A Northrop-Grumman rocket successfully launched on Nov 7 and placed a Cygnus cargo ship named SS Sally Ride into orbit. But after successfully entering orbit, the spacecraft, carrying more than 3,700 kilograms of cargo bound for the International Space Station, was only able to deploy one of its two solar arrays. NASA says it will attempt to dock with the space station without deploying the other solar array.
After initial attempts to deploy the second array failed, NASA and Northrop Grumman decided not to deploy it. “Cygnus has sufficient energy to rendezvous with the space station on Wednesday, November 9th. Northrop Grumman is working closely with NASA to monitor and evaluate the spacecraft ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled arrival, acquisition and installation on the space station,” NASA said in a press statement.
Teams from the space agency and the private aerospace company are now working together to understand why the second array was not deployed as planned. They will closely monitor the spacecraft prior to its arrival, capture, and installation on the space station. Additional inspections of the Cygnus spacecraft will be conducted after acquisition.
The cargo ship is loaded with over 3.7 tons of research material, crew material and hardware. The main research effort being conducted by Cygnus is a BioFabrication Facility (BFF) designed to print organ-like human tissue in the space station’s microgravity environment.
For a long time, scientists and medical professionals around the world have been working to use biological 3D printers to produce usable human organs that can be used for transplants. But printing the tiny structures found in human organs has proven difficult with Earth’s gravity.
According to NASA, the BFF aboard Cygnus could act as “a stepping stone in a long-term plan to manufacture entire human organs in space using sophisticated biological 3D printing techniques.”
Alongside the BFF, the Cygnus spacecraft is conducting studies to better understand mud flows after wildfires, the impact of microgravity on ovarian cells, and an experiment to see if plants grown in space can adapt to microgravity and pass these abilities on to their seeds . It also carries the first satellites of Uganda and Zimbabwe.