By Jonathan Stroud
Monday Nov. 21, 2016 the Cygnus spacecraft departed the International Space Station (ISS) to complete the remainder of its mission before being intentionally destroyed by Earth’s atmosphere during reentry.
After delivering supplies to the ISS, the Cygnus undocked and began the Saffire-II phase of the mission. The Saffire-II is a controlled fire burn experiment intended to help further scientist’s understanding of how flames react in microgravity.
During the pre-launch press conference, which Journalists For Space attended, scientists explained the payload and experiments aboard the Cygnus spacecraft.
Scientist, Jintendra Joshi, explained, “One of the least understood risks in space is how a fire starts, how it propagates, how you will detect the fire, and how you put it out.”
Fire responds very differently in space than compared to when it’s on the ground. On Earth, gases rise from the fire, drawing oxygen and push the combustion outwards. In microgravity, the hot gases don’t respond the same way. Known as “molecular diffusion,” the lack of gravity causes the flame to act differently which can have huge implications for how astronauts deal with fires in space. The samples used in the experiment include a cotton-fiberglass blend, Nomex materials, and acrylic glass.
The Saffire-II controlled-fire experiment was designed to begin after leaving the ISS and before reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Cygnus is scheduled to re-enter the atmosphere on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
Check out the video below to learn more about the Saffire-II experiment:
Why Should I Care?
You should care because fire is extremely dangerous in space since spaceships are closed-off habitats with little room to escape. By better understanding how fire responds in microgravity, NASA can create proper protection procedures that could save astronauts during deep-space travel.
Why Is This Cool?
This is cool because the Saffire-II will be the largest flame test in microgravity to date. Prior tests onboard the ISS have been constrained to small areas.
The Cygnus carried approximately 5,290 lbs (2,400 kg) of supplies and experiments to the ISS as part of Orbital ATK’s sixth Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) contract with NASA. Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply mission is currently scheduled for Spring 2017.
Check out a video of the Cygnus departing the ISS below:
Make sure to keep up with the latest ISS developments and space-related content at Journalists For Space.