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RICHMOND—The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space), Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and NASA Wallops Flight Facility celebrate a successful launch for cargo resupply to the International Space Station (ISS), which was also carrying student scientific experiments as part of the inaugural ThinSat Program. The mission, designated NG-11, occurred today at 4:46 p.m. from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.
The Antares rocket will boost an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft carrying an approximately 7,600-pound payload to the ISS, including 3,700 pounds of scientific investigations. The mission is launching or supporting more than 40 experiments designed to research such areas as cardiovascular health, Alzheimer’s, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and exterior inspection of the space station by self-propelled cubesat robots.
Aboard the Cygnus spacecraft are ThinSats, small satellites that carry scientific experiments into space and are capable of transmitting data from low earth orbit. The satellites will be released during the second stage of the Antares rocket into Extreme Low Earth Orbit (ELEO) and students will be able to collect and analyze data relayed from their satellites for approximately five days before they deorbit and burn upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The student payload comprises roughly 50 percent of the ThinSat volume.
Virginia Space, in partnership with Twiggs Space Lab, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and NASA Wallops Flight Facility, created the ThinSat Program, a low-cost initiative to increase student engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields. Through this program, students have developed satellite hardware, tested sensor components with low and high altitude balloon flights, analyzed data, and with today’s inaugural ThinSat deployment, students have launched an actual payload into space. Over 50 middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities participated in this program.
“Today’s mission is important for advancing research in a variety of disciplines such as medicine, aerospace, and astrophysics, and I am proud of the support and collaboration from all of our partners,” said Governor Northam. “The ThinSat initiative represents a critical investment in our future workforce and offers a tremendous opportunity to prepare young Virginians for careers in STEM fields, ensuring the Commonwealth remains at the forefront of science, innovation, and space exploration in the years to come.”
Launch pad modifications have recently been completed to accommodate the loading of time-sensitive experiments into the Cygnus spacecraft as late as 24 hours before liftoff, eliminating the previous four-day pre-loading requirement. This new late load capability expands the range of missions that can be launched from the MARS facility. MARS Pad 0A was built by the Commonwealth of Virginia to accommodate the Antares 230 medium-class liquid-fuel rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.
“The launch pad modifications to accommodate late load capability are yet another example of the world-class infrastructure and technology available at the MARS facility that are attracting customers for science, research, national security, and ISS cargo resupply missions,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “The partnership with schools across the Commonwealth and beyond is helping to build a local, skilled workforce by inspiring the next generation of engineers, scientists, and technicians that will manage this gateway to space.”
“Virginia Space is excited to support the new late load capability of MARS Pad 0A and partner with NASA Wallops Flight Facility to support our customer, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems,” said Dale Nash, CEO and Executive Director of Virginia Space. “We are also anticipating the inaugural flight of the Virginia Space ThinSat Program. There has been significant investment over the last two years, and we’re pleased to see these efforts come to fruition.”
The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Space owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the MARS Unmanned Systems Test Range and is constructing the MARS Payload Processing Facility (PPF). Collocated on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the mission of Virginia Space and MARS is to provide low-cost, safe, reliable, “schedule-friendly” access to space and secure facilities for testing of unmanned vehicles for integration into the National Air Space. Virginia continues to play a key role in national security and assured access to space, as one of only four states in the United States hosting a spaceport licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch spacecraft into orbit or on interplanetary trajectories. For more information, visit the Virginia Space website.
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