2Loading the Supplies
Engineers from Orbital Sciences load the supplies that will be carried to the Space Station into the Cygnus spacecraft. Nearly 1,500 pounds of supplies ranging from food and clothing to science experiments are placed inside the spacecraft before it’s sealed for delivery to the Space Station. This spacecraft is named “Spaceship G. David Low” in honor of the former astronaut and Orbital executive who died in 2005. Photo: Orbital Sciences Corp.
3Mating Season for Antares and Cygnus
Once Cygnus is loaded with supplies, the spacecraft, along with its rocket thrusters is mated to the Antares launch vehicle in an assembly building at Wallops Island. Here, the two vehicles are joined for the first time and technicians run an initial systems check of the entire assembly. They are held together with frangible rings that readily break free for staging after launch. When this is finished, the combined spacecraft will be rolled out to the launch pad. Photo: Orbital Sciences Corp.
4Rolling Out the Launch Vehicle
The fully prepared Antares launch vehicle with Cygnus attached is loaded on a transporter and rolled out to Launch Pad 0A on Wallops Island. This is the same launch pad that held the Minotaur V spacecraft a few days before when it was sent on a lunar mission. The rollout took place a week before the launch date. Photo: Orbital Sciences Corp.
5Everything in Its Proper Place
It’s the morning after the rollout, and Orbital starts the process of putting Antares and Cygnus on to the newly renovated Launch Pad 0A. The launch of the Minotaur V to the moon a few days before required that maintenance teams quickly clean the launch pad and repair any damage. The launch pad, which is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia, is designed for this sort of quick turnaround, something most other launch facilities can’t do. Photo: Orbital Sciences Corp.
6Making the Final Pre-Flight Check-Out
7Antares Is Ready for Launch
Now it’s the morning before the launch as the sun rises over Virginia’s eastern shore highlighting a new commercial spacecraft that’s passed all of its system tests and is waiting for the final orders to launch into space and travel to the International Space Station. The launch was delayed by a day because of weather and a failed communications cable. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls
8The Countdown Begins
9And We Have Liftoff
Antares completes its ignition sequence and flame erupts slowly at first beneath the rocket; then the hold-down bolts release, and the ascent begins slowly at first as Antares gathers its strength as it eases into the sky. This is when the sound hits you, and despite efforts by the engineers to control the noise, it consumes everything but the sight of the spacecraft lifting on a pillar of fire. Photo: Wayne Rash/eWEEK
10Antares Heads for the International Space Station
11The Second Stage Ignites to Boost Cygnus Into Orbit
It’s a few minutes after launch, and the fuel in the first stage of Antares is exhausted. The first stage separates from the second stage, leaving a smoke ring in its wake as the second stage solid rocket booster ignites to take the spacecraft the rest of the way into orbit. There was a five-second delay between the staging and when the second stage ignites to allow the stage to be released and to drop clear. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls
12An Optimal Flight
An hour after Antares reaches orbit, NASA and Orbital hold a press conference to let us all know that the launch was as close to perfect as launches get. Seated from left to right before a photo of the launch are NASA Public Affairs Officer Josh Byerly, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Manager Alan Lindenmoyer and Orbital Executive Vice President and former Space Station Commander and Astronaut Frank Culbertson. Culbertson noted that the orbit achieved by Cygnus was “about two kilometers” higher than expected. Photo: Wayne Rash /eWEEK
13Exit Left to the Space Station
When the same agency that is responsible for a state’s highways also runs its spaceport, the two personalities sometimes merge. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport belongs to the Virginia Department of Transportation, which also maintains the state’s highway. So naturally, there needs to be an exit sign on the highway. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls