Commercial Space

First Cygnus Cargo Ship from Virginia in Two Years Docks at Space Station

Installation complete! Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft was attached to the International Space_Station at 10:53 a.m. EDT on 23 Oct. 2016 after launching atop Antares rocket on 17 Oct. 2016 from NASA Wallops in Virginia. Credit: NASA

After a two year gap, the first Cygnus cargo freight train from Virginia bound for the International Space Station (ISS) arrived earlier this morning – restoring this critical supply route to full operation today, Sunday, Oct. 23.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft packed with over 2.5 tons of supplies was berthed to an Earth-facing port on the Unity module of the ISS at 10:53 a.m. EDT.

The Cygnus OA-5 resupply ship slowly approaches the space station before the Canadarm2 reaches out and grapples it on Oct. 23, 2016. Credit: NASA TV

The Cygnus OA-5 mission took flight atop the first re-engined Orbital ATK Antares rocket during a spectacular Monday night liftoff on Oct. 17 at 7:40 p.m. EDT from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s picturesque Eastern shore.

Antares pair of RD-181 first stage engines were firing with some 1.2 million pounds of liftoff thrust and brilliantly lighting up the crystal clear evening skies in every direction to the delight of hordes of spectators gathered from near and far.

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

Cygnus is loaded with over 5,100 pounds of science investigations, food, supplies and hardware for the space station and its six-person multinational crew.

This was the first Antares launch from Virginia in two years following the rockets catastrophic failure just moments after liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014, which doomed the Orb-3 resupply mission to the space station – as witnessed by this author.

Orbital ATK’s Antares commercial rocket had to be overhauled with the completely new RD-181 first stage engines- fueled by LOX/kerosene – following the destruction of the Antares rocket and Cygnus supply ship two years ago.

The 14 story tall commercial Antares rocket launched for the first time in the upgraded 230 configuration – powered by a pair of the new Russian-built RD-181 first stage engines.

The RD-181 replaces the previously used AJ26 engines which failed shortly after the last liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014 and destroyed the rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter.

The launch mishap was traced to a failure in the AJ26 first stage engine turbopump and forced Antares launches to immediately grind to a halt.

After a carefully choreographed five day orbital chase, Cygnus approached the million pound orbiting outpost this morning.

After it was within reach, Expedition 49 Flight Engineers Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Kate Rubins of NASA carefully maneuvered the station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) Canadian-built robotic arm to reach out and capture the Cygnus OA-5 spacecraft at 7:28 a.m. EDT.

It was approximately 30 feet (10 meters) away from the station as Onishi and Rubins grappled the resupply ship with the robotic arms snares.

Today’s installation of the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-5 resupply ship makes four spaceships attached to the International Space Station on 23 October 2016. Credit: NASA

After leak checks, the next step is for the crew to open the hatches between the pressurized Cygnus and Unity and begin unloading the stash aboard.

The 21-foot-long (6.4-meter) spacecraft is scheduled to spend about five weeks attached to the station. The crew will pack the ship with trash and no longer needed supplies and gear.

It will be undocked in November and then conduct several science experiments, including the Saffire fire experiment and deploy cubesats.

Thereafter it will be commanded to conduct the customary destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere.

Cygnus cargo spacecraft atop Orbital ATK Antares rocket on Pad-0A prior to blastoff on Oct. 17, 2016 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

The Cygnus spacecraft for the OA-5 mission is named the S.S. Alan G. Poindexter in honor of former astronaut and Naval Aviator Captain Alan Poindexter.

Under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 28,700 kilograms of cargo to the space station. OA-5 is the sixth of these missions.

Antares launch on Oct. 17, 2016 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: © Patrick J. Hendrickson /

Watch for Ken’s continuing Antares/Cygnus mission and launch reporting. He was reporting from on site at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA during the launch campaign.

On-Ramp to the International Space Station (ISS) with Orbital ATL Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter which launched on 17 Oct. 2016 and berthed at the Unity docking port on 23 Oct. 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

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

Ken Kremer

An Antares rocket sunrise prior to blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on 17 Oct. 2016 bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
Streak shot of Orbital ATK Antares rocket carrying Cygnus supply ship soars to orbit on Oct. 17, 2016 from Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
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,, 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 - Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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