Critical Cygnus Return to Flight Mission via Atlas V Set to Restore US Cargo Launches to ISS – Watch Live

Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 spacecraft poised for blastoff to ISS on ULA Atlas V on Dec. 3, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In the shadow of the spanking new commercial crew access tower that our astronauts will soon ascend to restore America’s human access to space, the first ever Atlas V rocket that will launch a commercial Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) is poised for blastoff on Thursday, December 3, from the Florida Space Coast and resume the train of critically needed American cargo launches to the orbiting science laboratory.

The stakes are high for NASA and the ISS partners following a string of three cargo mission mishaps over the past year resulting from a trio of launch failures by both US and Russian rocket providers involving Orbital ATK, SpaceX and Roscosmos.

The ISS and her six person crew cannot live and work on the station and fully utilize its research function without a steady stream of resupply missions. The Dec. 3 launch marks the ‘Return to Flight’ for Cygnus.

Excited crowds are gathering in central Florida from across the globe to witness the historic liftoff, which could offer spectacular viewing as its set for approximately 30 minutes after sunset.

Sunset view of Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 spacecraft at Space Launch Complex 41 poised for blastoff to ISS on ULA Atlas V on Dec. 3, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Atlas V rocket stands adjacent to new commercial crew access tower for astronaut launching on Boeing Starliner space taxi starting in 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket will liftoff on the CRS-4 resupply mission with the private Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft under a commercial resupply services (CRS) contract to NASA from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at approximately 5:55 pm. ET.

After passing all launch and flight readiness reviews from ULA, Orbital ATK, and NASA the 194 foot tall Atlas V booster was rolled out to the launch pad on the morning of Dec. 2 a distance of about 1800 feet by a pair of track mobiles.

The launch window has a duration of 30 minutes in case weather or technical factors cause a brief delay from the opening of the window at 5:55 p.m.

Air Force weather forecasters are currently calling for a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. Unsettled but very changeable weather has rolled into the central Florida region.

The primary concerns are for violating the three constraints – for the cumulus cloud, disturbed weather and thick cloud rules.

The Atlas V/Cygnus CRS-4 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV and the NASA launch blog beginning at 4:30 p.m. Thursday – http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 spacecraft poised for blastoff to ISS on ULA Atlas V on Dec. 3, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Atlas is adjacent to new commercial crew access tower. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CRS-4 counts as the first flight of Cygnus on an Atlas and the first launch to the ISS using an Atlas booster.

The total payload packed on board is 3513 kilograms (7745 pounds), including science investigations, crew supplies, vehicle hardware, spacewalk equipment and computer resources.

Among the contents are science equipment totaling 846 kg (1867 lbs.), crew supplies of 1181 kg (2607 lbs.), and spacewalk equipment of 227 kg (500 lbs.).

CRS-4, also known as OA-4, is also the fourth contracted cargo resupply mission that Orbital ATK is conducting for NASA.

Cygnus is named the ‘SS Deke Slayton II’ in memory of Deke Slayton, one of the America’s original seven Mercury astronauts. He was a member of the Apollo Soyuz Test Flight. Slayton was also a champion of America’s commercial space program.

This view shows the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named the SS Deke Slayton II and twin payload enclosure fairings inside the Kennedy Space Center clean room on Nov. 13, 2015. Launch on ULA Atlas V is slated for Dec. 3, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orbital ATK holds a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from NASA worth $1.9 Billion to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for eight Cygnus cargo delivery flights to the ISS.

Orbital ATK has contracted a second Cygnus to fly on an Atlas in March 2016 on the OA-6 mission.

NASA has also contracted with Orbital ATK to fly three additional missions through 2018.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized module is being processed for Dec. 3, 2015 launch, Dan Tani, former astronaut and now Orbital ATK VP for Mission and Cargo Operations, center, poses with Cygnus and mural of Deke Slayton, along with Randy Gordon, Launch Support Project manager for NASA, and Kevin Leslie, ULA Mission manager. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ken Kremer

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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