Cargo Craft bound for the space station troubled by an unusual problem

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Northrop Grumman’s NG-18 Cygnus space freighter is loaded with 4 tons of hardware, crew supplies and research equipment for the International Space Station. It launched from Virginia on Monday morning, but navigation hasn’t been smooth as Cygnus aims to reach the ISS on Wednesday. Only one of the spacecraft’s two solar panels deployed.

NASA announced the issue in a short statement Monday, saying Northrop Grumman is collecting data on the second array deployment and working closely with the space agency to investigate what happened. Northrop Grumman said the spacecraft had enough power to reach the ISS as planned. NASA said it was “evaluating this and the configuration required for capture and docking.”

The unmanned freighter uses fold-out solar panels that fold up on launch and later open up like circular fans. A Northrop Grumman video from 2015 shows what the process looks like.

This particular Cygnus spacecraft is named the SS Sally Ride in honor of the first American woman in space. It contains intriguing experiments related to 3D printing human tissue and growing plants in microgravity.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft does not return to Earth. The crew usually packs it with trash before it undocks, re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, and burns up, like an elaborate trash disposal system.

NASA provided a quick Cygnus update during a live stream spacewalk preview briefing In Monday. Dina Contella, ISS operations integration manager, said the spacecraft was performing well and Northrop Grumman was working to deploy the second array.

Solar panels in space can be tricky. NASA focused on asteroids Spaceship Lucy ran into a problem with the full deployment of one of its fan-shaped solar panels after its launch in 2021. The spacecraft continues its mission despite the problem.

NASA is expected to provide updates on Cygnus’ progress, solar array deployment and docking as it learns more. The SS Sally Ride has some very valuable cargo on board, so hopefully one board will do the job.

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