The clear skies over the Chesapeake will continue, with an expected launch of a Cygnus spacecraft on an Antares rocket from Wallops Island planned at 2046 UT 17 April 2016.
Fully loaded, the Cygnus NG-11 “SS Roger Chaffee” will carry 3100 kg to the space station, including 600 kg of special late-loaded cargo. Late-load capability means that live animals and perishable goods can now be placed aboard the rocket just hours, not days, before launch. A new launchpad facility and modified service crane allows the Cygnus-Antares rocket assembly to be lifted vertical, checked out for preflight tests, then lowered again. Once horizontal, a Mississippi-built “pop-top” added to the fairing is removed, allowing quick access to the interior of the Cygnus spacecraft.
This launch also marks a milestone for space business. A private enterprise – FOMS, Inc. – will use the microgravity environment on the International Space Station to make up to 100 km of fluoride-based UV-IR wideband optical fibre for later sale on Earth, with a potential market value of “millions of dollars” – alongside a scientific version of the same payload.
There’s also a small piece of fabric with a touch of North Dakota going into space with Cygnus: A material sample flying on the MISSE-11 experiment will advance the development of SPIcDER (Paper – NewScientist report), a Carbon Nanotube-based electrostatic dust removal system being developed by UND grad Dr. Kavya Manyapu. Manyapu confirmed the launch date at a recent lecture in Grand Forks.
Cygnus NG-11 will be the first mission for Cygnus that will remain in orbit for an extended period after it undocks, perhaps 7 months or more, which will stress test the spacecraft and operator NGIS, which intends to manage the NG-11 mission even during and after the launch of Cygnus NG-12. With a planned unberthing in July, that puts the end of the NG-11 mission some time in early 2020.