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Northrop Grumman to launch next Cygnus cargo ship for NASA on Feb. 20

The Northrop Grumman Cygnus NG-14 cargo spacecraft at the International Space Station on Oct. 5, 2020. Its successor, NG-15, will launch on Feb. 20, 2021.
The Northrop Grumman Cygnus NG-14 cargo spacecraft at the International Space Station on Oct. 5, 2020. Its successor, NG-15, will launch on Feb. 20, 2021. (Image credit: NASA)

Experiments with worms and artificial retinas will ship to space Feb. 20 aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft, according to a NASA announcement.

The cargo ship is scheduled to lift off no earlier than 12:36 p.m. EST (1736 GMT) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, if all goes to plan. Only a limited number of U.S. media may go on site due to quarantine protocols associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Cygnus will launch to the International Space Station aboard an Antares rocket and arrive at the orbiting lab two days later, according to NASA.

Video: Watch Northrop Grumman's NG-14 cargo ship launch!

Some of the research investigations on board Cygnus include an experiment to study muscle strength in worms, an experiment concerning how microgravity may assist with artificial retina production, and the SpaceBorne Computer-2 experiment from Hewlett Packard Enterprise. 

SpaceBorne Computer-2 "aims to demonstrate that current Earth-based data processing of space station experimental data can be performed in orbit," NASA said in the same statement. In general, processing data in space may reduce the amount of data sent to the ground, freeing communications channels for other tasks.

Cargo ships also carry essential items for spaceflyers including fresh food, equipment replacements or other items the crews may need to live in space for months at a time. After a few months, the crew fills departing Cygnus cargo ships with trash, which will burn up when the spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere.

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When the last Cygnus spacecraft left the space station in January, it carried a high-speed 5G communications experiment along with the latest iteration in a series of science experiments investigating the behavior of fire in space, called Saffire-V. NASA plans to use these fire studies to improve astronaut safety on future missions, especially those in deep space.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.