Supply ship departs space station after five weeks

Feb 18, 2014 by Marcia Dunn

The International Space Station has one less capsule and a lot less trash.

A commercial cargo ship ended its five-week visit Tuesday morning. NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins used the space station's big robot arm to release the capsule, called Cygnus, as the orbiting lab sailed 260 miles (418 kilometers) above the South Atlantic.

Cygnus is filled with garbage and will burn up Wednesday when it plunges through the atmosphere, over the Pacific.

Orbital Sciences Corp. launched the capsule last month from Virginia under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA. The Cygnus delivered 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) of goods, including belated Christmas gifts for the six-man crew and hundreds of ants for a student experiment.

The ants are still aboard the space station. They'll return to Earth aboard another company's cargo ship, the SpaceX Dragon.

SpaceX—or Space Exploration Technologies Corp., based in Southern California—will launch its next Dragon from Cape Canaveral on March 16 with a fresh load of supplies.

NASA is paying Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to keep the space station stocked. Russia, Japan and Europe also take turns making deliveries.

The SpaceX Dragon is the only craft capable of safely returning a pile of items, now that NASA's space shuttles are retired. The Russian Soyuz crew capsule has just enough room for three astronauts and a few odds and ends.

A handful of American companies, including SpaceX, are working to develop craft to carry crews. Until that happens, NASA must continue to buy Soyuz seats for its astronauts.

Americans have not launched from U.S. soil since the last shuttle flight in 2011. NASA expects it will be 2017 before U.S. astronauts rocket into orbit from their homeland.

Explore further: How bad can solar storms get?

Related Stories

Orbital's cargo ship aims to dock at space station

Jan 12, 2014

Orbital Sciences Corporation's unmanned Cygnus spaceship is on track to berth with the International Space Station early Sunday, marking its second trip to the research outpost, the company said.

Recommended for you

How bad can solar storms get?

15 hours ago

Our sun regularly pelts the Earth with all kinds of radiation and charged particles. How bad can these solar storms get?

Mars rover's ChemCam instrument gets sharper vision

16 hours ago

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover's "ChemCam" instrument just got a major capability fix, as Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists uploaded a software repair for the auto-focus system on the instrument.

GOES-R satellite begins environmental testing

May 21, 2015

The GOES-R satellite, slated to launch in 2016, is ready for environmental testing. Environmental testing simulates the harsh conditions of launch and the space environment once the satellite is in orbit. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.