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Orbital's Antares launches cool science experiments to space

Don't call it a comeback.
Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
October 18, 2016
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NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA and Orbital ATK had to put off Antares' comeback until the next day due to a glitch, but everything went well the second try. The rocket finally blasted off to space carrying a Cygnus spacecraft with supplies for the ISS, as well as a bunch of cool scientific experiments. One of its science payloads is the Saffire 2, the follow-up to the largest fire experiment conducted outside our planet. Saffire 2 will burn nine samples made of various materials aboard the Cygnus as it makes its way back to Earth. That will allow scientists to compare their flammability in microgravity to their flammability on the ground. The data they collect could help keep future spacefarers safe when they embark on long-duration missions.

Another one will investigate the "cool flames" phenomenon, wherein some fuels burn intensely at first then suddenly appear to go out. In truth, they're still burning -- we just can't see the flames with the naked eye. By looking closely into cool flames, NASA will be able to create more efficient engines and eco-friendly fuels.

Cygnus is also carrying a new lighting system designed to help astronauts maintain their biological clock and to help them be alert at all times. There's a Fast Neutron Spectrometer aboard, as well, which will collect data on high-energy neutrons, part of the radiation astronauts' bodies experience. The spacecraft will reach the ISS on October 23rd and will be coming back in late November, so we'll have to wait till then to hear about Saffire 2's results.

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