An Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft successfully berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, bringing supplies, equipment and new scientific experiments. The spacecraft was launched atop a Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Facility on Sunday. In addition to food and other much need supplies, the spacecraft is carrying cubesats, smartphones using technology from Google’s Project Tango and experiments from NASA Ames Research Center.
Among the items delivered were a flock of 28 nanosatellites which were developed by Planet Labs of San Francisco to take images of Earth. The new satellites, which are called doves, will join two previously launched formations for a total of 71 in orbit.
TechEdSat-4 is a small satellite, called a cubesat, which weighs about 5 pounds. The cubesat was built and tested at NASA Ames Research Center by student interns from San Jose State University and the University of Idaho. Tech-EdSat-4 will test new technologies for satellite-to-satellite communications and the exo-brake, a parachute-like device for de-orbiting the satellite when its mission is completed.
The free-flying Smart SPHERES ( Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites) robots aboard the space station will receive an upgrade in the form of “Project Tango” smartphones which have a custom 3-D sensor and multiple cameras. The robots will be used to test free-flying 3-d mapping aboard the ISS. The Smart SPHERES are being developed to perform tasks aboard the ISS such as environmental surveys and monitoring experiments.
Another item that the astronauts are probably looking forward to getting is odor-resistant workout clothing. The experimental outfits where designed to be both odor and bacteria resistant. Astronauts have to workout for nearly two hours a day using special exercise equipment to offset the muscle-atrophying effects of microgravity.
Orbital Sciences named the most recent Cygnus spacecraft SS Janice Voss, honoring an Orbital employee and former astronaut who passed away in 2012. Orbital has previously named spacecraft in honor of astronauts G. David Low and C. Gordon Fullerton. The current mission, designated ORB-2, is the second of eight planned cargo missions that Orbital will carry out under a contract with NASA. Unlike the SpaceX Dragon capsule which returns to Earth and makes a parachute landing in the Pacific Ocean, the Cygnus will be filled with trash from the ISS and burn up when it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.