Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus capsule is now on its way to the International Space Station to deliver a hefty payload, nearly 3000 pounds of supplies and scientific equipment. Using its new Antares launch system, Cygnus successfully launched on Thursday, and will reach the ISS this weekend.
Cygnus is bringing some new scientific experiments to the ISS, including the first ants in space. This experiment will be recorded for elementary and high school students to discover how ants perform in space, while giving students the opportunity to study ants in their own classrooms. The concept of ants in space may seem silly, but by studying interactions of ants and comparing those to how ants behave on Earth, we may gain a better understanding of how to solve complex problems like how to better schedule commercial airplanes. Cygnus will also be bringing a variety of satellites and nano-satellites into Earth's orbit, including SkyCube, which will be sending tweets from space.
Also on board the spacecraft is the SPHERES-Slosh study, which will look at how liquids slosh in containers in a low gravity environment. Basically, the idea is to learn how fuels inside a rocket tank act when launching into space. This could help us learn how to make future rockets more fuel efficient. Astronauts will also be receiving supplies for research into drug-resistant bacteria. Once Cygnus arrives within 30 feet from the ISS, flight engineers will use a massive robotic arm to grab it and guide it to its berth. Cygnus will hang around the space station until next month, when it will disembark and head back to Earth, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.