An Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket and Cygnus re-supply craft lifted off Wednesday for the International Space Station, marking the inauguration of a second U. S. cargo service for the six person orbiting science lab.
Cygnus and a 1,500 pound cargo of food, clothing and office supplies is expected to rendezvous with the space station early Sunday. European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg will be posted at the controls of the orbiting lab’s Canadian robot arm to grapple Cygnus as it closes within 35 feet just before 8 a.m., EDT. If all goes well, Cygnus should be berthed to the station’s U. S. segment about 9:30 a.m., EDT.
Orbital Sciences’ two stage Antares rocket rose from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Space Porton Virginia’s eastern shore at 10:58 a.m., climbing to the Northeast over theAtlantic Ocean. The 10 minute ascent appeared flawless, delivering Cygnus to its initial average orbital altitude of 168 miles.
Maneuvers during the rendezvous period will set the cargo ship on a trajectory to reach the 260 mile high space station.
“This is another historic day for commercial space,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, which was established to foster the development of private sector re-supply providers. The task was handled by NASA’s shuttle program until the winged orbiters were retired in mid-2011.
“You operated flawlessly,” Lindenmoyer congratulated Orbital Sciences.
“This is a very exciting day for us,” said Frank Culbertson, Orbital Sciences executive vice president. “This is hard. The systems are complex. But it all came together. This is the way we will have to operate in the future. We will pump then out as fast as NASA needs them.”
Orbital is completing the critical demonstration phase of a $288 million, 5 1/2 year partnership with NASA under the COTS program. With success, Orbital qualifies for a $1.9 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) agreement forged in late 2008 for eight future missions. The first of those is tentatively scheduled to lift off in December.
SpaceX, NASA’s first COTS nurtured commercial re-supply provider, carried out a similar mission in March 2012. A pair of SpaceX CRS deliveries followed under a $1.6 billion, 12 mission NASA contract, also forged in late 2008.
Cygnus is scheduled to remain berthed with the space station for 30 days, then depart for an eventual destructive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
In all, Orbital Sciences, working from its Dulles, Va., offices, and NASA’s Mission Control will watch over 10 scheduled in-flight milestones from lift off to the unberth. The most critical of those unfold between the lift off and Sunday’s scheduled rendezvous.
Orbital has named the Cygnus mission for G. David Low, a former company executive and NASA shuttle astronaut who died of cancer in 2008.
“From Orbital’s perspective this has been a really great partnership,” said Culbertson.
Antares, which launched for the first time in April, will enter the market place for launches of science, military and commercial payloads, he said.