Minimize ISS: NG-16

NG-16 (Northrop Grumman Commercial Resupply Mission)

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Northrop Grumman’s 16th contracted commercial resupply logistics mission with NASA to the International Space Station will deliver more than 8,200 pounds (3720 kg) of science and research, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. This will be the fifth mission under Northrop Grumman’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA. 1)

Launch: The Antares vehicle with the Cygnus spacecraft was launched on 10 August 2021 at 22:01 UTC (6:01 p.m. EDT) from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. At 8:46 p.m., the spacecraft’s solar arrays successfully deployed to collect sunlight to power Cygnus on its journey to the station. 2)

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Figure 1: A Northrop Grumman Antares lifts off from Wallops Island, Virginia, 10 August, carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (image credit: NASA TV)

Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the space station around 6:10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 12. NASA Television, the NASA app, and agency’s website will provide live coverage of the spacecraft’s approach and arrival beginning at 4:45 a.m.

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur will use the space station’s robotic Canadarm2 to capture Cygnus upon its arrival, while ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet monitors telemetry during rendezvous, capture, and installation on the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.

Arrival & Departure

This Cygnus spacecraft, named the SS Ellison Onizuka, will arrive at the space station on Aug. 12. NASA astronaut Megan McArthur will be prime to capture the spacecraft with the Canadarm2, backed up by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Following capture, flight controllers in Houston will command the installation of Cygnus on the Earth-facing side of the Unity module, where it will remain for about three months.

Cargo Highlights

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Figure 2: Overview of cargo on the NG-16 mission (image credit: NASA)

Hardware

ISS Power Augmentation (IPA) Mod Kit – Critical hardware to be installed during the upcoming ISS Roll-Out Solar Array (IROSA) spacewalks, allowing the space station program to continue deploying the upgraded solar arrays.

Airlock Stowage Platform - This deck configuration of the upgraded platform will increase the overall stowage capability on the International Space Station, allowing the crew to further reduce the impact of on-orbit cargo kept and maintained.

Avionics Air Assembly (AAA) Fans - Critical high speed fan spares that provides cooling to support continued operations for Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) Temperature and Humidity Control (THC) across the space station.

Oxygen Generator Assembly (OGA) Pump Assembly - Critical spare to a support oxygen generation capability in support of the crew on board the International Space Station.

Commercial Crew Vehicle Emergency Breathing Air Assembly (CEBAA) Flight Support Equipment (FSE) and Air Recharge Tank Assembly (RTA) - Critical hardware to support the build of the second set of emergency air supply for commercial crew vehicles, supporting as many as five crew members for up to 1 hour during an International Space Station emergency ammonia leak.

Nadir and Side Scratch Panes - Upgraded acrylic scratch panes that provide improved optics and visuals for the crew when using the cupola.

Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) Installation and Spare Hardware - Critical installation and spare items to support operations of the next generation toilet system during the 2021 timeframe.

Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Air Tanks - Sixteen disposable air tanks to support gas resupply and routine cabin repress activities on-orbit.

Figure 3: Experiments that demonstrate 3D printing with dust, use engineered tissue to study muscle loss, and analyze growth of slime mold, along with other scientific studies and supplies, are headed to the International Space Station on Northrop Grumman’s 16th commercial resupply services (video credit: NASA)




Research Highlights

Hundreds of experiments are being conducted on the International Space Station in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. This research helps us better understand how to prepare for future long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars, supports a growing space economy, and leads to developments that improve life on Earth.

From dust to dorm: Using resources available on the Moon and Mars to build structures and habitats could reduce how much material future explorers need to bring from Earth, significantly reducing launch mass and cost. The Redwire Regolith Print (RRP) study demonstrates 3D printing on the space station using a material simulating regolith, or loose rock and soil found on the surfaces of planetary bodies such as the Moon. Results could help determine the feasibility of using regolith as the raw material and 3D printing as a technique for on-demand construction of habitats and other structures on future space exploration missions. 3)

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Figure 4: The Redwire Regolith Print facility suite, consisting of Redwire’s Additive Manufacturing Facility, and the print heads, plates and lunar regolith simulant feedstock that will be launching to the International Space Station (photo: Redwire)

Maintaining muscles: As people age and become more sedentary on Earth, they gradually lose muscle mass, a condition called sarcopenia. Identifying drugs to treat this condition is difficult because it develops over decades. Cardinal Muscle tests whether microgravity can be used as a research tool for understanding and preventing sarcopenia. The study seeks to determine whether an engineered tissue platform in microgravity forms the characteristic muscle tubes found in muscle tissue. Such a platform could provide a way to rapidly assess potential drugs prior to clinical trials.

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Figure 5: NASA Image: JSC2021E018129 - Skeletal muscle myotubes form along strips of patterned scaffolds (image credit: NASA)

Taking the heat out of space travel: Longer space missions will need to generate more power, producing more heat that must be dissipated. Transitioning to two-phase thermal management systems reduces size and weight of the system and provides more efficient heat removal. Current single-phase heat transfer systems use a liquid such as water or ammonia to remove heat from one location and move it to another while remaining in the same phase (liquid). Two-phase systems use the source of heat to boil the liquid, changing the liquid into a vapor. Because greater heat energy is exchanged through vaporization and condensation, a two-phase system can remove more heat for the same amount of weight than current single-phase systems.

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Figure 6: The Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment (FBCE) aims to develop a facility for collecting data about two-phase flow and heat transfer in microgravity. Comparisons of data from microgravity and Earth’s gravity are needed to validate numerical simulation tools for designing thermal management systems (image credit: NASA)

Cooler re-entries: KREPE (Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment ) demonstrates an affordable thermal protection system (TPS) to protect spacecraft and their contents during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Making these systems efficient remains one of space exploration’s biggest challenges, but the unique environment of atmospheric entry makes it difficult to accurately replicate conditions in ground simulations. TPS designers rely on numerical models that often lack flight validation. This investigation serves as an inexpensive way to compare these models to actual flight data and validate possible designs. Before flying the technology on the space station, researchers conducted a high-altitude balloon test to validate performance of the electronics and communications.

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Figure 7: NASA Image: JSC2021E031158 - A preflight view of the heat-shield on the KREPE Capsule (image credit: NASA)

Getting the CO2 out: Four Bed CO2 Scrubber demonstrates a technology to remove excess carbon dioxide from a spacecraft. Based on the current system and lessons learned from its nearly 20 years of operation, the Four Bed CO2 Scrubber includes mechanical upgrades and an improved, longer-lasting absorbant that reduces erosion and dust formation. Absorption beds remove water vapor and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, returning water vapor to the cabin and venting carbon dioxide overboard or diverting it to a system that uses it to produce water. This technology could improve the reliability and performance of carbon dioxide removal systems in future spacecraft, helping to maintain the health of crews and ensure mission success. It has potential applications on Earth in closed environments that require carbon dioxide removal to protect workers and equipment.

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Figure 8: Testing of the Four Bed CO2 Scrubber. The instrument will be installed into a BER (Basic EXPRESS Rack) on the ISS (image credit: NASA)

Mold in microgravity: An ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, Blob, allows students aged 10 to 18 to study a naturally occurring slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, that is capable of basic forms of learning and adaptation. Although it is just one cell and lacks a brain, Blob can move, feed, organize itself, and even transmit knowledge to other slime molds. Students replicate experiments conducted by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet to see how the Blob’s behavior is affected by microgravity. Using time lapse video from space, students can compare the speed, shape, and growth of the slime molds in space and on the ground. The National Center for Space Studies (CNES) and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France coordinate Blob.

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Figure 9: NASA Image: JSC2021E031153 - A preflight view of slime molds Physarum polycephalum (nicknamed "blob") exploring an agar gel. The goal of the Blob investigation is to observe the influence of microgravity on the Blob’s (a unicellular organism whose scientific name is Physarum polycephalum) behaviour when it explores its environment or when it eats (image courtesy of DUSSUTOUR CNRS)

The goal of the Blob investigation is to observe the influence of microgravity on the Blob’s (a unicellular organism whose scientific name is Physarum polycephalum) behavior when it explores its environment or when it eats. A ground experiment takes place in schools and the results are compared against the results of the International Space Station conclusions. The final goal is motivate students from France and other European Space Agency (ESA) Member States to study the Biological sciences.

• August 9, 2021: Among the science payloads on board Cygnus NG-16 is also an infrared imaging sensor, called PIRPL (Prototype Infrared Payload), developed by Northrop Grumman, that will collect data on the low Earth orbit environment. The Pentagon’s SDA (Space Development Agency) will use the data to develop thermal sensors that can detect hypersonic missiles and other advanced weapons while in flight. 4)

At the August 9 prelaunch briefing, Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of tactical space systems at Northrop Grumman, said data from PIRPL will also be used by government agencies and universities “studying environmental impacts” from volcanic eruptions and forest fires.



1) ”Overview for Northrop Grumman's 16th Commercial Resupply Mission,” NASA, 4 August 2021, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/content/overview-for-northrop-grummans-16th-commercial-resupply-mission

2) ”NASA Science, Cargo Launches on Northrop Grumman Resupply Mission,” NASA Press Release 21-106, 11 August 2021, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/
nasa-science-cargo-launches-on-northrop-grumman-resupply-mission

3) ”NASA to explore 3D printed lunar structure possibilities with Redwire Regolith Print launch,” NASA, 3 August 2021, URL: https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/
nasa-to-explore-3d-printed-lunar-structure-possibilities-with-redwire-regolith-print-launch-193859/

4) Sandra Erwin, ”DoD experiment flying to International Space Station to collect data for missile-tracking sensors,” SpaceNews, 9 August 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
dod-experiment-flying-to-international-space-station-to-collect-data-for-missile-tracking-sensors/



The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (herb.kramer@gmx.net).

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