Sept. 13, Orbital Sciences Corporation rolled out its Antares™ rocket that will launch the company’s first Cygnus™ spacecraft to the International Space Station for its demonstration mission under the Commercial Orbital Transportations Services joint development program with NASA.
Orbital is currently targeting Sept. 18 for the launch during a 15-minute window from 10:16 to 11:05 a.m., EDT. During the mission, the Antares rocket will boost the Cygnus spacecraft into a parking orbit of approximately 245 x 300 kilometers in altitude, inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator.
Live coverage of the COTS demonstration mission will be available on NASA Television and at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv.
Roll-out operations began at about 2:30 a.m., with the Antares rocket first emerging from its Horizontal Integration Facility at about 3:45 a.m. this morning. The rocket was transported about one mile to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch complex, known as Pad 0A, aboard the Transporter/Erector/Launcher, a specialized vehicle that also raised the rocket to a vertical position on the launch pad and serves as a support interface between the rocket and the launch complex’s systems. By about 1:00 p.m., Antares was in a fully vertical position on the launch pad.
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 and that ground controllers at Orbital’s Mission Control Center, located at the company’s Dulles, VA campus, are able to command, control and communicate with the spacecraft as designed and extensively rehearsed. Assuming a September 17 launch, Orbital and NASA are currently targeting the morning of Sunday, September 22, for the Cygnus rendezvous, grapple and berthing operations with the ISS at an altitude of about 415 kilometers above the Earth. On its demonstration mission, Cygnus will deliver approximately 700 kilograms of cargo, including food and clothing, to the Expedition 37 crew, which will also load Cygnus with disposal cargo prior to its departure from the station approximately 30 days later.
“Today’s roll-out of the fully integrated Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft, along with this weekend’s on-pad testing and readiness review, are the final steps leading up to next week’s launch of our COTS demonstration mission,” said David W. Thompson, Orbital’s chairman and CEO. “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.”
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 CRS missions to the ISS as early as December. All CRS 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.