KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Today’s spectacular blastoff of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying an Orbital ATK Cygnus commercial resupply spacecraft ignited the restart of critically needed American cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) following a pair of launch failures over the past year.
The ULA Atlas V rocket roared off the launch pad at 4:44 p.m. EST at the opening of a 30 minute launch window from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The launch took place under gloomy Florida skies on the fourth try following of trio of scrubs forced by heavy downpours and blustery winds sweeping through the ‘sunshine’ state as I watched from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at KSC.
The 20 story tall Atlas V disappeared into the low lying cloud deck about 15 seconds after blastoff as the rumbling thunder of ascent was heard for several minutes.
“It’s great to be back in space and have Cygnus up there,” Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space System Group, told Universe Today. “Every launch is exciting and we have the team working on what we are committed to doing.”
Cygnus was loaded with approximately 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of vital cargo and science experiments for the crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts currently serving aboard the ISS.
The launch of the privately developed Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft began the company’s fourth operational cargo resupply mission, named CRS-4, under a commercial resupply services (CRS) contract to NASA.
Liftoff also took place 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.
This launch marked the 60th straight success for the venerable Atlas V, the first ever Atlas V rocket that hurled a commercial Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station (ISS), and the ‘Return to Flight’ for Cygnus.
The “S.S. Deke Slayton II” Cygnus spacecraft was successfully deployed into its intended orbit approximately 144 miles above the Earth, inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator, according to Orbital ATK.
The vehicle pair of new UltraFlex solar arrays were fully deployed as planned and providing the requisite power to the vehicle and orbital communications was established.
“This launch marks the completion of the critical first step of our go-forward plan for the CRS-1 contract to meet our commitments to NASA,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space System Group, in a statement.
“Everything looks great in this early stage of the mission. I congratulate the combined NASA, ULA and Orbital ATK team for its hard work to get us to this point, and I look forward to completing another safe and successful flight to the ISS in several days.”
After a two day orbital chase the Cygnus spacecraft will be grappled with the Canadian robotic arm by the station crew at approximately 6:10 a.m. on Wednesday, December 9.
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.
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.
Learn more about Orbital ATK Cygnus, ISS, ULA Atlas rocket, SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
Dec 8: “America’s Human Path Back to Space and Mars with Orion, Starliner and Dragon.” Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton, AAAP, Princeton University, Ivy Lane, Astrophysics Dept, Princeton, NJ; 7:30 PM.