NASA Wallops Flight Facility and Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is set to launch an Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station Wednesday.
This is the facility’s 11th Cygnus mission to the International Space Station. Along with the regular shipment of supplies and equipment, this launch includes some firsts for commercial cargo provider Northrop Grumman, including the ability to load time-sensitive science experiments onto Cygnus 24 hours before liftoff, according to NASA.
Previously, all cargo had to be loaded about four days prior to launch.
According to NASA, there are hundreds of experiments ongoing on the space station and Cygnus will be delivering more, including several that have to do with the long-term effect of space on humans.
One includes using a mouse to study how spaceflight affects the body’s immune system. The immune system of mice closely parallels that of humans, according to NASA.
Also onboard is a Canadian experiment studying the effects of the space environment on humans, such as how weightlessness affect blood vessels and the heart. Cygnus also will bring free-flying robots to astronauts, who will try them out as assistants with routine chores, on the space station.
The mission is also the inaugural launch of the Virginia Space ThinSat Program, a partnership of Virginia Space Grant Consortium and Twiggs Space Lab. The program allows participating students to design, build and launch a small satellite within about one year.
The Virginia Space ThinSat Program includes approximately 70 schools from nine states, with a focus on students in the commonwealth.
The Virginia Space Grant Consortium has four of member universities: Old Dominion, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and Hampton. Three student teams designed and developed small satellites, each about 4 inches cubed and weighing approximately 3 pounds.
Students from ODU, Tech and U.Va. developed their satellite to measure their interaction with the atmosphere that causes a gradual decrease in the satellite’s distance from Earth, called orbital decay.
The students’ satellites will be deployed from the ISS in early July simultaneously so they can orbit together and function as a constellation.
Students named their satellites after the Roman goddesses on the back of the Virginia State Seal who represent the blessings of freedom and peace. U.Va. chose Libertas, the goddess of individual liberties; Tech selected Ceres, the goddess of agriculture; and ODU picked Aeternitas, the goddess representing eternity.
The student project is part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which provides opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools and nonprofit organizations to fly on upcoming launches.