NASA just set fire to a cargo ship in space

nasa cygnus cargo ship
The uncrewed Cygnus cargo ship departed the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday at the end of a 12-week stay. A while later, NASA set it on fire.

The detachment procedure was carried out mainly by NASA controllers back on Earth though ISS astronauts Tim Kopra and Tim Peake also offered some assistance during the operation.

Five hours after leaving the space station, NASA set the ship alight. No, this wasn’t a deliberate attempt to speedily dispose of Cygnus but instead part of an experiment that could help space missions both now and in the future.

Called Saffire-I, the experiment gave NASA a chance to study the effects of a realistic fire on a spacecraft. “This hasn’t been possible in the past because the risks for performing such studies on crewed spacecraft are too high,” it said in a release.

The space agency said instruments aboard the Cygnus measured flame growth, oxygen use and more, with the results hopefully leading to discoveries regarding microgravity flammability limits for various spacecraft materials. The findings could also validate NASA’s material selection criteria, and offer better understanding about how microgravity and limited oxygen affect flame size.

NASA said the experiment, which took place inside an insulated compartment within the cargo ship, was “crucial for the safety of current and future space missions.”

But despite being ejected from the ISS and set on fire, Cygnus’s work still isn’t done, as its final task is to release five Lemur CubeSats from an external deployer on June 20. These will form part of a remote sensing satellite constellation that provides global ship tracking and weather monitoring.

A couple of days later, however, Cygnus will experience an altogether more serious burning sensation as it disintegrates upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere somewhere high over the Pacific Ocean.

Among Cygnus’s cargo, delivered to the ISS in March, was a zero-gravity 3D printer for astronauts to print tools for use on board the station. As the printer technology advances, it should help shrink the size of consignments carried to cargo ships to astronauts in space, improving efficiency while at the same time opening up a range of possibilities for space companies planning future missions.

“With an onboard printer, you can build things you could never deliver – like an antenna the length of a football field that supplies broadband internet to the whole world,” Spencer Pitman, who helped develop the 3D printer, said earlier this year.

Emerging Tech

Hope it doesn’t melt! Rocket to ISS carries vital supplies — including ice cream

A rocket has launched over Virginia's eastern shore, carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Inside the spacecraft are supplies for the ISS itself and the crew onboard, such as scientific equipment and food.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX makes rocketry look easy, sticks yet another Falcon 9 landing

SpaceX is due to perform its latest Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing on November 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Here's how you can watch the proceedings live.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

Students who designed transforming smart home will compete in Solar Decathalon

Modular smart homes are all the rage, and now some students from Virginia Tech are putting their money on their FutureHAUS, a modular, solar-powered, transforming smart home they're taking to the Solar Decathlon in Dubai.
Emerging Tech

Hotter than the sun: Chinese fusion reactor claims breakthrough

China’s “artificial sun” has reached a temperature of 180 million ºF with a heating power of 10 megawatts -- six times hotter than the center of the sun. The achievement could mark progress towards fusion as a clean energy source.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s friendly new A.I wants to figure out what you want — before you ask

Move over Siri and Alexa! Microsoft wants to build a new type of virtual assistant that wants to be your friend. Already making waves in Asia, could this be the future of A.I. BFFs?
Product Review

Airselfie 2 may as well be a GoPro stapled to a drunk hummingbird

On paper, the Airselfie 2 is marketed as flying photographer that fits in your pocket and snaps selfies from the sky. Unfortunately it’s more like a HandiCam controlled by a swarm of intoxicated bumblebees
Emerging Tech

Warm up or cool down with the press of a button on the wrist-worn Embr

We review the Embr Wave, a personal heating and cooling wearable designed by a team of MIT engineers that’s now on Kickstarter. Our thoughts? It’s a little bit addictive.
Emerging Tech

‘Super-Earth’ discovered orbiting nearby star

Astronomers have discovered a large planet circling a sun nearby to Earth called Barnard's Star. The potential new planet is thought to be cold and icy and has a size of around 3.2 times the Earth.
Emerging Tech

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully tests its asteroid-sampling arm

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, launched in September 2016, is closing in on its target of the Bennu asteroid. The craft has now unfurled its robotic arm, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and tested it successfully.
Product Review

DJI has always been the king of drones, and the new Mavics are almost perfect

After flying both the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom for over a week, we’re convinced that these are two of the best drones that DJI has ever made.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…