Cygnus cargo ship is trying to reach space station with only 1 solar array deployed

A previous Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft approaches the International Space Station on Feb. 21, 2022.
A previous Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft approaches the International Space Station on Feb. 21, 2022. (Image credit: NASA)

Update for 8 p.m. EST on Nov. 8: Cygnus' handlers were unable to deploy its second solar array but say the freighter nonetheless remains on course to dock with the International Space Station early on Wednesday morning (Nov. 9) as planned.

A private cargo ship's trip to the International Space Station (ISS) isn't going as planned.

Northop Grumman's robotic Cygnus cargo ship launched toward the ISS this morning (Nov. 7) from Virginia, packed with more than 4.1 tons (3.7 metric tons) of food and other supplies for the astronauts aboard the orbiting lab. 

The launch went smoothly, but Cygnus encountered some trouble after separating from its Antares rocket ride: The freighter has managed to unfurl just one of its two solar arrays. 

Related: Facts about the International Space Station

Mission team members are working to troubleshoot the glitch, but Cygnus may still be able to power its way to the space station for a scheduled Wednesday (Nov. 9) meetup even if a fix isn't found.

"Northrop Grumman has reported to NASA that Cygnus has sufficient power to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Wednesday, Nov. 9, to complete its primary mission, and NASA is assessing this and the configuration required for capture and berthing," NASA officials wrote in a brief update today.

This Cygnus vehicle, named the SS Sally Ride after the first American woman to reach space, will deliver more payload by mass to the ISS than any previous Northop Grumman freighter, if all goes as planned.

SS Sally Ride's cargo manifest includes 3,608 pounds (1,637 kilograms) of crew supplies, 2,375 pounds (1,077 kg) of vehicle hardware, 1,873 pounds (850 kg) of science gear, 145 pounds (66 kg) of spacewalk equipment and 172 pounds (78 kg) of computer resources, NASA officials said.

Among the many science experiments flying on the cargo ship is a 3D printer known as the BioFabrication Facility, which is designed to print organ-like tissues in microgravity, and a study that will assess how the space environment affects ovarian cells.

Cygnus is one of three robotic spacecraft that currently ferry cargo to the ISS, along with Russia's Progress vehicle and SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

Cygnus and Progress are expendable craft that burn up in Earth's atmosphere when their time in orbit is up. Dragon, by contrast, returns to Earth in one piece for future reuse.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.