(by David Millward, London’s Daily Telegraph) – Around 800 ants are being launched into space to examine their foraging patterns.
Eight ant habitats, each carrying around 100 ants, formed part of the payload of unmanned Cygnus cargo spacecraft when it left NASA’s flight facility in Wallops, Virginia on Thursday.
The ants are one of a number of payloads on the mission, which is also being used to resupply the International Space Station.
It is one of eight missions being carried out by Orbital, a private company which has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA.
BioServe Space Technologies, which is carrying out the Ants in Space experiment, is one of a number of companies and organizations which will be using some of the spare capacity on the Cygnus.
The aim is to see how ants’ behavior changes in microgravity.
“When ant densities are high, each ant thoroughly searches one small area in a circular, ‘random’ walk,” said Stefanie Countryman, the program director.
“When ant densities are low, each ant searches by walking in a relatively straight line, allowing it to cover more ground.”
In a second experiment the effectiveness of antibiotic drugs will be tested on E-coli bacteria in space.
It is hoped that identifying the genes which resist antibiotics could lead to the lead to the development of more effective drugs.
The Cygnus will also carry a flock of 28 mini-satellites, known as Doves. No bigger than a [loaf of bread], the Doves will be capable of producing more images of earth from space at a faster rate than existing satellites. They have been developed in San Francisco by Planet Labs, a company whose founders include Will Marshall, a Briton and Oxford graduate.
The Doves have a variety of uses including enabling major commercial organizations to get real-time images of their property across the globe.
They can also help track climate change, crop disease, deforestation and wildfires as well as aiding humanitarian relief by providing swift images of disaster zones to help in targeting emergency aid.
The Cygnus was finally launched – in the third attempt – after a series of delays mainly caused by solar flares, which it was feared could interfere with the electronics and communications equipment on the Antares rocket which is being used to carry the Cygnus. [see “Background” below for more] On Thursday, the liftoff time from Wallops Island, Virginia was 1:10 pm (EST), allowing the cargo ship to reach the ISS by January 12.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. From a Telegraph news report, with excerpts added from the Daily Mail article. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Daily Telegraph.
1. What is Orbital?
2. What is Cygnus?
3. Describe the cargo Cygnus is carrying on its first mission.
4. List the two experiments being carried to the ISS by Cygnus. Describe the purpose of each.
5. How will the Dove mini-satellites be used?
6. How did solar flares affect the launch of Cygnus?
from an Agence France-Presse report:
- Orbital and SpaceX are two private companies that have stepped in to ensure the United States’ ability to reach the ISS, after the retirement of the 30-year space shuttle program in 2011.
- Orbital has a contract with NASA worth 1.9 billion dollars for eight cargo resupply missions to the global space lab.
- SpaceX, owned by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, became the first commercial entity to reach the space station with its Dragon cargo ship in 2012, and has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.
- Unlike SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Cygnus cannot return to Earth intact but will burn up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of any unwanted cargo.
Orbital develops and manufactures small- and medium-class rockets and space systems for commercial, military and civil government customers. The company’s primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including low-Earth orbit, geosynchronous-Earth orbit and planetary exploration spacecraft for communications, remote sensing, scientific and defense missions; human-rated space systems for Earth-orbit, lunar and other missions; ground- and air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles. Orbital also provides satellite subsystems and space-related technical services to U.S. Government agencies and laboratories. (from orbital .com)
SOLAR FLARES CAUSE DELAY:
- Turbulent space weather forced Orbital Sciences on Wednesday to postpone the launch of its unmanned Cygnus spacecraft on a supply mission to the International Space Station.
- The company rescheduled for Thursday to launch its cargo ship atop an Antares rocket, carrying 2,780 pounds of gear including science experiments, supplies and hardware.
- The delay was due to what NASA described as “the first significant” solar flare of the year, causing increased levels of space radiation that might have damaged the spacecraft’s electronics. The space agency said the potent X-class solar flare erupted on Tuesday, January 7 at 1:32 pm (EST).
- Solar flares are bursts of magnetic energy that originate on the Sun, unleashing radiation that can briefly disrupt radio signals and GPS and satellite communications.
- “Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground,” NASA said.
- Orbital said in a statement the delay was “due to an unusually high level of space radiation.” The levels “exceeded by a considerable margin the constraints imposed on the mission to ensure the rocket’s electronic systems are not impacted by a harsh radiation environment.”
- On Thursday, the liftoff time from Wallops Island, Virginia was 1:10 pm (EST), allowing the cargo ship to reach the ISS by January 12.
- Orbital’s attempt was previously delayed in December due to a cooling system breakdown at the ISS, which required American astronauts to make two spacewalks in order to replace an ammonia cooling pump.
- When the launch goes ahead, it will mark the company’s first regularly contracted mission and its second trip to the orbiting outpost, coming on the heels of a successful demonstration launch in September.
- That mission proved “that the company can reliably carry out regularly scheduled operational missions to the ISS for NASA,” said David Thompson, Orbital’s chairman and chief executive officer.
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