Mission at-a-glance:

  • Customers: Northwest Nazarene University (selected for flight via NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative), NARSS-Egypt, and an undisclosed 6U Cubesat
  • Launch Vehicle: Northrop Grumman Antares Cygnus
  • Launch Location: International Space Station
  • Orbit: 450-500 km altitude, 51.6-degree inclination
  • Total spacecraft: 3

We launched six cubesats for three different customers, using two different launch vehicles, the International Space Station and several intrepid astronauts.

In a unique arrangement, the spacecraft arrived at the ISS through an ISS Cargo Resupply Mission aboard via a SpaceX Falcon 9 Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in late July. Spaceflight named the mission SEOPS-1, but it was also referred to as ISS SpX18/NG11, representing the launch vehicles meeting at the ISS (a SpaceX Falcon 9 Dragon and a Northrop Grumman Antares Cygnus).

The International Space Station (ISS) uses two vehicles for resupplying the astronauts: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus, which launches on their Antares launch vehicle, and SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule, which launches using their Falcon 9. Both Cygnus and Dragon berth with the ISS and offload supplies and experiments.  After completing its on-station mission, Dragon is deberthed from the ISS, it re-enters and returns back to Earth for reuse. Cygnus is loaded with trash and disposables from the ISS, is deberthed, conducts extended mission operations, and ultimately deorbits and  burns up in the atmosphere. For this mission, during the extended mission operations of Cygnus served as a deployment platform for our customers’ cubesats.

Here’s how it worked:

  • The Cygnus vehicle was already docked at the ISS, following its launch on April 17, 2019 and landing on April 19, 2019.
  • During the weeks following the arrival of the Dragon capsule in late July which carried the rideshare customers’ spacecraft, the ISS crew transfered the cargo from the Dragon to the ISS, where they placed the SEOPS SlingShot Deployer with the installed satellites into the SlingShot hardware attached to the Cygnus hatch bulkhead.
  • After the ISS side-hatch was closed and the space between the ISS and Cygnus spacecraft depressurized, the ISS robotic arm unberthed the Cygnus from the ISS.
  • Cygnus then maneuvered itself to a higher orbit (450-500 km altitude, 51.6-degree inclination) to deploy the satellites and conduct more tests.

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