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Orbital ATK Antares Rocket ad Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft Lets Scientists Play With Fire in Space

Oct 20, 2016 05:28 AM EDT

A rocket by Orbital ATK, along with the Cygnus cargo ship will allow scientists to play with fire in space in an experiment.

Last Monday, Oct. 17, an Orbital ATK rocket was sent into space from Virginia. The rocket was carrying the Cygnus cargo spacecraft full of International Space Station (ISS) supplies payload. Aside from the usual payload, the spacecraft is also carrying unusual scientific equipment for an experiment where fire is involved.

The Cygnus will unload the payload onto the ISS and will then be sent to a course back to Earth. It will burn upon contact with the atmosphere, destroying with it the trash sent from the space station. But before that happens, scientists will trigger the equipment aboard the cargo ship that will ignite a fire inside the spacecraft.

"Understanding how fire spreads in a microgravity environment is critical to the safety of astronauts who live and work in space," a NASA official said in a press release. "And while NASA has conducted studies aboard the space shuttle and International Space Station, risks to the crew have forced these experiments to be limited in size and scope," the official added.

The fire can be observed and will not cause the destruction of the cargo ship. This is the second time an experiment like this was conducted. Last June, NASA conducted the same experiment. The agency said that experiments like these are vital in deep space explorations.

"Our first spacecraft fire safety test is complete! Understanding how fire spreads in a microgravity environment is critical to the safety of astronauts who are on the Journey to Mars," a NASA official said in a statement.

The last experiment is the second installation of the series of tests and is called Saffire-II. Scientists will ignite a fire inside a four-foot long controlled box. Many different materials will be burned inside the controlled environment to be able to study different reaction. This experiment will help scientists understand how fire behaves in outer space and in microgravity. This is vital in NASA's deep space exploration especially the journey to Mars. Based on the former experiments aboard the ISS, scientists found out that fire in space can burn in a low and cool level, according to a report.

Cygnus is expected to dock with the ISS this coming Sunday, Oct. 23, right after the three new ISS crew arrive on Friday. The crew will unload the Cygnus and will be sent back to its course a few days after. 

Aside from delivering goods to the ISS, Cygnus will also serve as a better experimentation venue in microgravity instead of the ISS, for a safer and wider scope in the study of fire in microgravity.


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