Northrop Grumman readied for a second launch try Friday evening to send four tons of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station, including a female-friendly $23 million space toilet. The first attempt to launch the Cygnus space station cargo ship atop an Antares rocket Thursday evening was
“When the astronauts have to go, we want to allow them to boldly go,” quipped Jim Fuller of Collins Aerospace, builder of the compact potty.
Also on board: a high-resolution virtual reality camera that will be used to document an upcoming spacewalk and 10 bottles of Estée Lauder skin cream that will be part of a zero-gravity commercial photo shoot.
Liftoff from pad 01 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport — MARS — at NASA’s Wallops Island, Virginia, test facility was targeted for 9:16 p.m. EDT, roughly the moment Earth’s rotation carries the pad into the plane of the International Space Station’s orbit.
If all goes well, the unpiloted Cygnus spacecraft will reach its initial orbit nine minutes after launch and catch up with the station complex early Monday.
In the meantime, just 27 minutes after the Cygnus takes off, SpaceX engineers at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida planned to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a third-generation Global Positioning System navigation satellite into orbit.
As usual, the rocket’s first stage, making its first flight, will attempt to land on an off-shore droneship after boosting the vehicle out of the dense lower atmosphere.
The back-to-back launchings came after a schedule shakeup in the wake of three last-minute launch aborts by three different rockets: a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Wednesday night in Florida; a SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying 60Thursday morning; and the Antares Thursday night.
When the dust settled, a software problem was resolved and the Antares moved to Friday night, just ahead of the already planned SpaceX launch of the GPS satellite. The Starlink launch was reset for Saturday morning. The Delta 4 Heavy flight has not yet been rescheduled.
The Antares and Cygnus spacecraft are making Northrop Grumman’s 14th cargo run to the International Space Station.
The new zero-gravity toilet is 65% smaller and 40% lighter than the potty currently in use in the U.S. segment of the space station. It features multiple design improvements that will be put to the test on the space station before they eventually make their way into Orion capsules bound for the moon in NASA’s Artemis program.
While saving weight and reducing the toilet’s footprint were major goals, “another big part of our project was optimizing the use of the toilet for the female crew,” said Melissa McKinley, a NASA project manager.
And that includes better accommodations for what she referred to as “dual ops.”
“NASA spent a lot of time working with the crew members and doing evaluations to improve the use of the commode seat and the urine funnel to make it more accommodating to use by female crew members.”
As for Estée Lauder, the station crew will photograph containers of the company’s Advanced Night Repair cream while they float in the multi-window cupola compartment against the blue-and-white backdrop of Earth.
The project is part of an ongoing NASA drive to encourage more private-sector use of low-Earth orbit. According to Bloomberg, the company is paying NASA $128,000 for the out-of-this-world photo shoot.
“It is actually not a sort of shoot (for) a commercial. It is just some pictures that will be taken in the iconic cupola that we’ll be using on our social media platform,” said Stéphane de La Faverie, group president of The Estée Lauder Companies.
Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA, said station astronauts will not appear in the photo shoot.
“The rules for the astronauts, they can facilitate the photo shoot, they can take the pictures as part of their official duties, but they cannot be seen in the shots,” he said. “And they’re not going to receive any additional compensation. Ethics rules bar them from doing that. We’re paying their salary.”