Flammability: a novel experiment on the Cygnus cargo vessel
The latest flight of the Cygnus cargo vehicle for the International Space Station hosted the first unit of Saffire, an experiment developed by NASA to enhance crew safety. Once the spacecraft had transferred its cargo to the station, and it had undocked and stabilized its position at a safe standoff distance [on June 14th 2016], a fire was voluntarily started to study flammability and fire propagation in space, which would help evaluate the fire-resistance of the materials used in these capsules. Deemed critical for the safety of crews on space missions, this experiment will help space scientists choose the most appropriate materials, by determining how microgravity and oxygen percentage affect flame size and behavior.
A string of space experiments
This wasn’t the first time that the Station or its surroundings hosted such an important scientific experiment. In December 2015, the portable onboard 3D printer, purpose-designed for use in space, “printed” a small object from polymer materials. This was a European first, enabling 3D printing technology to be tested under daunting zero-g conditions.
Upgraded Cygnus: a modular design to handle the specific requirements of each mission.
These events clearly show that the upgraded Cygnus pressurized cargo module (PCM), built by Thales Alenia Space, is diversifying its scope of action. It is no longer used just to haul cargo to the crew on the International Space Station, then offload waste to be destroyed during its atmospheric reentry. Today, Cygnus is also working for crew safety and comfort. The PCM’s flexible and modular new configuration is extending its capabilities to new domains, as shown on these two recent missions, enabling astronauts to perform experiments that were really “out of this world”!
Stay tuned for further adventures of Cygnus.
All pressurized cargo modules (PCM) on Cygnus spacecraft are built by Thales Alenia Space for Orbital ATK.