NASA NG-17 mission Overview

To launch February 19th at 12:40 PM Est from Pad 0A at Wallops Island

For the seventeenth Northrup Grumman Commercial Resupply Services mission to International Space Station the Antares launch vehicle and Cygnus spacecraft will lift off with 3,700 kg (8,200 lbs.) of cargo. Cygnus, the two-component spacecraft is compromised of the PCM (Pressurized Cargo Module), and the SM (Service Module). As is tradition with the NG missions, each spacecraft is named for an important figure in the aerospace industry. For this mission, NG-17 will be named after Piers Sellers, the renowned climate scientist and former astronaut.

Native to Crowborough, Sussex, England, Sellers was born in 1955 and latter trained as a Royal Air Force cadet. Receiving his bachelor’s degree in ecological science and a PhD in biometeorology from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leeds he began his thirty-year career at NASA in 1982 when he moved to the United States to join the research team at Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland. Fourteen years later Sellers accomplished his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut where he helped complete construction of the Space Station during flights on STS-112, STS-121, and STS-132. During this shuttle trips he logged nearly thirty-five days in space with forty-one hours of extravehicular activity over the course of six space walks. In 2011 when he retired from the astronaut corps he returned to Goddard as the deputy director of the Science and Exploration Directorate. In 2016 he received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, which is the agency’s highest honor. Sellers passed away later that same year after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Once the Antares 230+ rocket launches from Virginia Space’s MARS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport) facility the trip to the ISS will take about twenty-four hours. Once docked, the S.S. Piers Sellers will have its cargo unloaded and then perform the first re-boost service for the station. This is a new capability for the Cygnus spacecraft where the craft uses the main engine to raise the orbit of the entire Space Station. Some of the cargo being brought to the station is a variety of scientific investigations, including experiments on skin aging and tumor cells, along with tests of technology for oxygen production, batteries and growing plants. Once its mission is completed the Cygnus craft will be loaded with any materials needing to be disposed of on the station then it will perform a safe, destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

Image credit: Northrop Grumman

Since these launches only come around twice a year and the Antares launch vehicle is lesser known compared to the ULA Atlas V and SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets let’s have a quick look at what makes up the Antares 230+.Firstly, the rocket is designed to achieve a 98% or greater launch reliability. It is developed, manufactured and launched using identical management approaches, engineering standards and production test processes used all of Northrop Grumman’s other major launch vehicles. The first stage features twin LOX and kerosene fueled RD-181 engines. The rockets second stage is a Castor-30XL, based off a shortened Castor-120 solid rocket motor. The overall height of the rocket is 139.4ft tall with a 13ft diameter with a mass of 657,000 lbs. and a max thrust of 864,000 lbs. at sea level. This makes the vehicle capable of carrying 18,000 lbs. of cargo into LEO (Low Earth Orbit). Antares life began with its first launch back in 2013 with a 100 series vehicle. In May of 2014 a catastrophic AJ26 engine failure during testing lead to the rise of the 200 series vehicles. Then Antares was once again upgraded to the Antares 230+ for the NASA Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract where NG-12 launched in November of 2019 using the first of this series. The most significant upgrades were all structural changes to the intertank bay and the forward bay.

Check back tomorrow to learn what exactly is aboard the Cygnus Spacecraft and how the launch went!