In the Spotlight

Primary structure completed for Northrop Grumman’s next generation of Cygnus pressurized cargo modules

In the Spotlight

Primary structure completed for Northrop Grumman’s next generation of Cygnus pressurized cargo modules

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    Conceived in the 2000s, the first Cygnus pressurized cargo modules (PCM) were designed and built to ferry supplies to the International Space Station in the so-called standard version, with a payload capacity of 2,750 kg and a volume of 18 m3.

    The Cygnus spacecraft comprises two main sections: a Service Module from Northrop Grumman, responsible for supplying the service to NASA, and a PCM developed and built by Thales Alenia Space. Cygnus typically makes two trips a year to the International Space Station, ferrying food, water, spares, repairs and science experiments to the crew.

    This initial configuration was the norm until the Cygnus developed for the OA-4 mission. From the fifth mission onward, the design and cargo capacity evolved significantly, with a larger version, able to hold 3,750 kg and a volume of 27 m3. This enhanced configuration is the largest resupply capacity to the ISS, most recently used for the NG-20 mission at the end of January.

    Inside Thales Alenia Space’s clean rooms, engineers are currently completing the Cygnus for NG-21, where final system verification and testing are underway to ready for delivery to Northrop Grumman in May 2024. In the meantime, work continues to complete PCM 22, already undergoing integration in the clean room.

    But more new developments are on the way!

    Cygnus - new design at Thales Alenia Space

    © Thales Alenia Space

    In accordance with NASA and Northrop Grumman’s schedule, a new expanded Cygnus primary structure has been successfully completed at Thales Alenia Space. This version has the capacity to transport payloads of up to 5,000 kg with a volume of 36 m3. This autumn will see the pressure test, the first major test activity designed to verify the module’s structural integrity, after which assembly, integration and testing (AIT) can begin for delivery in 2025.

    Thales Alenia Space is building and delivering up to 25 Cygnus PCMs for our client, an unprecedented series dedicated to crewed space operations and exploration.

    “We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past 15+ years on the Cygnus program, and of our longstanding partnership with Northrop Grumman,” said Walter Cugno, VP for Exploration and Science, Thales Alenia Space. “Cygnus, based on its design evolutions, embodies the heightened ambitions of long-duration crewed space exploration missions. These evolutions are being driven by state-of-the art-technologies, paving the way for commercial service and resupply of present and future orbital infrastructures in low Earth and cislunar orbits.”