Cygnus (spacecraft)

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Cygnus spacecraft
Cygnus Orb-D1.5.jpg

The Standard variant of Cygnus is seen approaching the ISS.
Role: To be used to supply the International Space Station with cargo
Crew: 0
Carrier Rocket: Antares
Vehicle nos. 1–3
Vehicle nos. 4+
Height:[1] 3.66 metres (12.0 ft) 4.86 metres (15.9 ft)
PCM diameter:[1] 3.07 metres (10.1 ft) 3.07 metres (10.1 ft)
Mass (dry):[1] 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lb) 1,800 kilograms (4,000 lb)
Volume:[2] 18.9 m3 (670 cu ft) 27 m3 (950 cu ft)
Delivered Payload:[2] 2,000 kilograms (4,400 lb) 2,700 kilograms (6,000 lb)
Disposal Payload: 1,200 kilograms (2,600 lb) 1,200 kilograms (2,600 lb)
Endurance: One week to two years[3]
Propellant: MMH/MON-3[4]
Peak power: 3.5 kW[3]

The Cygnus spacecraft is an automated cargo spacecraft developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) developmental program. It is launched by Orbital's Antares rocket and is designed to transport supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) following the retirement of the American Space Shuttle. Since August 2000 ISS resupply missions have been regularly flown by Russian Progress spacecraft, as well as by the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, and the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle. With the Cygnus spacecraft and the SpaceX Dragon, NASA seeks to increase its partnerships with domestic commercial aviation and aeronautics industry.[5]

Cygnus is the Latinized Greek word for swan and a northern constellation.


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (third from left) in front of the Cygnus spacecraft in May 2012

With Rocketplane Kistler unable to meet funding obligations for its K-1 launch vehicle under the terms of the COTS agreement, NASA decided on October 18, 2007 to terminate its contract with Rocketplane Kistler and re-award its contract after a competition.[6] On February 19, 2008 NASA announced that it had chosen Orbital Sciences as the new winner.[7] On December 23, 2008, NASA awarded Orbital Sciences a $1.9 billion contract under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. Under this contract, Orbital Sciences will deliver up to 20 tons of cargo to the ISS through 2016 in eight Cygnus spacecraft flights.[5]

By April 2010 Orbital had displayed a full-scale model of the Cygnus cargo delivery spacecraft at the National Space Symposium (NSS) in Colorado Springs, CO.[8]

Launched on an Antares (renamed from Taurus II) medium-class launch vehicle, the first Cygnus flight was originally planned to occur in December 2010.[9][10] The Cygnus demonstration mission was successfully launched on September 18, 2013.[11] On January 12, 2014, the first scheduled Cygnus resupply mission arrived at the space station; the capsule carried Christmas presents and fresh fruit for the astronauts. Its arrival was delayed, first by the need to repair the station, and then by frigid weather at the launch site and solar flares that forced postponements.[11][12]


Scale drawing of the Standard (left) and Enhanced (right) Cygnus

The Cygnus spacecraft consists of two basic components: the Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) and the Service Module (SM). The PCM is manufactured by Thales Alenia Space in Turin (Italy), the initial PCMs have a volume of 18 m3.[2] The service module is built by Orbital and is based on their STAR spacecraft bus as well as components from the development of the Dawn spacecraft. It is currently expected to have a gross mass of 1,800 kg with propulsion provided by thrusters using the hypergolic propellants hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide and is capable of producing up to 4 kW of electrical power via two gallium arsenide solar arrays.[2] On November 12, 2009, Dutch Space announced it will provide the solar arrays for the initial Cygnus spacecraft.[13]

Cygnus being unberthed from the Harmony module

The fourth and all subsequent Cygnus spacecraft are planned to be of the "enhanced" variant.[14] These will use a stretched PCM which increases the interior volume to 27 m3 and the service module will use ATK Ultraflex solar arrays which will provide the same amount of power as the previous solar arrays but at a lower mass.[2][14] A new upper stage, the Castor 30XL, will be used in conjunction with the enhanced Cygnus; because of the more powerful upper stage and the lighter solar arrays, the payload that Cygnus can deliver to the ISS will be increased by 700 kg.[2]

During nominal CRS missions, Cygnus maneuvers close to the International Space Station, where the Canadarm2 robotic arm grapples the spacecraft and berths it to a Common Berthing Mechanism on the Harmony module in a similar fashion to the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle and the other American CRS vehicle, the SpaceX Dragon.[2] For typical missions, Cygnus is planned to remain berthed for about 30 days.[15][16] Cygnus does not provide return capability, but can be loaded with obsolete equipment and trash for destructive reentry similar to the Russian Progress vehicles.[17]

A formerly planned variant of Cygnus would have replaced the PCM with the Unpressurized Cargo Module (UCM), based on NASA's ExPRESS Logistics Carrier, and would have been used to transport unpressurized cargo, such as ISS Orbital Replacement Units.[9][18] Another proposed variant would have replaced the PCM with the Return Cargo Module (RCM), which would have allowed Cygnus to return cargo to Earth.[9]


List includes only currently manifested missions. All missions are currently planned to be launched from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Launch Pad 0A.

The PCM of each mission thus far has been named after a deceased NASA astronaut.

Cygnus (spacecraft) Missions
# Mission Payload Variant Launch Date
Rocket Outcome Notes Ref.
1 Cygnus Orb-D1 G. David Low
Cygnus 1
Orbital Sciences COTS Demo Flight
Standard 18 September 2013 Antares 110 Success First Cygnus mission, first mission to rendezvous with ISS, first mission to berth with ISS, second launch of Antares. The rendezvous between the new Cygnus cargo freighter and the International Space Station was delayed due to a computer data link problem,[19] but the issue was resolved and berthing followed shortly thereafter.[20] [21][22][23]
2 Orb CRS-1 C. Gordon Fullerton
Standard 9 January 2014 Antares 120 Success First Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) mission for Cygnus, First Antares launch using the Castor 30B upperstage [22][23][24]
3 Orb CRS-2 Janice E. Voss
Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 2
Standard 13 July 2014 Success [23]
4 Orb CRS-3 Deke Slayton
Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 3
Standard 28 October 2014 Antares 130 Failure First Antares launch to use Castor 30XL upperstage, delayed due to boat in launch safe zone. Second takeoff attempt suffered a catastrophic anomaly resulting in an explosion shortly after launch. Contents of the cargo included: Food and care packages for the crew, parts, experiments, and the Arkyd-3 Flight Test (Non-optical) Satellite from Planetary Resources. [25]
5 Orb CRS-4 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 4 Enhanced 19 November 2015 Atlas V Planned First Enhanced Cygnus mission; Orbital Sciences announced that this mission will be launched on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. [26]
6 Orb CRS-5 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 5 Enhanced 2016 Planned Orbital Sciences has an option with the United Launch Alliance to conduct a second Cygnus launch on an Atlas V rocket if necessary. [26]
7 Orb CRS-6 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 6 Enhanced TBD Antares
Planned [27]
8 Orb CRS-7 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 7 Enhanced TBD Planned [27]
9 Orb CRS-8 Orbital Sciences CRS Flight 8 Enhanced TBD Planned [27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Thales Alenia Space — Cygnus". Retrieved 2011-03-01. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Cygnus™ Advanced Maneuvering Spacecraft Fact Sheet" (PDF). Orbital Sciences Corporation. 2011. Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  3. ^ a b "The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2012". Federal Aviation Administration. February 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2013. 
  4. ^ "Cygnus Spacecraft Cygnus Overview". Orbital Sciences Corporation. September 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "NASA Taps SpaceX, Orbital Sciences to Haul Cargo to Space Station". 2008-12-23. Retrieved 2011-03-01. 
  6. ^ "Time Runs out for RpK; New COTS Competition Starts Immediately". 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2011-03-01. 
  7. ^ — Orbital beat a dozen competitors to win NASA COTS contract
  8. ^ "Orbital Unveils Full Scale Cygnus Model". Orbital. 
  9. ^ a b c "Space Act Agreement with NASA and Orbital for COTS" (PDF). NASA. 2008-02-27. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  10. ^ "Orbital Sciences To Build Taurus II". Retrieved 2011-03-01. 
  11. ^ a b Byerly, Josh; Perrotto, Trent J. (September 2013). "NASA Partner Orbital Sciences Launches Demonstration Mission to Space Station". Press RELEASE 13-284 (Press release). NASA. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Christmas delivery finally for space station". January 12, 2014. 
  13. ^ Peter B. de Selding (2009-11-12). "Dutch Space to Build Solar Arrays for Orbital’s Cygnus Cargo Tug". Space News. 
  14. ^ a b "Cygnus Enhanced Spacecraft to Use Ultraflex™ Solar Arrays". Orbital Sciences. November 2011. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  15. ^ "NASA Advisory Council Space Operations Committee". NASA. July 2010. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  16. ^ "Antares A-ONE Pre-flight Briefing". NASA. 16 April 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2013. Typical mission will be about 30 days, including the rendezvous, the time aboard station, the time to de-orbit. We could extend that to 60 or 90 at NASA’s request, however once we separate from the space station, the spacecraft itself, depending on its fuel load could probably fly easily for another year, in terms of what the components are certified for. 
  17. ^ "Cygnus Advanced Manoeuvring Spacacecraft Fact Sheet". European Space Agency. 2010-09-01. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  18. ^ Whitesides, Loretta (2008-02-20). "Orbital Sciences Scores NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Award Worth $170M". Wired. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  19. ^ "Computer mishap delays space station supply ship, Va. company says arrival at least 2 days off". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 September 2013. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Orbital’s Cygnus successfully berthed on the ISS". NASA. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  21. ^ "First flight of Cygnus cargo craft delayed to September". Spaceflight Now. 6 May 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Robert Z. Pearlman. "Orbital Sciences Names Next Private Space Station Freighter for NASA Astronaut". Retrieved 9 December 2013. 
  23. ^ a b c "Worldwide launch schedule". Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  24. ^ "ISS Commercial Resupply Services Mission (Orb-1)". Orbital Sciences. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  25. ^ "Worldwide launch schedule". Retrieved 21 December 2013. 
  26. ^ a b
  27. ^ a b c "Cargo Resupply Services". Orbital Sciences. Retrieved 8 December 2013. 
  28. ^ . Dragonlab datasheet, v.2.1, 2009-09-18. accessed 2011-01-02.

External links[edit]