Antares Launch Marks Start of Orbital Sciences Space Station Missions
NEWS ANALYSIS: Orbital Sciences launches a privately owned space vehicle to the International Space Station from a Virginia site, marking a series of significant accomplishments.The sound rolled louder than thunder as the Antares rocket rose majestically from Virginia’s Launch Complex 0A on Wallops Island at 10:58 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 18. The Virginia-owned Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch facility was being used by Orbital Sciences to launch an Antares cargo launch vehicle to the International Space Station less than two weeks after the same facility launched a rocket to the moon. The Antares launch vehicle carried a Cygnus spacecraft that was loaded with nearly 1,500 pounds of supplies for the Space Station. The spacecraft will first perform a number of maneuvers to demonstrate that it can approach the Space Station safely. Once that is accomplished, the spacecraft will fly in formation with the Space Station, which will then haul it to a docking port using a robotic arm. However, the rendezvous between the Cygnus spacecraft and the International Space Station has been postponed to no earlier than Saturday, Sept. 28. A NASA announcement said that a data communications problem created an initial delay of two days, but with the impending arrival of the next Soyuz spacecraft and a crew change the schedule became too tight. As a result, NASA and Orbital Sciences agreed to wait until the Soyuz operations were completed before scheduling the docking of Cygnus with the space station.
The successful launch from Wallops Island marked almost exactly 50 years from the date of the first launch of a spacecraft into orbit from the facility. It was also the heaviest payload for a resupply mission, according to NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who was present for the launch.