Science

Antares rocket launches ovarian cells and other wild experiments to space station for NASA

Cow ovary cells are sent to the space station along with a series of other intriguing science experiments aboard the Northrop Grumman cargo spacecraft, which lifted into orbit early Monday (November 7).

The Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship lifted off to the International Space Station (ISS) on the company’s Antares rocket at 5:32 a.m. EST (10:32 GMT) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The launch was delayed by 24 hours due to a fire alarm at the Northrop Grumman Mission Control Center in The Dalles, Virginia, which forced the building to be evacuated.

Monday’s launch, however, seemed flawless, with the Antares rocket illuminating the predawn sky as it entered orbit. About 8 minutes later, the Cygnus NG-18 spacecraft, named SS Sally Ride after astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space who died in 2012, entered orbit and was to deploy its twin solar arrays. If all goes well, the Cygnus spacecraft should arrive at the space station early Wednesday (November 9), where it will be captured by astronauts with a robotic arm at 5:05 AM ET (1005 GMT) and attached to an open dock.

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A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus NG-18 cargo ship for NASA launches to the International Space Station from the Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, November 7, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)

“This is a very exciting time for research on the International Space Station,” Heidi Parris, NASA’s program scientist for the station, said at a pre-launch briefing on Nov. 5. but also new opportunities.

The Cygnus NG-18 cargo ship is carrying 8,265 pounds (3,749 kg) of supplies for the space station crew. This includes 3,608 pounds (1,637 kg) of crew supplies, 1,873 pounds (850 kg) of science equipment, 145 pounds (66 kg) of EVA equipment, 2,375 pounds (1,077 kg) of ship hardware, and 172 pounds (78 kg) of computer. resources, NASA officials said. Northrop Grumman said the flight was the heaviest cargo delivery and included an additional 44 pounds (20 kg) of cargo due to payload optimization.

While the cargo ship was launched a week after Halloween, the astronauts aboard the Cygnus got some treats, according to NASA.

“This is really our first approach and it is an observational study at the moment,” said Fuso, who is also an assistant professor at the Sapienza University of Rome, during a live press conference on October 25. , researchers will be exploring possible drug interventions or edible (nutraceutical) additives to improve fertility outcomes in future studies, he added.

Also heading to the orbiting lab is a 3D printer known as the BioFabrication Facility, which also reached space in 2019 to print human knee cartilage (specifically the meniscus) and a set of human heart cells.

“We brought [the printer] going back to our lab in Indiana…to add some new features like the ability to finally control the temperature of each printhead, and now we’re excited to launch it,” said Rich Boling, vice president of corporate development. for production and operation in space at Redwire Space, at the same conference.

On the subject: Bioprinter will 3D print human tissue on the space station

After another space mission, Redwire will print a new meniscus and study it in the lab to prepare for possible patient transplants in the future, Boling said. Blood vessels and heart tissue will also be produced. Redwire also plans to test drug efficacy in space using “organoids,” or miniature replicas of organs.

Boling has hinted that such research will continue on Orbital Reef, a Redwire-backed commercial space station that is being developed for flight into the 2030s. The project is led by Blue Origin and Sierra Space and involves partners such as Boeing and Amazon.

Some of the other experiments debuting in space include, according to NASA, (will open in a new tab):

  • Assessing how plants adapt to space: Plants subjected to spaceflight undergo changes that include the addition of extra information to their DNA that regulates genes turning on or off, but does not change the sequence of the DNA itself. This process is known as epigenetic change. Plant Habitat-03 (will open in a new tab) assesses whether such adaptations in one generation of plants grown in space can be passed on to the next generation.
  • Mudflows: Climate change and global warming contribute to an increase in the number of forest fires. When a wildfire burns plants, the burned chemicals create a thin layer of soil that repels rainwater. The rain then erodes the soil and can turn into catastrophic mudflows that carry heavy boulders and debris downhill, causing extensive damage to infrastructure, watersheds and human life. Mudflow microstructure after a fire (will open in a new tab) evaluates the composition of these mudflows, which include sand, water, and trapped air.
  • First satellites from Uganda and Zimbabwe: BIRDS-5 (will open in a new tab) represents a constellation of CubeSats: PEARLAFRICASAT-1, the first satellite developed by Uganda; ZIMSAT-1, Zimbabwe’s first satellite; and TAKA from Japan. BIRDS-5 performs multispectral Earth observations using a commercial off-the-shelf camera and demonstrates a high-energy electronic instrument. The data collected can help distinguish bare land from forest and farmland, and possibly indicate the quality of agricultural growth.
  • Space Station Power: Equipment that will be installed outside the station in preparation for deployable solar arrays. (will open in a new tab).

Monday’s launch marked the first flight of the Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, which uses a Ukrainian-made first stage and Russian rocket engines, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February this year. At the time, Northrop Grumman said the company had enough components for the next two Antares missions: the NG-18 mission, which launched on Monday, and the NG-19 mission, which is likely to launch in the first half of 2023.

“Nothing has really changed,” Kurt Eberle, Northrop Grumman’s director of space launch programs, told reporters ahead of the launch. “We have contacted the suppliers and the processing situation is normal.”

Northrop Grumman is developing a completely new first-stage booster built by the American company Firefly Aerospace and using the company’s engines. The rocket, called Antares 330, will be more powerful than the current Antares rocket and will carry a payload of up to 23,000 pounds (10,500 kg) into orbit, allowing its Cygnus ships to carry 11,000 (5,000 kg) more payload.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on November 7 to celebrate the successful launch of a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket and a Cygnus NG-18 cargo ship.

Elizabeth Howell is co-author of Why Am I Taller? (will open in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), space medicine book. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. (will open in a new tab). Space.com Editor-in-Chief Tariq Malik contributed to this report. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).

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