Orbital Sciences Corporation, one of the world’s leading space technology companies, announced Sept. 18 that it successfully launched its Antares rocket carrying the company’s Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft into its intended orbit.
The successful launch marked the beginning of a four-day in-orbit capabilities demonstration mission that will culminate in rendezvous and berthing with the International Space Station Sept. 22. Cygnus will deliver approximately 1,500 pounds of cargo and remain attached to the ISS for 30 days before departing with up to 1,750 pounds of disposal cargo.
Lift-off of Orbital’s Antares rocket occurred at approximately 10:58 a.m., EDT, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. Following a 10-minute ascent, the Cygnus spacecraft was successfully deployed by the Antares upper stage and placed into its intended orbit of about 180 x 160 miles above the Earth, inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator. Approximately 20 minutes later, Orbital’s Cygnus engineers confirmed that reliable communications had been established and that the solar arrays were fully deployed, providing the necessary electrical power to command the spacecraft.
“We are very pleased with the early operations of the COTS demonstration mission, beginning with another on-the-mark launch by Antares. The Cygnus spacecraft appears to be fully healthy and operating as expected during this early phase of its mission,” said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Over the next few days, our Cygnus team, together with our NASA partners, will conduct an extensive series of in-orbit tests to verify the performance of the spacecraft before attempting the rendezvous and berthing operations with the space station. There is clearly still a lot of work in front of us, but the mission looks like it is off to a great start.”
This demonstration flight is the final milestone in Orbital’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services joint research and development initiative with NASA. Under COTS, NASA and Orbital developed Cygnus, which meets the stringent human-rated safety requirements for ISS operations. Orbital privately developed the Antares launch vehicle to provide low-cost, reliable access to space for medium-class payloads. Together, these elements are being used for the demonstration flight of Orbital’s commercial resupply capability to the ISS.
Pending the successful completion of the COTS program, Orbital will begin regularly scheduled cargo delivery missions to the ISS under the $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. Under the CRS contract, Orbital will deliver approximately 20,000 kilograms of cargo to the ISS over eight missions through 2016. For these missions, NASA will manifest a variety of essential items based on ISS program needs, including food, clothing, crew supplies, spare parts and equipment, and scientific experiments.