Orbital Sciences Corporation announced Jan. 9 it successfully launched its Antares™ medium-class rocket carrying the first of eight Cygnus™ cargo logistics spacecraft missions to the International Space Station as part of its $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.
The launch of Orbital’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft will culminate in rendezvous and berthing with the ISS at approximately 6 a.m., EST, Jan. 12.
Cygnus will deliver approximately 2,780 pounds of cargo to the Expedition 38 astronauts and remain attached to the station until February 18 before departing with approximately 2,800 pounds of disposable cargo for a safe, destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean.
Lift-off of Orbital’s Antares rocket occurred today at 1:07 p.m., EST, from 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 135 x 175 miles above the Earth, inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator. Approximately 25 minutes later, Orbital’s engineering team confirmed that reliable communications had been established and that the solar arrays were fully deployed, providing the necessary electrical power to command the spacecraft.
“It was another excellent launch of Antares, and so far, our first CRS mission is off to a great start with Cygnus operating exactly as anticipated at this early stage of the mission,” said David W. Thompson, Orbital’s president and chief executive officer. “Our team has put in a lot of hard work to get to the point of performing regular ISS cargo delivery trips for NASA. It’s an exciting day for all of us and I’m looking forward to completing this and our future CRS missions safely and successfully for our NASA customer.”
Under a $1.9 billion CRS contract with NASA, Orbital will use Antares and Cygnus to deliver up to 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS over eight missions through late 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.
Orbital privately developed the Antares launch vehicle to provide low-cost, reliable access to space for medium-class payloads. It is the largest and most complex rocket the company has ever produced. Under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services joint research and development initiative with NASA, Orbital also developed the Cygnus spacecraft, which is an advanced maneuvering vehicle that meets the stringent human-rated safety requirements for ISS operations. Together, these products showcase Orbital’s ability to apply rigorous engineering approaches and commercial business practices to significantly shorten development timelines and lower operational costs of sophisticated space systems as compared to traditional government-run programs.