‘What a beautiful vehicle’: ISS gets first commercial food delivery in 2 years

24 Oct 2016

The Cygnus resupply ship slowly approaches the space station before the Canadarm2 reaches out and grapples it. Image: NASA TV

After more than two years, the astronauts aboard the ISS received their first commercial shipment from Earth that included over 2,000kg of food and scientific equipment.

There is currently a crew of six aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from the US, Russia and Japan. Its latest mission was to get one of humanity’s greatest achievements resupplied, following two years since the last privately sourced resupply mission.

While the astronauts aboard were well prepared in advance to ensure supplies of food did not reach critical levels, the arrival of the cargo craft from the private space company Orbital ATK brings necessary fresh food and equipment.

Future Human

Based in Virginia in the US, Orbital ATK stepped into the fray for NASA as its supplier, following the explosion on the SpaceX rocket Falcon 9 on its launch pad last September.

With investigations ongoing into what could have caused the explosion, the Antares rocket – used by Orbital ATK to send this latest delivery of supplies – is being used for the first time since it also exploded during a take-off in 2014.

In an unusual turn of events, the cargo aboard the Cygnus capsule has actually been orbiting for twice the amount of time as normal.

Having been launched on 17 October, NASA wanted the cargo to wait for the arrival of the latest NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts following their own launch from Kazakhstan on Friday (21 October).

Cygnus capsule

The installation of the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship makes four spaceships attached to the International Space Station. Image: NASA

Researching cool flames

Following its arrival at the ISS, it was up to Takuya Onishi from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency to guide the Cygnus module to join the space station, using its powerful robotic arm.

During the capture – and likely showing the importance of the arrival of the cargo – Onishi said: “What a beautiful vehicle.”

Once all of the cargo has been unloaded from the craft, it will act as a space trash collector, bringing all of the station’s waste into Earth’s atmosphere, where it will be burned up along with the Cygnus craft.

One of the pieces of scientific equipment brought aboard the ISS will look into the phenomenon of ‘cool flames’ that are low temperature fires with no visible flame.

Data from this investigation could help scientists develop more efficient advanced engines and new fuels for use in space and on Earth.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic