Antares flies!

Antares-fliesOrbital ATK successfully launched its upgraded Antares 230 rocket carrying a Cygnus spacecraft yesterday at 7:45 p.m. EDT, marking its return to flight operations from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.

The upgraded Antares rocket includes new RD-181 engines from Energomash, a core designed by Yuzhnoye and manufactured by Yuzhmash, as well as the Castor 30XL solid rocket motor second stage that is manufactured at Orbital ATK’s facility in Magna, Utah.

This is the first flight on the upgraded Antares 230 launch vehicle, and the first launch from Wallops since an Antares rocket and its Cygnus spacecraft were lost in October 2014. It’s also the third flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft featuring a greater payload capacity, supported by new fuel tanks and UltraFlex solar arrays.

“It’s great to see launches to the International Space Station happening again from the Virginia coast – and it shows what can be accomplish with a close partnership of federal and state agencies, along with the U.S. industry, all working together,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

The launch is Orbital ATK’s sixth cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station for NASA. During the mission, designated OA-5, Cygnus will deliver vital equipment, supplies and experiments to astronauts aboard the space station, as well as conduct scientific experiments on-board Cygnus following undocking from the space station.

“Today’s success is a credit to the dedication and hard work of the Orbital ATK employees who support our Antares and Cygnus programs,” said Dave Thompson, Orbital ATK CEO. “They worked many long hours to successfully execute a plan that enabled us to continue to deliver cargo for NASA while implementing several upgrades to our Antares rocket.”


The Antares medium-class rocket launched approximately 2,400 kg (5,300 lb) of cargo to the crew of six that will be aboard the space station later this week. Following a nine-minute ascent, the S.S. Alan Poindexter spacecraft, named in honour of the late astronaut, was successfully deployed into orbit. Orbital ATK’s engineering team confirmed that reliable communications have been established and that the vehicle’s solar arrays are fully deployed, providing the necessary electrical power to operate the spacecraft.

“The Antares team has worked tirelessly over many months to prepare for this launch,” said Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group. “Congratulations to the entire Orbital ATK and NASA team on a successful launch.”

Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group, added, “As a company headquartered in Virginia, we are proud to again launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. We are well prepared to continue delivering essential cargo to the International Space Station for years to come.”

Expedition 49 astronauts Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Kate Rubins of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus at approximately 7:05 a.m. EDT on Oct. 23. The spacecraft will remain attached to the International Space Station for approximately one month before departing with roughly 1,700 kg (3,700 lb) of disposable cargo for a safe, destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. Cygnus’ large-volume and pressurized disposal cargo capability, a critical service to NASA, is unique among America’s commercial cargo providers.

The cargo aboard the Cygnus will support dozens of new and existing investigations as the space station crews of Expeditions 49 and 50 contribute to about 250 science and research studies. The new experiments include studies on fire in space, the effect of lighting on sleep and daily rhythms, collection of health-related data, and a new way to measure neutrons.

Low-temperature fires with no visible flames are known as cool flames. In previous combustion experiments aboard the space station, researchers observed cool flame burning behaviors not predicted by models or earlier investigations. The Cool Flames Investigation examines low-temperature combustion of droplets of a variety of fuels and additives in low gravity. Data from this investigation could help scientists develop more efficient advanced engines and new fuels for use in space and on Earth.

The Lighting Effects investigation tests a new lighting system aboard the station designed to enhance crew health and keep their body clocks in proper sync with a more regular working and resting schedule. The system uses adjustable light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and a dynamic lighting schedule that varies the intensity and spectrum of the LEDs in tune with sleep and wake schedules. Research has shown that enhancing certain types of light can improve alertness and performance while other types can promote better sleep.

A user-friendly tablet app provides astronauts with a new and faster way to collect a wide variety of personal data. The EveryWear investigation tests use of a French-designed technology to record and transmit data on nutrition, sleep, exercise and medications. EveryWear has potential for use in science experiments, biomedical support and technology demonstrations.

Astronauts aboard the space station are exposed to space radiation that can reduce immune response, increase cancer risk, and interfere with electronics. The Fast Neutron Spectrometer investigation will help scientists understand high-energy neutrons, part of the radiation exposure experienced by crews during spaceflight, by studying a new technique to measure electrically neutral neutron particles.

For the current Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, Cygnus is carrying the Saffire II payload experiment to study combustion behaviour in microgravity, further demonstrating its versatility in conducting science experiments in space. Data from this experiment will be downloaded via telemetry. In addition, a NanoRacks deployer will release Spire Cubesats used for weather forecasting. These secondary payload operations will be conducted after Cygnus departs the space station.

The Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the space station until November before its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of about 3,000 pounds of trash.

Under the CRS-1 contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 30,000 kg (66,000 lb) of cargo to the space station through 2018. NASA will manifest a variety of essential items based on space station program needs, including food, clothing, crew supplies, spare parts, laboratory equipment and scientific experiments.

Beginning in 2019, Orbital ATK will carry out a minimum of six initial cargo missions under NASA’s recently awarded CRS-2 contract. The partnership is cultivating a robust American commercial space industry, freeing NASA to focus on developing the next-generation rocket and spacecraft that will enable humans to conduct deep space exploration missions.

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