First Flight: Cygnus Spacecraft Ready for Resupply Mission

September 14th, 2013

Orbital Sciences Corporation has rolled out its Antares rocket. Credit: Orbital Sciences

Antares rocket is topped by Cygnus resupply spacecraft that will transfer cargo to the International Space Station. Credit: Orbital Sciences

UPDATE: Launch date slip

Following a launch review meeting held earlier this morning, Orbital’s Antares team has decided to postpone the launch of the COTS Demonstration mission from Wallops Island, VA by at least 24 hours.

The combination of yesterday’s poor weather that delayed roll-out of the rocket to the launch pad and a technical issue that was identified during a combined systems test held last night involving communications between ground equipment and the rocket’s flight computer drove the decision to delay the launch.

After comprehensive inspection and testing this morning, the problem was found and turned out to be an inoperative cable, which is being replaced. Orbital will repeat the combined systems test later today. Once that important test is successfully completed, the team will be able to proceed toward a September 18 launch.

The launch window on September 18 is from 10:50 to 11:05 a.m. (EDT)

Orbital Sciences Corporation is readying the launch of the firm’s first Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard an Antares booster.

If all stays on track, liftoff of Antares and its Cygnus spacecraft is targeted for Tuesday, September 17. The launch window lasts 15-minutes, from 11:16 to 11:31 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time).

Destination of the spacecraft: The International Space Station (ISS).

The Cygnus demonstration mission is being done under the Commercial Orbital Transportations Services (COTS) joint development program with NASA.

The rocket and its payload will depart from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Five-day checkout

Following its launch by the Antares rocket, Cygnus will conduct an extensive series of in-orbit maneuvers and demonstrations over a five-day period to verify that all onboard operating systems are functioning properly.

On its demonstration mission, Cygnus will deliver approximately 1, 543 pounds (700 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the ISS Expedition 37 crew, which will also load Cygnus with disposal cargo prior to its departure from the station, roughly 30 days later.

“This mission will mark the completion of a five-year journey that NASA and our company embarked on in 2008 to create a new medium-class rocket, a sophisticated logistics spacecraft and a world-class launch site at the Wallops Flight Facility,” said David Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in a press statement.

Scheduled missions to ISS

Following a successful COTS demonstration mission, Orbital plans to begin regularly scheduled cargo supply missions under its Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA later this year.

Orbital is currently scheduled to launch the first of eight resupply missions to the ISS as early as December.

All Commercial Resupply Services flights will originate from NASA’s Wallops base, which is geographically well suited for ISS missions and can also accommodate launches of scientific, defense and commercial satellites to other orbits.

The intent of Orbital Sciences is that the Antares medium-class launch vehicle will provide a major increase in the payload launch capability the company can provide to NASA, the U.S. Air Force and commercial customers.

The Antares rocket will launch spacecraft weighing up to 14,000 lbs. into low-Earth orbit, as well as lighter-weight payloads into higher-energy orbits.

By Leonard David