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Northrop Grumman's cargo capsule departs space station

Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo craft departed the International Space Station on Monday. File Photo courtesy of NASA
Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo craft departed the International Space Station on Monday. File Photo courtesy of NASA

May 11 (UPI) -- A Northrop Grumman cargo capsule departed the International Space Station at 12:09 p.m. EDT Monday, carrying trash and science experiments, and bound for a fiery destructive re-entry.

The Cygnus capsule will spend the next two weeks in orbit, releasing small experimental satellites and hosting an experiment on how fire behaves in microgravity. Northrop flight controllers will send signals to the uncrewed spacecraft to make it descend and burn up.

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Northrop designed the capsule to accept trash from the space station after delivering cargo, to burn up in the atmosphere after leaving. This mission had 4,500 pounds of trash on board as the capsule departed, 263 miles above the Earth.

Because the last leg of the unmanned Cygnus is doomed, anyway, NASA researcher Gary Ruff said it is "the perfect vehicle for us to do what we really want to do, which is burn larger samples."

"It goes away and nobody's on it," Ruff said.

The capsule, named after the first African-American astronaut Robert H. Lawrence, arrived at the space station Feb. 18 after launch aboard an Antares rocket from Virginia with supplies and science experiments.

The departure of the capsule from the space station is automatic, initiated by ground control, with observation from astronaut Chris Cassidy aboard the space station.

The capsule carried 8,000 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies and hardware to the space station.

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