3-D printer, 'Gecko Grippers' heading to space station

Orbital ATK's robotic Cygnus cargo spacecraft blasts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida

Orbital ATK Cygnus rocket carrying supplies and science experiments is set for Tuesday launch to the International Space Station. Orbital ATK's commercial Cygnus cargo capsule was lofted into orbit tonight atop an Atlas 5 rocket, carrying an upgraded 3-D printer, a gecko-type gripper, a fire-starting experiment and tons of other supplies to the International Space Station.

Also onboard will be scientific experiments from government and commercial researchers who want to take advantage of a zero-gravity environment to test new adhesives, observe behavior of soil, measure the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth's atmosphere, and study how fire spreads in space. Liftoff is scheduled for 11:05 p.m.

Weighing in at more than 16,000 pounds – almost half of which is food, supplies and experiments bound for the ISS - the Cygnus will be the heaviest payload boosted by United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket. The reusable grippers can be turned on and off, and adhere to multiple surfaces, making them ideal for future space station use, according to Nasa scientist Pete Hasbrook.

The final experiment to take place aboard the S.S. Rick Husband will be the Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR). On previous Cygnus flights, the spacecraft has reentered the Earth's atmosphere within a couple days of departure. "Saffire will allow us to safely burn larger samples of material without added risk to the station or its crew." said Ruff.

"This is a risky business we're in", says Frank Demauro, a director at Orbital, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. This one is named the S.S. Rick Husband after the commander of the 2003 space shuttle Columbia mission.

This current Cygnus delivery flight is the fifth of 10 missions for NASA by Orbital ATK under a deal worth $2.6 billion.

3-D printer, 'Gecko Grippers' heading to space station

"Probably in a couple of weeks, we're going to hit a first of the space station program, what I consider kind of a milestone - it looks like we're going to have both of our CRS [commercial resupply] providers on board at the same time", Todd said. Since the end of the NASA's Space Shuttle program in 2011, Orbital and Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX have been delivering American cargo to the ISS, mostly without a hitch.

The U.S. space agency and Russia have not yet assigned crews for additional yearlong missions following the March 1 return of astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko from a 340-day spaceflight.

Each of those vehicles suffered failures between late 2014 and last summer, straining station supplies.

Orbital ATK's OA-6 mission patch includes a representation of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. Following an Antares launch vehicle full-power hot-fire test in spring, flight operations for Cygnus and Antares will resume mid-year from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. A specific date will depend on NASA's schedule of missions to the station and overall cargo requirements.


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