After a successful attempt to launch the International Space Station to a higher orbit earlier this week, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus NG-17 spacecraft burst into flames during a controlled, destructive descent.
The Cygnus spacecraft — whose official name is SS Piers seller, after the late NASA astronaut and climatologist – docked at the International Space Station (ISS) on February 21. At the time, she was carrying more than 8,300 lb (3,760 kg) of provisions, cargo, scientific experiments, and other supplies. The SS Piers Sellers even brought a lithium-ion secondary battery to the ISS demonstration and a new system designed to test a range of hydroponic and aeroponic techniques in microgravity.
The unmanned resupply ship Northrop Grumman left the ISS at 7:05 a.m. EDT (1105 GMT) on Tuesday. After clearance from the station’s Canadarm 2 robot, Cygnus performed the rest of its work in LEO (Low Earth Orbit). It also deployed a number of CubeSats for NASA before beginning its descent.
The ship had a destructive re-entry last night (June 29). This means that Cygnus completely burned up along with its cargo of ISS debris during its descent.
Cygnus undocked from the ISS about an hour later than NASA originally intended. NASA officials explained that the delay prevented encounters with space debris. Additionally, Northrup Grumman said the extra hour was enough to put Cygnus in a better physical position for communicating with its ground-based controllers.
Ever since Putin invaded Ukraine, the global space community has made an uncomfortable mess. While the ISS is technically a joint endeavor of all space agencies involved, Russian innovation and hardware is doing a lot of the work up there in LEO. So much heavy lifting, in fact, that the ISS has so far relied on Russia’s Progress spacecraft to restart orbit. But you know that old duck about progress being the opposite of congress? Progress in this case is the opposite of progress.
The geopolitical tensions in the former Eastern Bloc do not appear to be easing any time soon. On the contrary, Putin has doubled and tripled his expansionist rhetoric, even as the “denazification” narrative falls apart within its own confines. Worse, Roscosmos has taken a deliberately hostile stance. Russia has formally withdrawn international access to its Soyuz rockets, expelled ESA staff from cooperative launch sites and suspended international operations at its Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Moving away from reliance on Russian launch vehicles was a NASA priority long before this year’s invasion. As we discussed earlier, NASA’s Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs court several domestic space companies. The hope is that everything will go well together. While NASA is pursuing its direction of opening up low-Earth orbit to commercial interests, the agency can also draw on a number of domestic rocket partners to launch various payloads into space.