The International Space Station’s astronauts got their Christmas presents early today, in the form of HoloLens augmented-reality headsets from Microsoft and more than 7,000 pounds of other nice stuff, courtesy of a Cygnus commercial cargo ship.
Orbital ATK’s uncrewed Cygnus arrived at the station three days after Sunday’s launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Florida. NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren used the station’s robotic arm to grab onto the 20-foot-long (5.1-meter-long) capsule at 3:19 a.m. PT and bring it in for its berthing.
In a tweet, space station commander Scott Kelly joked that the delivery arrived “just in time for Christmas.”
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) December 9, 2015
The crew will be unloading their presents over the next few weeks. The cargo includes basic necessities such as food, clothing and air replenishment tanks, microsatellites and a safety jetpack for spacewalkers, experiments to study life science and flame-resistant materials in space – and those HoloLens headsets.
The headsets will be tested out in the first phase of an experiment known as Project Sidekick: Eventually, video from HoloLens cameras will be beamed down to Mission Control so that ground operators can see what the astronauts are seeing, and provide real-time visual annotations to guide the astronauts through tasks. In a different mode, computer animations can be overlaid on what the astronauts see through the headset.
Spacefliers are getting their HoloLens rigs well before they go on sale to earthbound customers. Microsoft says the device will be released to developers starting in the first quarter of 2016.
The headsets were supposed to arrive even earlier on a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight, but they were lost along with the rest of the shipment when the Falcon 9 rocket broke up just after launch on June 28. Today marked the first U.S. delivery to the station since then. (A Japanese transport ship and two robotic Russian spacecraft sent up supplies in the interim.)
This resupply mission also marks Cygnus’ return to service after a launch failure in October 2014. That failure was traced to a flawed engine on Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket and forced the company to buy a couple of launches from United Launch Alliance. The next Cygnus is due to go up on an Atlas 5 in March, and after than Orbital ATK plans to use a new version of the Antares with different engines.
Meanwhile, there’s lots more holiday activity in store for the space station: On Friday, Lindgren and two other spacefliers are due to head back to Earth on a Russian Soyuz craft. Three new crew members are scheduled to lift off in a different Soyuz on Dec. 15. Another one of Russia’s robotic Progress craft will be heading to the station on Dec. 23. And SpaceX is planning to resume Dragon shipments to orbit in January.