NG-15 Cygnus CRS-2 (S.S. Katherine Johnson) | Antares 230+

Lift-off time
February 20, 2021 – 17:36:50 UTC | 12:36:50 EST
Mission Name
NG-15, an orbital resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS)
Launch Provider
(What rocket company launched it?)
Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems 
(Who paid for this?)
Antares 230+
Launch Location
Launch Pad 0A, Wallops Island, Virginia, USA
Payload mass
~3,600 kg (~ 8,000 lb)
Where did the spacecraft go?
Low Earth Orbit (LEO), rendezvousing with the International Space Station (ISS) at around 400 km
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
No, this is not a capability of Northrop Grumman
Where did the first stage land?
It crashed into the ocean off the coast of Virginia, USA
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
No, this is not a capability of Northrop Grumman
Were these fairings new?
This was the:
– 14th launch of an Antares rocket
– 9th launch of an Antares 230 series rocket
– 1st launch for Northrop Grumman in 2021
– 13th orbital launch of 2021
Where to watch
NASA Livestream
Northrop Grumman’s Antares 230+ rocket powersliding off the launchpad in high ground level winds during the NG-15 mission. (Credit: NASA)

How did it go?

Northrop Grumman’s Antares 230+ rocket lifted off on February 20, 2021 at 17:36:50 UTC from Launch Pad 0A, Wallops Island, Virginia, USA. The NG-15 Cygnus spacecraft rendezvoused with the ISS on February 22, 2021, was captured by Soichi Noguchi at 09:38 UTC and shortly after that berthed to the Unity module by mission control. On board are nearly 3,600 kg (~ 8,000 lbs) of crew supplies, science experiments and hardware for the ISS.

Northrop Gumman’s NG-15 mission patch. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Payloads on NG-15

NG-15 marked Northrop Gumman’s 15th ISS resupply mission. On board are a variety of research experiments, hardware, and crew supplies, such as clothing or food. Overall, Cygnus carried around 3,600 kg (~ 8,000 lb) of cargo. The following is only a selection of more than 20 payloads that hitched a ride up to the ISS.

Cygnus spacecraft
An advanced Cygnus spacecraft captured by the Canadarm (Credit: NASA)


Micro-16 is an experiment that aims to further understand the cause of muscle weakening that astronauts experience in microgravity. In order to figure out if decreased expression of muscle proteins is associated with muscle weakening, researchers study C. elegans worms moving around a microscope slide filled with rubber pillars. Researchers can then determine the strength of the worms by how much force they apply to the pillars while moving around. The results could also support new therapies targeting age-related muscle loss on Earth.

An adult C. elegans moving around small pillars inside of a microscope slide. (Credit: Texas Tech University)

RT Protein Crystal Growth 2

The Real-Time Protein Crystal Growth 2 experiment will offer an opportunity to further study, monitor, and optimize protein crystal growth in microgravity. The structure of protein crystals is often closely related to their function in the human body. Therefore, growing protein crystals and studying their structures often leads to understanding the function and effects of it. While on Earth, protein crystal growth is often difficult to achieve, due to Earth’s gravity interfering, whereas the microgravity environment on the ISS negates gravity from the equations. Researchers hope to get a better understanding of growing protein crystals to identify possible targets for future drugs to fight certain diseases.

Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing

With the Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing experiment, LambdaVision aims to evaluate an artificial retina manufacturing system on their second flight to the ISS. This manufacturing system uses a light activated protein to replace the function of damaged cells in the eye. LambdaVision hopes to “gather more critical information on the overall design of the system and influence of microgravity on the layering process, as well as the necessary controls required to support good manufacturing processes.” – Nicole Wagner, Ph.D., president and CEO of LambdaVision.


Astronauts often report sleeping better while being on the International Space Station than while being on Earth. ESA’s (European Space Agency) Dreams experiment will add one step to the astronauts’ night routine, a Dry-EEG headband. This EEG will serve as a technology demonstration, as well as a way to monitor the sleep quality during long-duration missions. Researchers can then analyze the results with direct feedback from the astronauts. Overall, a better understanding of sleep in microgravity adds to the better understanding of human health in microgravity.

Spaceborne Computer-2

Spaceborne Computer-2 aims to further decrease scientists’ time-to-insight from months to only minutes. Due to the higher levels of radiation, leading to a prioritization of reliability over performance, raw information is often send down to Earth for further analysis instead of being processed on station. Spaceborne Computer-2 plans to demonstrate reliable processing of raw data on orbit with commercial off-the-shelf computer systems. While sending information to Earth for further analysis is viable for LEO and the Moon, it is not for future deep space missions that will need reliable and high performance capabilities to process data.

The Spaceborne Computer-2 pictured prior to launch. (Credit: NASA)

Exploration ECLSS: Brine Processor System

The Exploration ECLSS: Brine Processor System aims to demonstrate recovery of additional water from the Urine Processor Assembly in order to further increase the current percentage of recoverable water on the ISS. In order to achieve the 98% of water recovery that is needed for long-duration crewed exploration missions, the brine processor’s dual membrane bladder allows water vapor to pass through while filtering out contaminants.


The Artemis HERA on Space Station (A-HoSS) investigation aims to validate the primary radiation detection system for the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis program. The Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (HERA) was modified for the use on the ISS and will have to operate for at least 30 days without any errors to validate the system for crewed flight in upcoming Artemis missions. It will first be put to use on the Artemis II mission that will orbit the Moon.

Photo documentation of ISS HERA taken aboard the International Space Station (ISS). (Credit: NASA)

NG-15, S.S. Katherine Johnson

Northrop Grumman has a practice of naming their Cygnus spacecrafts after trailblazing individuals that contributed to the accomplishments of human spaceflight. The previous Cygnus spacecraft, NG-14, was named after Kalpana Chawla, who died in the Columbia disaster.

NG-15 is named after Katherine Johnson. Katherine Johnson was born on August 26, 1918 and died on February 24, 2020 at the age of 101. During her 35 year career at NASA, she calculated the orbital mechanics and trajectories of various US missions to space, such as Alan Shepard’s first mission to space and John Glenn’s first flight to orbit. Furthermore, she worked on the rendezvous of the Apollo lunar module and command module and her calculations were essential for the Space Shuttle program. Kathrine Johnson’s work was honored by a variety of awards and medals. In 2015, Johnson received the highest civilian award in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she received NASA’s Silver Snoopy award, followed by the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019. With her work, she inspired generations of African American women and paved the way for desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

Katherine Johnson photographed at her desk at Langley Research Center in 1966. (Credit: NASA)

The Antares 230+

The Antares 230+ is a two stage expendable rocket that can carry up to 8,000 kg (~17,600 lb) into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). With dimensions of 42.5 m (~139 ft) and 3.9 m (~13 ft), the Antares 230+ is about the same height and diameter as the first stage of SpaceX’ Falcon 9. With two Russian RD-181 engines on the first stage, the rocket lifts off the pad with 3,844 kN (~864,000 lbf). Its first stage is propelled by Rocket Propellant 1 (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOX). The second stage on the other hand is a Castor-30XL solid rocket motor. Fueled by hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) and aluminum, it produces 474 kN (~107,000 lbf) of thrust.

Antares 230+
An Antares 230+ rocket prior to liftoff of the CRS-2 NG-13 mission. (Credit: NASA)

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