January 13, 2014
Credit: Nanoracks LLC
Launch of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares/Cygnus combo loaded with cargo for the International Space Station underscores the growing commercialization of the orbiting outpost.
The Jan. 9 launch was the first under Orbital's $1.9 billion, eight-flight Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, which will deliver 20 tons of supplies and scientific gear to the ISS. Among the transported freight was a commercial fleet of tiny Earth-observation satellites built by a well-funded Silicon Valley startup with deep roots in the next-generation idealism of the “New Space” movement.
Planet Labs paid NanoRacks—a pioneer in commercial use of the station (AW&ST July 22, 2013, p. 28)—to distribute its 28 Dove nanosats into orbit from the “porch” of Japan's Kibo laboratory module with the cubesat dispenser it has there. The two companies represent the vanguard of a growing commercial presence that NASA hopes will help defray the cost of operations as the private sector becomes aware of the unique benefits afforded by a manned laboratory in space.