Science & Environment

Resupply ship reaches space station with Christmas gifts

Cygnus Image copyright NASA
Image caption The unmanned Cygnus freighter berthed with the ISS on Sunday

A commercial resupply mission has reached the International Space Station, bringing, among essential kit, the crew's Christmas presents.

American Orbital Sciences Corporation's (OSC) Cygnus freighter docked three days after blasting off from Virginia.

It delivered just over 1.2 tonnes of cargo to the ISS's six astronauts, including food, clothing, spare parts, scientific experiments, and long-awaited gifts from their families.

It is the second OSC freighter trip.

Last September's visit was a demonstration flight. This mission, on the other hand, constitutes the first cargo delivery under a $1.9bn, eight-flight commercial resupply contract that Orbital has with the US space agency (Nasa).

Since the retirement of its space shuttles in 2011, Nasa has sought to contract out routine cargo deliveries to the station, and has financially supported two companies to help them develop the necessary technology.

The other firm is SpaceX of California, which transports freight to the ISS using its Falcon rocket and Dragon supply ship.

Cygnus has significant European involvement. The pressurised vessel that holds the cargo is produced in Turin, Italy, by Thales Alenia Space (TAS).

Its design is based on the logistics modules that TAS produced for the space shuttles when the orbiters ran cargo deliveries to the station.

OSC was supposed to make its second delivery last month, before Christmas, but a space station breakdown in mid-December took priority, and Nasa bumped the flight.

Then bad weather at the launch site forced a delay, before a strong solar storm interfered with the transit plans.

Among the Christmas gifts for the astronauts was fresh fruit, courtesy of Nasa.

Vital statistics: How do the spacecraft compare?
  • Dragon capsule

    Length: 5.2m
    Diameter: 3.6m
    Upmass: 6t
    The capsule is re-usable
  • Cygnus capsule

    Length: 6.7m
    Diameter: 3m
    Upmass: 2.7t
    Cygnus is destroyed on re-entry
  • Falcon 9 launch vehicle

    Design: Two stages
    Mass: 334t
    Thrust at lift-off: 5,000kN
    Fuel: Liquid oxygen/kerosene
  • Antares launch vehicle

    Design: Two stages
    Mass: 240t
    Thrust at lift-off: 3,000kN
    Fuel: Liquid oxygen/kerosene

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