The six person crew of the International Space Station eagerly greeted the first Orbital Science Corp’s re-supply mission flown under the terms of an eight-flight $1.9 billion Commercial Crisply Services agreement early Sunday.
The astronauts opened the supply capsule at 12:17 p.m., EST, well ahead of schedule, and began to unload a 2,780 pound cargo that included clothing and other provisions; science and experiment hardware; computer equipment; and spacewalk tools. Dulles,Va., based Orbital shipped an assortment of fresh food and belated holiday gifts as well.
U. S. and Japanese astronauts Mike Hopkins and Koichi Wakata grappled the 10,000 Cygnus capsule, dubbed “Orb-1″, using the station’s 58-foot-long Canadian built robot arm at 6:08 a.m., then maneuvered it to a berthing with the U. S segment Harmony module at 8:05 a.m., Initially, the hatch opening was not planned until Monday.
The capsule, named in honor of the former NASA astronaut and test pilot C. Gordon Fullerton, was launched Thursday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Va. NASA gave Orbital the green light to begin commercial deliveries following a successful demonstration mission carried out last fall under the banner of the space agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program.
With Sunday’s Orb-1 berthing, NASA can now rely on an active two party commercial re-supply service for the six person station, SpaceX, ofHawthorne,Calif., as well as Orbital.
Orb-1 also represents the first of at least eight cargo missions anticipated this year and launched byRussia, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration agency as well as Orbital and SpaceX. The busy traffic schedule is intended to support a ramp up of scientific research and development activity aboard the orbital outpost. About 200 multi national experiments are underway aboard the station’s laboratory modules at any one time.
“Our first mission under the CRS contract with NASA was flawlessly executed by our An tares and Cygnus operations team, from the picture-perfect launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to the rendezvous, capture and berthing at the space station this morning,” said David W. Thompson, Orbiter’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts.”
The Orbital mission was initially slated for a pre-Christmas lift off. However, a Dec. 11 thermal control system problem aboard the station prompted a delay for a pair of unscheduled NASA spacewalks by Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio to make repairs. That was followed by a delaying January cold snap and fleeting concerns over radiation levels in Earth orbit last week attributed to a spike in solar activity.