Antares Launch Marks Start of Orbital Sciences Space Station Missions

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-09-18 Print this article Print

Currently, Orbital is the only company using the Virginia-owned facility. NASA owns its own launch pads that are adjacent to Pad 0A, and maintains a frequent series of its own launches from those.

Launch pads 0A and 0B were built by Virginia and placed into operation in 2006. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell told eWEEK in an interview that the state sees space transportation as critical to Virginia’s business environment. Because of this the state has established a number of tax incentives for businesses that use the spaceport. McDonnell said that the Wallops Island facility is the responsibility of the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Shortly after launch, the rocket gathered speed, and then blasted its way into the upper atmosphere. The first stage separated about five minutes after launch. It coasted briefly while the first stage fell away, then the second stage fired, launching the Cygnus spacecraft the rest of the way into orbit. The Cygnus spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle 20 minutes after launch, at which point it was already in orbit. Three minutes later the Cygnus deployed its solar arrays and began its independent operations.

The spacecraft carried food, clothing and other supplies to Space Station astronauts. In addition, Cygnus carried seven student experiments, the culmination of the work of nearly 7,000 students in various grades.

Once the spacecraft docks with the Space Station, astronauts will unload the cargo and experiments. Included are some personal items from the astronauts’ families and some mission patches and stickers from Orbital Sciences. “We hope Space-X will bring them back for us,” Culbertson joked.

The launch of Antares and Cygnus was the final step in approving the Orbital spacecraft for commercial use in making supply runs to the Space Station. Once this mission is complete, “There’s nothing else standing in the way,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s commercial crew and cargo manager.

After the Space Station astronauts unload the Cygnus spacecraft, they will then begin filling it with trash. Once it’s filled, the spacecraft will be sent back to Earth to burn up over the Indian Ocean. Orbital’s Cygnus is designed to be disposable, unlike the reusable Dragon spacecraft flown by Space-X. During a post-launch press conference, Culbertson noted that the spacecraft developed by the two companies are designed for different purposes, with Cygnus able to handle more cargo, but not being able to land back on Earth.

The next launch from Wallops Island will be an Orbital Sciences Minotaur I rocket in November. The Minotaur I rocket is similar to the Minotaur V rocket used for the recent lunar launch, also at Wallops Island.

Editor's Note: This story was updated with the news that NASA and Orbital Sciences decided to delay the docking of the Cygnus capsule and the space station until Sept. 28 at the earliest.


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