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"Cygnus" spacecraft to the ISS

The enhanced PCM developed by TAS delivers 3,500 kg of cargo

The "Cygnus" spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) has been successfully launched by an Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, on its eleventh operational mission. The "Cygnus" spacecraft comprises two main sections: the Service Module from Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (formerly Orbital ATK), and the enhanced Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM), developed and built by Thales Alenia Space (TAS), a joint-venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%). This "Cygnus" was named in honor of Roger Chaffee, the Apollo 1 astronaut who died in NASA's pursuit of the first moon landing in a fire during a pad test in 1967. 

Thanks to the PCM enhanced version, this mission will use a new late load capability. Previously, all cargo had to be loaded about four days prior to the launch. This new capability will now allow time-sensitive science experiments —including live mice— to be loaded into "Cygnus" just 24 hours before the liftoff. 

The "Cygnus" is expected to remain at the station through July, the same month as the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, as its cargo is offloaded and it is repacked with refuse for disposal during its destructive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

The SS "Roger Chaffee" will also demonstrate the Cygnus spacecraft's capability to remain in orbit after it departs from the space station, in support of the ship serving as a scientific research platform on future missions.

TAS has supplied cargo modules to Northrop Grumman since the start of the Cygnus program. The first contract in 2009 provided for the delivery of nine modules, while a second contract in 2016 added nine more. Eleven operational PCMs plus a demo module have been launched to date, four in the original version and eight in the enhanced version. Built by the industry using a new friction welding system, this new module feature lighter weight and a more efficient design that increases payload weight and volume, with the capability of accommodating nonstandard cargo.

This launch further confirms not only Thales Alenia Space’s ongoing contribution to the success of "Cygnus" cargo missions but also its ability to contribute to future space exploration missions, bringing its expertise to cooperate in expanding the frontiers of knowledge.

Photo gallery Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) by Thales Alenia Space of the Cygnus spacecraft
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