Next Cygnus Cargo Launch to Space Station Switched to ULA Atlas V

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In a complete change of plans from less than three weeks ago, NASA has asked Orbital ATK to switch rockets and launch the firms next Cygnus commercial cargo freighter to the space station on the tried and true Atlas V rather than their own Antares rocket – which just successfully delivered another Cygnus to the orbiting outpost with a hefty stash of science and supplies.

The altered schedule “provides margin flexibility for the entire Antares workforce” Orbital ATK noted in a statement to Universe Today.

However, the change of events comes as something of a surprise following the spectacularly successful nighttime blastoff of Antares on Oct. 17 with the Cygnus OA-5 resupply ship from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s picturesque Eastern shore – as I reported on from onsite.

At the time, Orbital ATK officials told Universe Today they were working towards efforts for the next Cygnus to launch from Wallops on the OA-7 resupply mission sometime next spring – tentatively in March 2017.

“Following a successful Antares launch for the recent OA-5 Commercial Resupply Services mission and subsequent rendezvous and berthing of the Cygnus spacecraft with the International Space Station, Orbital ATK has responded to NASA’s needs for enhanced schedule assurance for cargo deliveries and maximum capacity of critical supplies to the space station in 2017 by once again partnering with United Launch Alliance to launch Cygnus aboard an Atlas V for the upcoming OA-7 mission in the spring timeframe,” Orbital ATK said in a statement to Universe Today.

“We anticipate the earliest we may need a NASA commercial resupply mission is early 2017. We mutually agreed with Orbital ATK to use an Atlas V for the company’s seventh contracted cargo resupply mission to the space station in the spring. We will provide additional details at a later date,” NASA HQ public affairs told Universe Today for this story.

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
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

The ULA Atlas V would launch from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Cygnus OA-7 will be processed and loaded at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for later integration with the Atlas V.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband  is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

When Cygnus launches on Atlas from KSC it can carry roughly over 300 pounds more to orbit vs. using Antares from Virginia.

The Cygnus OA-5 spaceship is currently still berthed at the million pound station and carried about 5100 pounds to orbit.

Thus the ISS is in good shape overall at this time from a supplies standpoint.

“Supplies and research investigations are at good levels aboard the International Space Station. In addition to Orbital ATK’s recent successful commercial resupply services mission to station in October, a Russian Progress and Japanese HTV will carry additional cargo to the orbiting laboratory before the end of the year,” NASA public affairs elaborated for this story.

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
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

Last month’s ‘Return to Flight’ liftoff of the upgraded Antares took place two years after its catastrophic failure moments after launch on October 28, 2014 with another Cygnus cargo ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) that was destroyed along with all its precious contents.

And that may be the rub, along with the fact that launches by NASA’s other Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) provider – namely SpaceX – are on hold due to the catastrophic launch pad failure on Sept. 1.

Thus it’s not clear at this time when SpaceX can resume launching their Dragon cargo ships to the ISS.

NASA must have a robust and steady train of cargo ships flying to the ISS to keep it fully operational and stocked with research and provisions for the international crews to maximize the stations science output.

“NASA is continuously working with all our partners on range availability, space station traffic and other factors to ensure we operate station in a safe and effective way as we use it for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system,” NASA PAO told me.

The Atlas V built by competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA) enjoys a 100% record of launch success and was recently employed by Orbital ATK to launch a pair of Cygnus vessels to the International Space Station in the past year – in Dec. 2015 on the OA-4 mission and March 2016 on the OA-6 mission.

Orbital ATK contracted ULA to launch Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS as an interim measure to fulfill their obligations to NASA to keep the station fully operational.

Orbital ATK Vice President Frank Culbertson had previously told me that Orbital ATK could readily launch future Cygnus spaceships on the ULA Atlas V again, if the need arose.

Seeking some near term launch stability NASA has apparently decided that that need has now arisen.

Both Atlas/Cygnus cargo missions went off without a hitch and provide a ready and working template for the upcoming OA-7 cargo ship to be processed again at KSC and launched from Cape Canaveral in the spring of 2017.

Orbital ATK says that follow on Cygnus craft will again return to the Antares rocket for Virginia launches later in 2017.

“Orbital ATK’s remaining missions to be conducted in 2017 and 2018 under the CRS-1 contract will launch aboard the company’s Antares rockets from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.”

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
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

Altogether a trio of Cygnus vessels might launch in 2017.

“The company will be ready to support three cargo resupply missions to the station next year, and will work with NASA to finalize the flight schedule,” the company said.

“The schedule provides margin flexibility for the entire Antares workforce, who worked tirelessly for the past several months to prepare and successfully launch the upgraded rocket from Wallops Island on the OA-5 mission.”

Cygnus was designed from the start to launch on a variety of launch vehicles – in addition to Antares.

“This plan also allows NASA to again capitalize on the operational flexibility built into Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft to assure the space station receives a steady and uninterrupted flow of vital supplies, equipment and scientific experiments.”

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.

It is not clear at this time who will shoulder the added cost of launching Cygnus OA-7 on Atlas instead of Antares.

Watch for Ken’s Antares/Atlas/Cygnus mission and launch reporting. He was reporting from on site at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA during the OA-5 launch campaign and previously from KSC for the OA-4 and OA-6 liftoffs.

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

Ken Kremer

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
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

First Antares Liftoff in 2 Years Targeted for Dazzling Nighttime Leap from Virginia on Oct. 13

Antares rocket stands erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before a launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Antares rocket stands erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before a launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The first Antares rocket liftoff in nearly two years is now being targeted for Oct. 13 on what is sure to be a dazzling nighttime leap from NASA’s Virginia launch base – and potentially offering a thrilling skyshow to millions of US East Coast spectators, if all goes well.

Top NASA and Orbital ATK managers formally approved the launch of the upgraded commercial Antares rocket for next Thursday evening, Oct. 13, on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The announcement follows on the heels of a successful joint pre-launch Flight Readiness Review (FRR).

Blastoff of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket is slated for 9:13 p.m. EDT on Oct. 13 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s picturesque Eastern shore.

Antares will be rolled out to the pad 0A on Oct. 11 – two days prior to the anticipated launch date.

Antares will carry the Orbital OA-5 Cygnus cargo freighter to orbit on a flight bound for the ISS and its multinational crew of astronauts and cosmonauts.

The launch marks the first nighttime liftoff of the Antares – and it could be visible up and down the eastern seaboard if weather and atmospheric conditions cooperate to provide a spectacular viewing opportunity to the most populated region in North America.

The 14 story tall commercial Antares rocket also will launch for the first time in the upgraded 230 configuration – powered by new Russian-built first stage engines.

For the OA-5 mission, the Cygnus advanced maneuvering spacecraft will be loaded with approximately 2,400 kg (5,290 lbs.) of supplies and science experiments for the International Space Station (ISS).

“Cygnus is loaded with the Saffire II payload and a nanoracks cubesat deployer,” Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK Cygnus program manager, told Universe Today in a interview.

Among the science payloads aboard the Cygnus OA-5 mission is the Saffire II payload experiment to study combustion behavior in microgravity. Data from this experiment will be downloaded via telemetry. In addition, a NanoRack deployer will release Spire Cubesats used for weather forecasting. These secondary payload operations will be conducted after Cygnus departs the space station.

If Cygnus launches as planned on Oct. 13, it is scheduled to arrive at the station on Sunday, Oct. 16. Astronauts will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus at approximately about 6:45 a.m. EDT and berth it to the bottom of the station’s Unity module.

NASA TV will provide live coverage of the launch as well as the rendezvous and grappling activities.

Pre-launch seaside panorama of Orbital ATK Antares rocket at the NASA's Wallops Flight Facility launch pad.    Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Pre-launch seaside panorama of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket at the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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.

The 2 year lull in Antares launches followed the rockets immediate grounding after its catastrophic failure just moments after liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014 that doomed the Orb-3 resupply mission to the space station – as witnessed by this author.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

The new RD-181 engines are installed on the Orbital ATK Antares first stage core ready to support a full power hot fire test at the NASA Wallops Island launch pad in March 2016.  New thrust adapter structures, actuators, and propellant feed lines are incorporated between the engines and core stage.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The new RD-181 engines are installed on the Orbital ATK Antares first stage core ready to support a full power hot fire test at the NASA Wallops Island launch pad in March 2016. New thrust adapter structures, actuators, and propellant feed lines are incorporated between the engines and core stage. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In light of the grounding of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon cargo flights following the catastrophic Sept.1 launch pad disaster, and the catastrophic Antares launch failure in Oct. 2014, this Orbital ATK mission becomes more critical than ever to keep that station stocked and fully operational for the resident crews with a reliable American supply train.

Aerial view of NASA Wallops launch site on Virginia shore shows launch pads for both suborbital and orbital rockets. The Antares rocket Pad 0A for missions to the ISS is in the foreground.  Suborbital rockets blast off just behind the Pad 0A water tower. This photo was snapped from on top of Pad 0B that launched NASA‘s LADEE orbiter to the Moon. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Aerial view of NASA Wallops launch site on Virginia shore shows launch pads for both suborbital and orbital rockets. The Antares rocket Pad 0A for missions to the ISS is in the foreground. Suborbital rockets blast off just behind the Pad 0A water tower. This photo was snapped from on top of Pad 0B that launched NASA‘s LADEE orbiter to the Moon. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

In the meantime, Orbital ATK has successfully resumed launches of their Cygnus cargo freighters to the ISS utilizing the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket as an interim measure until Antares is returned to flight status

They utilized the ULA Atlas V rocket to successfully deliver two Cygnus vessels to the ISS on the OA-4 flight in Dec 2015 and OA-6 flight in March 2016.

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

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

Ken Kremer

Aerial view of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket on launch pad at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A located at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.  Credit: Patrick J. Hendrickson / Highcamera.com
Aerial view of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket on launch pad at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Patrick J. Hendrickson / Highcamera.com

Stunning Nighttime Cygnus Freighter Rockets to ISS Stocked with Science Mesmerizing Spectators

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016.  The spacecraft will deliver 7,500 pounds of supplies, science payloads and experiments.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016. The spacecraft will deliver 7,500 pounds of supplies, science payloads and experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A stunningly beautiful nighttime launch mesmerized delighted spectators as it roared off a Florida space coast launch pad late Tuesday night, March 22, on a mission for NASA stocked with over three tons of science and supplies bound for the multinational crews working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocketed raced to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying an enlarged Cygnus commercial resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the ISS.

The venerable Atlas V lifted off right on target at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 into a picturesque moonlit sky that magnificently illuminated the scattered thin clouds hovering over the seaside launch pad for the hordes of excited folks and families lining the beaches and lucky to witness what may be history’s last launch of a Cygnus from Florida.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Future liftoffs of the private Orbital ATK Cygnus supply truck designed to stock the station will return to their original launch site on Virginia’s eastern shore starting with the next mission for their NASA customer sometime this summer.

Cygnus launches to the ISS normally start from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

But a catastrophic failure of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket moments after liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014, forced Orbital to seek and book an alternative launch vehicle while the company redesigned and reengined Antares first stage with new powerful powerplants for the ride to orbit.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016.  The spacecraft will deliver 7,500 pounds of supplies, science payloads and experiments.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016. The spacecraft will deliver 7,500 pounds of supplies, science payloads and experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the station on Saturday, March 26, at which time Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) will grapple Cygnus, using the space station’s robotic arm, at approximately 6:40 a.m. NASA TV coverage of rendezvous and grapple will begin at 5:30 a.m.

The commercial Cygnus cargo freighter was built by Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, Virginia.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband  is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Cygnus has been named the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rick Husband, the late commander of Space Shuttle Columbia, which was tragically lost with its crew of seven NASA astronauts during re-entry on its final flight on Feb. 1, 2003.

This flight is also known as OA-6 and is being launched under terms of the firm’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. It also counts as Orbital ATK’s fifth cargo delivery mission to the space station.

OA-6 is loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware to the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

About a quarter of the cargo is devoted to science and research gear. The cargo includes 3279 kg of science investigations, 1139 kg of crew supplies, 1108 kg of vehicle hardware, 157 kg of spacewalk equipment, and 98 kg of computer resources.
Here a NASA description of a few of the scientific highlights:

– Gecko Gripper, testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos’ feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn’t wear off,

– Strata-1, designed to evaluate how soil on small, airless bodies such as asteroids behaves in microgravity.

– Meteor, an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. The instrument is being re-flown following its loss on earlier supply missions.

– Saffire, which will set a large fire inside the Cygnus in an unprecedented study to see how large fires behave in space. The research is vital to selecting systems and designing procedures future crews of long-duration missions can use for fighting fires.

– Cygnus is carrying more than two dozen nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science including Earth observations.

Here a cool video prelaunch look at Cygnus and me in the NASA Kennedy Space Center clean room discussing the Meteor experiment:

Video Credit: Thaddeus Cesari/VideoShampoo.com

When the ISS Expedition 47 crew members open the hatch, they will be greeted with a sign noting the spacecraft was named ‘SS Rick Husband’ in honor of the STS-107 mission commander.

Cygnus will spend approximately two months docked at the ISS.

OA-6 is only the second Cygnus to be launched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, following the OA-4 mission last December.

The CRS-6/OA-6 flight is also the second flight of the enhanced Cygnus variant, that is over 1 meter longer and sports 50% more volume capability.

Thus it is capable of carrying a much heavier payload of some 3500 kg (7700 lbs) vs. a maximum of 2300 kg (5070 lbs) for the standard version.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

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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:

Mar 21-23: “Orbital ATK Atlas/Cygnus launch to the ISS, ULA, SpaceX, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evening Mar 21 /late afternoon Mar 22/23

The Orbital ATK CRS-6 launch vehicle with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft bolted to the top of the Atlas V rocket is poised for launch at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Orbital ATK CRS-6 launch vehicle with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft bolted to the top of the Atlas V rocket is poised for launch at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

One Year after Antares Failure, Orbital ATK Revamps Rocket for 2016 ‘Return to Flight’

Base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

One year after the catastrophic launch failure of Orbital ATK’s private Antares rocket seconds after liftoff with the Cygnus cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS), the firm is well on the way towards revamping the booster with modern new engines and implementing a ‘Return or Flight’ by approximately mid-2016, company officials told Universe Today. Antares is on the comeback trail.

Some 15 seconds after blastoff of the firms Antares/Cygnus rocket on October 28, 2014 on the Orb-3 resupply mission for NASA to the space station, the flight rapidly devolved into total disaster when one of the rockets first stage AJ26 engines suddenly blew up without warning after liftoff from NASA Wallops Island facility along the Eastern shore of Virginia at 6:22 p.m. ET.

After thoroughly investigating and evaluating the causes of the Orb-3 disaster, the top management of Continue reading “One Year after Antares Failure, Orbital ATK Revamps Rocket for 2016 ‘Return to Flight’”

Cygnus Freighter Arrives at Kennedy as Orbital ATK Ramps Up Station Resupply Recovery Efforts via Atlas V

A commercial Cygnus cargo freighter has just arrived at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to begin intensive processing for a critical mission to deliver some four tons of science experiments and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) atop an Atlas V rocket in early December – as manufacturer Orbital ATK takes a big step in ramping up activities to fulfill its station resupply commitments and recover from the catastrophic launch failure of the firms Antares rocket last October.

Taking advantage of the built in flexibility to launch Cygnus on a variety of rockets, Orbital ATK quickly contracted rocket maker United Launch Alliance (ULA) to propel the cargo ship as soon as practical on the venerable Atlas V – as Orbital simultaneously endeavors to reengineer the Antares and bring that vehicle back to full flight status in 2016.

Since the fastest and most robust path back to on orbital cargo delivery runs through Florida via an Atlas V, Orbital ATK teamed up with ULA to launch a minimum of one Cygnus with an option for more.

Cygnus is comprised of a pressurized cargo module (PCM) manufactured by Thales Alenia Space’s production facility in Turin, Italy and a service module (SM) manufactured at Orbital ATK’s Dulles, Virginia satellite manufacturing facility.

The PCM arrived on Monday, Aug. 11 and is now being processed for the flight dubbed OA-4 at KSC inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF). After the SM arrives in October it will be mated to the PCM inside the SSPF.

The OA-4 Service Module (SM) undergoing deployment testing of one of its two UltraflexTM solar arrays at orbital ATK’s Dulles, Virginia satellite manufacturing facility. Orbital ATK’s Space Components Division supplies the Ultraflex arrays.  Credit: Orbital ATK
The OA-4 Service Module (SM) undergoing deployment testing of one of its two UltraflexTM solar arrays at orbital ATK’s Dulles, Virginia satellite manufacturing facility. Orbital ATK’s Space Components Division supplies the Ultraflex arrays. Credit: Orbital ATK

The first Cygnus cargo mission should liftoff sometime late in the fourth quarter of 2015, perhaps as soon as Dec. 3, aboard an Atlas V 401 vehicle from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Since ULA’s Atlas V manifest was already fully booked, ULA managers told me that they worked diligently to find a way to manufacture and insert an additional Atlas V into the tight launch sequence flow at the Cape.

And since the station and its six person crews can’t survive and conduct their scientific research work without a steady train of cargo delivery missions from the station’s partner nations, Orbital ATK is “devoting maximum efforts” to get their Antares/Cygnus ISS resupply architecture back on track as fast as possible.

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.

However, the Cygnus missions were put on hold when the third operational Antares/Cygnus flight was destroyed in a raging inferno about 15 seconds after liftoff on the Orb-3 mission from launch pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“We committed to NASA that we would resume CRS cargo delivery missions as soon as possible under a comprehensive ‘go-forward’ plan after the Antares launch failure last October,” said David W. Thompson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orbital ATK.

“Since that time our team has been sharply focused on fulfilling that commitment. With a Cygnus mission slated for later this year and at least three missions to the Space Station planned in 2016, we are on track to meet our CRS cargo requirements for NASA.”

Orbital says they will deliver the full quantity of cargo specified in the CRS contract with NASA.

“Our team and our partners are devoting maximum efforts to ensuring the success of NASA’s ISS commercial cargo program.”

“We are committed to meeting all CRS mission requirements, and we are prepared to continue to supply the Space Station.”

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9, 2014 and docked on Jan. 12 Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

For the OA-4 cargo mission, Cygnus will be loaded with its heaviest cargo to date on nearly four tons.

The weightier cargo is possible because a longer version of Cygnus will be employed.

This mission will fly with the extended Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) which will carry approximately 3,500 kg or 7,700 pounds of supplies to station.

“This is a very exciting time for the Cygnus team at Orbital ATK,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president of Human Space Systems and program director of the Commercial Resupply Services program at Orbital ATK.

“Not only are we launching from Kennedy on an Atlas V for the first time, but this will also be the first flight of the Enhanced Cygnus, which includes a larger cargo module and a more mass-efficient service module.”

Use of the enhanced Cygnus in combination with the added thrust ULA V is a game changer enabling the Cygnus to carry its maximum possible cargo load for NASA.

“During our first three missions, we delivered 3,629 kilograms to the space station, about the weight of two F-150 pickup trucks,” said Frank DeMauro.

The OA-4 Cygnus alone will deliver some 3,500 kilograms.

Once in orbit, Cygnus fires its onboard thrusters to precisely guide itself close to the space station so that the astronauts can grapple it with the robotic arm and berth it to a port on the station.

Be sure to read Ken’s earlier eyewitness reports about last October’s Antares failure at NASA Wallops and ongoing reporting about Orbital ATK’s recovery efforts – all here at Universe Today.

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

Ken Kremer

Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares’ rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares’ rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

SpaceX Dragons Coming and Going at Record Setting Pace

Release of SpaceX-6 Dragon on May 21, 2015 from the International Space Station for Pacific Ocean splashdown later in the day. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Story updated with further details and photos[/caption]

SpaceX Dragons seem to be flying nearly everywhere these days, coming and going at a record pace to the delight and relief of NASA, researchers and the space faring crews serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As one Dragon returned to Earth from space today, May 21, another Dragon prepares to soar soon to space.

The commercial SpaceX-6 cargo Dragon successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:42 p.m. EDT (1642 GMT) today, Thursday, about 155 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, some five hours after it was released from the grip of the stations robotic arm this morning at 7:04 a.m. EDT by the Expedition 43 crew as the craft were flying some 250 miles (400 km) above Australia.

The ocean splashdown marked the conclusion to the company’s sixth cargo resupply mission to the ISS under a commercial contract with NASA. Overall this was the seventh trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the station since the inaugural flight in 2012.

Following the launch failure and uncontrolled destructive plummet back to Earth of the Russian Progress 59 cargo freighter earlier this month, the station and its six person international crews are more dependent than ever on the SpaceX commercial supply train to orbit to keep it running and humming with productive science.

Working from a robotics work station in the domed cupola, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly released the Dragon CRS-6 spacecraft from the grappling snares of the 57.7-foot-long (17-meter-long) Canadian-built robotic arm with help from fellow NASA astronaut Terry Virts. Kelly is a member of the first 1 Year ISS mission crew, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

The capsule then performed an intricate series of three departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the imaginary 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station and begin its five and a half hour long trip back to Earth.

The station crew had packed Dragon with almost 3,100 pounds of NASA cargo from the International Space Station. The including research samples pertaining to a host of experiments on how spaceflight and microgravity affect the aging process and bone health as well as no longer need items and trash to reduce station clutter.

The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station's robotic arm at 7:04 a.m. EDT Thursday. The capsule then performed a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) "keep out sphere" around the station and begin its return trip to Earth.  Credits: NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 7:04 a.m. EDT Thursday. The capsule then performed a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station and begin its return trip to Earth. Credits: NASA TV

“Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts,” said Julie Robinson, NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a statement.

“We investigate solutions on the station not only to keep astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions but also to help those on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness.”

The Dragon was retrieved from the ocean by recovery boats following the parachute assisted splashdown. It will be transported to Long Beach, California for removal and return of the NASA cargo. The capsule itself will be shipped to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing to remove cargo and inspection of its performance.

Dragon splashes down into the Pacific Ocean, carrying 3,100 lbs of cargo and science for NASA on May 21, 2015, Credit: SpaceX.
Dragon splashes down into the Pacific Ocean, carrying 3,100 lbs of cargo and science for NASA on May 21, 2015, Credit: SpaceX.

“The returning Space Aging study, for example, examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms,” noted NASA in a statement.

“By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age. This can be applied to changes observed in astronauts, as well, particularly in developing countermeasures before long-duration missions.”

Dragon departed after having spent a record setting stay of 33 days berthed to the station at an Earth facing port on the Harmony node.

Dragon is also the only current US means for sending cargo to the station after the loss of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus craft in the Antares rocket explosion last October.

The SpaceX CRS-6 Dragon successfully blasted off atop a Falcon 9 booster from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT (2010:41 GMT) on the CRS-6 (Commercial Resupply Services-6) mission.

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The resupply vessel had arrived three days later on April 17 and was successfully snared by the Expedition 43 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, the first female Italian astronaut.

Dragon launched on April 14 with more than 4,300 pounds of supplies, science experiments, and technology demonstrations, including critical materials to support about 40 of more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 43 and 44.

An Espresso machine was also aboard and delivered to enhance station morale during the daily grind some 250 miles above Earth.

Among the research investigations were a fresh batch of 20 rodents for the Rodent Research Habitat, and experiments on osteoporosis to counteract bone deterioration in microgravity, astronaut vision loss, protein crystal growth, and synthetic muscle for prosthetics and robotics.

CRS-6 marks the company’s sixth operational resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Following the complete success of the SpaceX Dragon CRS-6 mission, NASA just announced that the next SpaceX Dragon is currently slated to launch on June 26 at 11:09 a.m. EDT.

The Dragon will carry critical US equipment enabling docking by the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporters.

Read Ken’s earlier onsite coverage of the CRS-6 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT  on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT on the CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Video caption: SpaceX CRS-6 Falcon 9 Launch to the International Space Station on April 14, 2015. Credit: Alex Polimeni

SpaceX Successfully Launches Cargo Ship to Station and Hard Lands Rocket on “Drone Ship”

SpaceX successfully launched their commercial Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship on a critical mission for NASA bound for the space station this morning, Jan. 10, while simultaneously accomplishing a hard landing of the boosters first stage on an ocean-floating “drone ship” platform in a very good first step towards the bold company goal of recovery and re-usability in the future.

The spectacular night time launch of the private SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lit up the skies all around the Florida Space Coast and beyond following a flawless on time liftoff at 4:47 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The nine Merlin 1D engines of the 208 foot-tall Falcon 9 generated 1.3 million pounds of liftoff thrust as the rocket climbed to orbit on the first SpaceX launch of 2015.

The Dragon CRS-5 mission is on its way to a Monday-morning rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS).

It is loaded with more than two tons of supplies and NASA science investigations for the six person crew aboard the massive orbiting outpost.

A secondary goal of SpaceX was to conduct a history-making attempt at recovering the 14 story tall Falcon 9 first stage via a precision landing on an ocean-going landing platform known as the “autonomous spaceport drone ship.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk quickly tweeted that good progress was made, and as expected, more work needs to be done.

This was an experiment involving re-lighting one of the first stage Merlin engines three times to act as a retro rocket to slow the stages descent and aim for the drone ship.

“Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho,” Musk tweeted soon after the launch and recovery attempt.

“Ship itself is fine. Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced…”

“Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.”

Musk’s daring vision is to recover, refurbish and reuse the first stage and dramatically reduce the high cost of access to space, by introducing airline like operational concepts.

The ‘autonomous spaceport drone ship’ was positioned some 200 to 250 miles offshore of the launch site in the Atlantic Ocean along the rockets flight path, flying along the US Northeast coast to match that of the ISS.

The autonomous spaceport drone ship measure only 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet. That’s tiny compared to the Atlantic Ocean.

Therefore the SpaceX team was successful in accomplishing a rocket assisted descent and pinpoint landing in the middle of a vast ocean, albeit not as slow as hoped.

No one has ever tried such a landing attempt before in the ocean says SpaceX. The company has conducted numerous successful soft landing tests on land. And several soft touchdowns on the ocean’s surface. But never before on a barge in the ocean.

So they will learn and move forward to the next experimental landing.

SpaceX rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station.   Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
SpaceX rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

“We are delighted to kick off 2015 with our first commercial cargo launch of the year,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement.

“Thanks to our private sector partners, we’ve returned space station resupply launches to U.S. soil and are poised to do the same with the transport of our astronauts in the very near future.”

“Today’s launch not only resupplies the station, but also delivers important science experiments and increases the station’s unique capabilities as a platform for Earth science with delivery of the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, or CATS instrument. I congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams who have made today’s success possible. We look forward to extending our efforts in commercial space to include commercial crew by 2017 and to more significant milestones this year on our journey to Mars.”

The Dragon CRS-5 spacecraft is loaded with over 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing, and assorted research gear for the six person crew serving aboard the ISS.

The launch marked the first US commercial resupply launch since the catastrophic destruction of an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS exploded unexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014.

The US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX until Cygnus flights are resumed hopefully by late 2015 on an alternate rocket, the Atlas V.

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

Ken Kremer

Student Scientists Get Second Chance to Fly Experiments to ISS Aboard Falcon 9 After Antares Loss

Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops – Will Refly on SpaceX CRS 5
Science experiments from these students representing 18 school communities across America were selected to fly aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS and which were lost when the rocket exploded uexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). The students pose here with SSEP program director Dr. Jeff Goldstein prior to Antares launch. The experiments will be re-flown aboard SpaceX CRS-5. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com[/caption]

When it comes to science and space exploration, you have to get accustomed to a mix of success and failure.

If you’re wise you learn from failure and turn adversity around into a future success.

Such is the case for the resilient student scientists who learned a hard lesson of life at a young age when the space science experiments they poured their hearts and souls into for the chance of a lifetime to launch research investigations aboard the Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on the Orb-3 mission, incomprehensibly exploded in flames before their eyes on Oct. 28, 2014.

Those student researchers from across America are being given a second chance and will have their reconstituted experiments re-flown on the impending SpaceX CRS-5 mission launch, thanks to the tireless efforts of NASA, NanoRacks, CASIS, SpaceX and the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) which runs the program.

The SpaceX CRS-5 launch to the ISS on the Falcon 9 rocket planned for this morning, Jan. 6, was scrubbed with a minute to go for technical reasons and has been reset to no earlier than Jan. 9.

SSEP Director Dr. Jeff Goldstein shows a NanoRacks Mix-Stix tube used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/Student Spaceflight Experiments Program -Yankee Clipper mission during presentation at NASA Wallops prior to Oct. 28 Antares launch failure.  17 of 18 experiments will re-fly on SpaceX CRS-5 launch.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
SSEP Director Dr. Jeff Goldstein shows a NanoRacks Mix-Stix tube used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/Student Spaceflight Experiments Program -Yankee Clipper mission during presentation at NASA Wallops prior to Oct. 28 Antares launch failure. 17 of 18 experiments will re-fly on SpaceX CRS-5 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The experiments are known collectively as the ‘Yankee Clipper’ mission.

Antares Orb-3 was destroyed shortly after the exhilarating blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia shore.

Everything aboard the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and ‘the SS Deke Slayton’ Cygnus cargo freighter was lost, including all the NASA supplies and research as well as the student investigations.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“The student program represents 18 experiments flying as the Yankee Clipper,” said Dr. Jeff Goldstein, in an interview with Universe Today at NASA Wallops prior to the Antares launch. Goldstein is director of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which oversees SSEP in partnership with NanoRacks LLC.

“Altogether 8 communities sent delegations. 41 student researchers were at NASA Wallops for the launch and SSEP media briefing.”

“The 18 experiments flying as the SSEP Yankee Clipper payload reflect the 18 communities participating in Mission 6 to ISS.”

“The communities represent grade 5 to 16 schools from all across America including Washington, DC; Kalamazoo, MI; Berkeley Heights and Ocean City, NJ; Colleton County and North Charleston, SC, and Knox County and Somerville, TN.”

Goldstein explains that within days of the launch failure, efforts were in progress to re-fly the experiments.

“Failure happens in science and what we do in the face of that failure defines who we are,” said Goldstein, “NASA and NanoRacks moved mountains to get us on the next launch, SpaceX CRS-5. We faced an insanely tight turnaround, but all the student teams stepped up to the plate.”

Even the NASA Administrator Charles Bolden lauded the students efforts and perseverance!

“I try to teach students, when I speak to them, not to be afraid of failure. An elementary school student once told me, when I asked for a definition of success, that ‘success is taking failure and turning it inside out.’ It is important that we rebound, learn from these events and try again — and that’s a great lesson for students,” said NASA Administrator Bolden.

“I am delighted that most of the students will get to see their investigations re-flown on the SpaceX mission. Perseverance is a critical skill in science and the space business.”

Virtually all of the experiments have been reconstituted to fly on the CRS-5 mission, also known as SpaceX-5.

“17 of the 18 student experiments lost on Orb-3 on October 28 are re-flying on SpaceX-5. These experiments comprise the reconstituted Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Yankee Clipper II payload for SSEP Mission 6 to ISS,” noted Goldstein.

“This shows the resilience of the federal-private partnership in commercial space, and of the commitment by our next generation of scientists and engineers.”

The wide range of experiments include microgravity investigations on how fluids act and form into crystals in the absence of gravity crystal growth, mosquito larvae development, milk expiration, baby bloodsuckers, development of Chrysanthemum and soybean seeds and Chia plants, effect of yeast cell division and implications for human cancer cells, and an examination of hydroponics.

Student experiments are aboard. Bearing the CRS-5 Dragon cargo craft within its nose, the Falcon 9 v1.1 stands patiently to execute the United States’ first mission of 2015. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace
Student experiments are aboard. Bearing the CRS-5 Dragon cargo craft within its nose, the Falcon 9 v1.1 stands patiently to execute the United States’ first mission of 2015. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

That dark day in October witnessed by the students, Goldstein, myself as a fellow scientist, and others is something we will never forget. We all chose to learn from the failure and move forward to greater accomplishments.

Don’t surrender to failure. And don’t give in to the ‘Do Nothing – Can’t Do’ crowd so prevalent today.

Remember what President Kennedy said during his address at Rice University on September 12, 1962:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

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

Ken Kremer

NanoRacks Mix-Stix, which are used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/National Center for Earth and Space Science Education -Yankee Clipper.   Credit: Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NanoRacks Mix-Stix, which are used by the student investigations on the NanoRacks/National Center for Earth and Space Science Education -Yankee Clipper. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Successful Engine Test Enables SpaceX Falcon 9 Soar to Space Station in Jan. 2015

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – To ensure the highest possibility of success for the launch of a critical resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX has announced the successful completion of a second static fire test of the first stage propulsion system of the firms commercial Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 19.

The successful engine test clears the path towards a liftoff now rescheduled to early January 2015.

The launch of the Falcon 9 had been slated for Dec. 19, but NASA and SpaceX decided just 1 day before liftoff on Dec. 18 to postpone the launch of the CRS-5 resupply mission into the new year, when the first static fire test failed to run for its full duration of approximately three seconds.

“SpaceX completed a successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket [on Dec. 19] in advance of the CRS-5 mission for NASA,” said SpaceX in a statement.

The second test was done because the first test of the Merlin 1D engines did not run for its full duration of about three seconds.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead od planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit:  NASA
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead od planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: SpaceX

“While the Dec. 17 static fire test accomplished nearly all of our goals, the test did not run the full duration, ”SpaceX spokesman John Taylor confirmed to Universe Today.

“The data suggests we could push forward without a second attempt, but out of an abundance of caution, we are opting to execute a second static fire test prior to launch.”

Both tests were conducted at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“We opted to execute a second test,” noted SpaceX.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo freighter had been slated to liftoff on Dec. 19 on its next unmanned cargo run dubbed CRS-5 to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Following the catastrophic failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter on Oct 28 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, officials are being prudently cautious to ensure that all measures are being carefully rechecked to maximize the possibilities of a launch success.

The new launch date for CRS-5 is now set for no earlier than Jan. 6, 2015

“Given the extra time needed for data review and testing, coupled with the limited launch date availability due to the holidays and other restrictions, our earliest launch opportunity is now January 6 with January 7 as a backup,” said SpaceX.

The unmanned cargo freighter is loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear.

The Dragon research experiments will support over 256 science and research investigations for the six person space station crews on Expeditions 42 and 43.

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

Among the other mission goals, SpaceX is planning a daring and bold attempt to propulsively land and recover the first stage on an ocean going platform called the “autonomous spaceport drone ship.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket will attempt precision landing on this autonomous spaceport drone ship soon after launch set for Dec. 19, 2014, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rocket will attempt precision landing on this autonomous spaceport drone ship soon after launch set for Dec. 19, 2014, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX

Watch for Ken’s ongoing SpaceX launch coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center.

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

Ken Kremer

Orbital Sciences Selects ULA’s Atlas V to Launch Next Cygnus Cargo Ship to Station

A United Launch Alliance Altas V 401 rocket like that shown here will launch the next Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo ship to the space station in place of the Antares rocket. NASA’s Mars-bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
More photos added[/caption]

Following the catastrophic Oct. 28 failure of an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket on a critical resupply mission to the space station for NASA, the company is seeking to quickly make up the loss to NASA by announcing the selection of the venerable Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance to launch Orbital’s next Cygnus cargo ship to the orbital science lab.

Orbital and ULA signed a contract to launch at least one, and up to two, Cygnus cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.

The first Cygnus mission would liftoff sometime late in the fourth quarter of 2015 aboard an Atlas V 401 vehicle from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Given that ULA’s full launch manifest was fairly full for the next 18 months, Orbital is fortunate to have arranged one or two available launch slots so quickly in the wake of the Antares launch disaster.

“Orbital is pleased to partner with ULA for these important cargo missions to the International Space Station,” said Frank Culbertson, Orbital executive vice president and general manager of its Advanced Programs Group.

“ULA’s ability to integrate and launch missions on relatively short notice demonstrates ULA’s manifest flexibility and responsiveness to customer launch needs.”

Antares doomed descent to incendiary destruction after first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares’ doomed descent to incendiary destruction after the first stage propulsion system of Orbital Sciences’ rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital also stated that there will be “no cost increase to the space agency” by utilizing the Atlas V as an interim launcher.

If necessary, a second Cygnus would be launched by the Atlas V in 2016.

The 401 version of the Atlas uses a 4 meter diameter payload fairing, no solid rocket boosters strapped on to the first stage, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage.

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12 Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital had been evaluating at least three different potential launch providers.

Observers speculated that in addition to ULA, the other possibilities included a SpaceX Falcon 9 or a rocket from the European Space Agency at the Guiana Space Center.

“We could not be more honored that Orbital selected ULA to launch its Cygnus spacecraft,” said Jim Sponnick, vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.

“This mission was awarded in a highly competitive environment, and we look forward to continuing ULA’s long history of providing reliable, cost-effective launch services for customers.”

The Orbital-3, or Orb-3, mission that ended in disaster on Oct. 28 was to be the third of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS through 2016 under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract award valued at $1.9 Billion.

The highly anticipated launch of the Antares rocket on Oct 28 suddenly went awry when one of the Soviet-era first stage engines unexpectedly exploded and cascaded into a spectacular aerial fireball just above the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Orb-3 mission to the ISS.

Read my earlier eyewitness accounts at Universe Today.

First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
First stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket appears to explode moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital was awarded a $1.9 Billion contract with NASA under the CRS program to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts, and hardware for the eight ISS flights.

In choosing the Atlas V with a greater lift capacity compared to Antares, Orbital will also be able to significantly increase the cargo mass loaded inside the Cygnus by about 35%.

This may allow Orbital to meet its overall space station payload obligation to NASA in 7 total flights vs. the originally planned 8.

The venerable Atlas V rocket is one of the most reliable and well built rockets in the world.

NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft atop Atlas V booster rolls out to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 16, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The next Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo ship to the space station will launch inside a 4m diameter payload firing, as shown here, on a United Launch Alliance Altas V 401 rocket used for NASA’s MAVEN. NASA’s Mars-bound MAVEN spacecraft atop Atlas V booster rolls out to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 16, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Indeed the Atlas V has been entrusted to launch many high value missions for NASA and the Defense Department – such as MAVEN, Curiosity, JUNO, TDRSS, and the X-37 B.

MAVEN launched on a similar 401 configuration being planned for Cygnus.

The two-stage Atlas rocket is also being man-rated right now to launch humans to low Earth orbit in the near future.

Orbital is still in the process of deciding on a new first stage propulsion system for Antares’ return to flight planned for perhaps sometime in 2016.

Watch here for Ken’s ongoing reporting about Antares and NASA Wallops.

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

Ken Kremer

Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares’ rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com