteroids behaves in microgravity; and an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA’s Largest Fire In Space Experiment
NASA’s Spacecraft Fire Experiment, or Saffire, will be remotely conducted in a three-by-three-by-five foot tall module carried aboard Cygnus. Once Cygnus arrives at the space station, the module remains aboard the vehicle while supplies for the station are offloaded. The experiment will take place during the spacecraft’s return trip to Earth.
“Gaining a better understanding of how fire behaves in space will help further NASA’s efforts in developing better materials and technologies to reduce crew risk and increase space flight safety,” said Gary A. Ruff, NASA’s Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration project manager.
Each Saffire module is equipped to characterize and document the burning of large materials in a microgravity environment. These samples and the environment are like those found on the space station and the Orion spacecraft that will eventually take astronauts to an asteroid and Mars. Images and data captured from inside the module will be transmitted to Orbital ATK and relayed to Glenn prior to Cygnus’ destructive reentry to Earth.
“Saffire will be the biggest man-made fire ever in space. Currently, we can only conduct small combustion experiments in the microgravity environment of the space station. Saffire will allow us to safely burn larger samples of material without added risk to the station or its crew.” said Ruff. “Using the Cygnus cargo vehicle to host Saffire offers a unique opportunity to conduct beneficial spacecraft fire safety research using existing mission profiles.”
Photo credit: NASA/Dimitrios Gerondidakis