Cement, extreme cold experiments head to space aboard Cygnus cargo ship (Update)

An Orbital ATK rocket makes its final approach to launch Pad-0A at Wallops Flight Facility on May 17, 2018 in advance of a launc
An Orbital ATK rocket makes its final approach to launch Pad-0A at Wallops Flight Facility on May 17, 2018 in advance of a launch
Food for astronauts, new space gardening gear and experiments to test extreme cold and how cement forms in weightlessness blasted off Monday to the International Space Station aboard Orbital ATK's unmanned Cygnus spacecraft.

The white Antares rocket, emblazoned with a US flag, rumbled and roared into the dark night sky over Wallops Island, Virginia at 4:44 am (0844 GMT).

The spacecraft is carrying 7,800 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of cargo on the ninth of a series of launches by Orbital ATK, under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to resupply the orbiting outpost. SpaceX also runs supply missions using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo vehicle.

Thirty-four new experiments are on board, including one that will create the coldest man-made temperatures anywhere in the universe, called the new Cold Atom Lab (CAL) facility. The US space agency hopes that CAL will lead to new breakthroughs in modern physics.

"CAL creates a temperature 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space, then uses lasers and magnetic forces to slow down atoms until they are almost motionless," NASA said in a statement.

"Results of this research could potentially lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation."

'Plug and play'

Also on board is the first European commercial system aimed at increasing researchers' access to space lab by offering "plug-and-play" experiment cubes that are low-cost and easy to install and remove.

The International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service, is a joint venture of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Belgian company Space Application Services.

For human explorers to set up camp on Mars, they will need to build habitats to live in and places to protect their gear, and one experiment aims to test how cement acts in space and whether it will harden up and set like it does on Earth.

Plant Habitat-01, an experiment that could boosts astronauts' ability to grow their own food, is also on board.

It contains "a closed environment unlike any other plant growth we have had to date on the station," said Kirt Costello, ISS chief scientist.

"This will really allow us to look at all the variable parameters in an investigation and get down to the brass tacks of what is going on in microgravity."

Three other plant boxes, where astronauts grow lettuce to eat, are already on board the ISS.

The cargo ship is scheduled to arrive Thursday morning at the space station.

During the rendezvous, NASA flight engineer Scott Tingle will grapple the spacecraft using the space station's robotic arm, called Canadarm2.

Cygnus will remain in space until July 15, when it will be loaded with trash and sent off to burn up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.


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May 20, 2018
No crappy, ancient chemical rocket can carry a crew and enough provisions for a colony on Mars. Resurrecting Project Orion and having the political will to use it would not only get them there in three weeks, they could carry 10,000 TONS of provisions and 1000 crew. That is enough for a full colony.

May 21, 2018
None of that has anything to do with a launch to low orbit, though your claim is also a false dichotomy in and of itself. The entire raison d'être of the proposed BFR family is launching an appreciable population into space with chemical rockets. As no one has actually done a detailed, peer reviewed analysis or cost breakdown of nuclear pulse rockets in recent years, there's really no way to discern if they are as realistic (or unrealistic) as any other proposed architecture.

Additionally, the claim that pulse rockets could, "get them there in three weeks, they could carry 10,000 TONS of provisions and 1000 crew. That is enough for a full colony" is extremely vague and unhelpful. Carrying 10,000 tons based on what? What sort of propellant and structural mass to payload mass ratio is that for a obtainable specific impulse? Does that payload of 10,000 tons of provisions include consumables, construction equipment, pressurized habitats, etc.?

May 21, 2018
To low earth orbit and the Moon
Scolar_Visari:- no one can deny rockets of any descriptions have severe drawbacks, can you imagine Captain Kirk sending an away team down to planets surface, or engaging warp with rockets spewing propellant.
The Klingons will make mincemeat of them and we haven't reached the Borg yet.
Just imagine a Klingon downing his weapons to relight the wick!

May 21, 2018
They did use rockets in Star Trek, that's what the impulse drives on all of their spacecraft were. What did you think they used to get around when the warp drives weren't on?

Barring the irrelevant mention of technobabble powered science fiction, anything that expels its own mass to propel itself is effectively a rocket. Chemical rockets are only a particular kind of rocket, and they aren't even the only rockets that exist right now. A rocket can also be a vehicle propelled by xenon gas accelerated by electromagnetism, hydrogen gas warmed by a fission reactor, a chain of precisely detonated nuclear warheads expelled out of cavernous magazine, steam heated by a coal fired furnace or even unread copies of the collected works of Ayn Rand tossed out of an airlock by hand.

May 21, 2018
Scolar_Visari> They did use rockets in Star Trek, that's what the impulse drives on all of their spacecraft were. What did you think they used to get around when the warp drives weren't on?

Barring the irrelevant mention of technobabble powered science fiction, anything that expels its own mass to propel itself is effectively a rocket. Chemical rockets are only a particular kind of rocket, and they aren't even the only rockets that exist right now. A rocket can also be a vehicle propelled by xenon gas accelerated by electromagnetism, hydrogen gas warmed by a fission reactor, a chain of precisely detonated nuclear warheads expelled out of cavernous magazine, steam heated by a coal fired furnace or even unread copies of the collected works of Ayn Rand tossed out of an airlock by hand.

Impulse can mean the quantised force in Isaac Newton's accelerative force, not necessarily expelling propellant but force and inertia.

May 21, 2018
They were expelling propellant because the impulse drives were literally described as fusion rockets, rather than operating on the same level of magic as whatever the Warp drive was. Like most terms in Star Trek, "impulse" is not necessarily a good reflection of its real world usage.

Amusingly, there's even a Wikipedia article on the fictional devices!

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