The Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship exits the space station to conduct an experiment in orbit

The last Cygnus cargo ship departed the International Space Station on Saturday (November 20) after sending a cargo to the crew in orbit.

The Northrop Grumman NG-16 refueling spacecraft was released from the grasp of the station’s robotic arm at 11:01 a.m. EST (1601 GMT) by a command from NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston as both spacecraft sailed high. over the South Pacific Ocean. The Cygnus spacecraft floated away from the International Space Station under the supervision of Matthias Maurer, a European Space Agency astronaut on the station’s Expedition 66 crew.

Video: Watch Astronauts Capture Cygnus NG-16 In Orbit

Cygnus will spend several weeks in space before being instructed to re-enter the atmosphere on December 15. During that time, ground controllers will deploy the Kentucky Reentry Probe Experiment, the latest in a series of autonomous experiments that ran during the last few weeks of Cygnus missions.

This new experiment “will demonstrate a thermal protection system for spacecraft and its contents during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, which can be difficult to replicate in ground-based simulations,” NASA said in a statement.

Cygnus arrived at the ISS on August 12, transporting its largest delivery yet, with four tons of material. The supply ship Cygnus was christened SS Ellison Onizuka in honor of the first Asian-American astronaut Ellison Onuzuka, who died along with six others in the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster.

The spacecraft arrived with more than 8,200 pounds. (3,720 kilograms) of supplies, equipment and experiments, the largest cargo delivery to the station ever by a Cygnus spacecraft. The delivery included new hardware, a carbon dioxide scrubber to ensure breathable air, and equipment for the station’s upgraded solar panels. The experiments included a slime mold (a drop without a brain) and two payloads for examining human muscle cells in space.

The mission was Northrop Grumman’s 15th operational refueling launch to the space station since 2014. Previous launches were overseen by Orbital Sciences and Orbital ATK, which Northrop Grumman later acquired.

“The Cygnus system has evolved from being just a cargo delivery service to a high-performance scientific platform,” Steve Kerin, vice president of civil and commercial space and tactical space systems at Northrop Grumman said in a statement. “We continue to develop these capabilities to include the installation of environmental control systems and other upgrades to support the Lunar Orbit and Logistics Outpost and Habitation, or HALO.”

The HALO project is a room module for the Gateway space station planned by NASA around the moon for future Artemis astronauts. Northrop Grumman is using its experience with Cygnus to design the HALO module.

The next US cargo ship to visit the space station will be a SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to launch in late December.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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