January 09, 2014
Crewmembers on the International Space Station are set to get 2,780 lb. of science experiments and fresh supplies early Sunday, after Orbital Sciences Corp.’s new Antares launch vehicle orbited the company’s Cygnus cargo carrier in a delayed launch Thursday afternoon.
Liftoff of the Antares from its custom-built pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore came at 1:07 p.m. EST, and the spacecraft separated into its target orbit 10 min. later. Solar array deployment followed shortly afterward.
It was the first commercial launch for Orbital under its eight-flight, $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA, following a successful demonstration last year. The mission, designated Orbital-1 by NASA, was delayed late last year while the ISS crew replaced a pump module in one of the station’s two main cooling loops, and again on Wednesday by unacceptably high radiation levels in space following a solar flare on Tuesday.
Also in the pressurized Cygnus vehicle are 28 3U commercial Earth-observation cubesats built by Planet Labs, a San Francisco startup that plans to market always-on global imagery coverage in the 3-5-meter resolution range. The spacecraft will be distributed in a string-of-pearls configuration by the Nanoracks cubesat dispenser on the exterior “porch” of Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.