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Cygnus cargo ship makes it to ISS with blanketed solar panel

'Acoustic blanket' cuts power by 50 percent

An Cygnus cargo ship has successfully made it to the International Space Station despite the failure of half its solar panel array.

The Cygnus vehicle, built by Northrop Grumman and named S.S. Sally Ride – after the late physicist and first American woman to fly to space in 1983 – was launched atop the company's Antares 230+ rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia on Monday. 

Mission Control later discovered one of its two solar panels did not deploy properly. Engineers gave up trying to correct the issue and said the spacecraft had enough power to reach the ISS in its less than ideal state. Thankfully they were right, and as it got closer astronaut Nicole Mann brought it in using the space station's Canadarm2 robotic arm on Wednesday at 0520 ET (1020 UTC).

"During a rocket stage separation event, debris from an Antares acoustic blanket became lodged in one of the Cygnus solar array mechanisms, preventing it from opening," Cyrus Dhalla, vice president and general manager, Tactical Space Systems at Northrop Grumman, said in a statement. "Successful berthing was achieved thanks to Cygnus's robust design and the resilience and ingenuity of the NASA and Northrop Grumman teams."

The Cygnus cargo ship carries 3719.5kg (8,200 pounds) of cargo and science experiments The experiments include: human heart cells and a partial human knee meniscus (astronauts will be using a 3D bioprinter to help scientists compare differences between human tissues printed in microgravity and on Earth); bovine ovarian cells (which could one day improve fertility treatments in space); mudflow samples (which will be studied to understand how mudflows after wildfires can knock heavy boulders and debris downhill and destroy buildings); and three cubesats.

The cubesats will be launched to observe Earth and agricultural growth. Cygnus also brought a mounting bracket, which astronauts will attach to the starboard side of the station's truss assembly during a spacewalk scheduled next week. The instrument will also be used to install a new set of solar arrays later in the year.

The vehicle will remain attached to the ISS until January and be filled with garbage before it is sent back towards Earth to be destroyed upon reentry into the atmosphere. ®

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