SpaceX Commercial Dragon Resupply Ship Thunders to Space Bound for ISS and Easter Sunday Berthing – Photo Gallery

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon resupply ship launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
See expanding launch gallery below[/caption]

A mighty SpaceX rocket carrying the firms commercial Dragon resupply ship loaded with nearly 2.5 tons of NASA science instruments and critical supplies thundered to space this afternoon on a two day journey bound for the International Space Station.

The Dragon vessel launched atop the 20 story tall, upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida precisely on time at 3:25 p.m. EDT (1925 GMT), Friday, April 18.

“I want to congratulate SpaceX. Everyone did a great job” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, at a post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center press site.

“The SpaceX team went the extra mile to get everything ready for an on time launch.”

The spectacular blastoff went off without a hitch despite a poor weather prognosis in the morning that brightened considerably in the final hours leading up to the afternnon liftoff.

“Everything went well with the ascent,” said SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Muck at the briefing.

“I’m pretty excited. We did a good gob for our NASA customer and that’s very important,” Musk added.

The on time blastoff sets the stage for an Easter Sunday, April 20, rendezvous and berthing of the Dragon resupply spacecraft at the massive orbiting outpost packed with a striking variety of science experiments and needed supplies for the six person crew.

Station crew members Rick Mastracchio and Steven Swanson will grapple the Dragon cargo freighter with the 57 foot long Canadarm2 on Easter Sunday at about 7:14 a.m. if all goes well and then berth it at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

The SpaceX-3 mission marks the company’s third 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.

There are over 150 science experiments loaded aboard the Dragon capsule for research to be conducted by the crews of ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.

“SpaceX is delivering important research experiments and cargo to the space station,” said Gerstenmaier.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tree line on April 18, 2014 on science mission bound for the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida   Credit:  Nicole Solomon
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tree line on April 18, 2014 on science mission bound for the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Nicole Solomon

“The diversity and number of new experiments is phenomenal. The investigations aboard Dragon will help us improve our understanding of how humans adapt to living in space for long periods of time and help us develop technologies that will enable deep space exploration.”

This unmanned SpaceX mission dubbed CRS-3 mission will deliver some 5000 pounds of science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition imaging camera suite, an optical communications experiment (OPALS) and essential gear, the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX had completed two operational cargo resupply missions and a test flight. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013 atop the initial version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

The next launch of Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus commercial rocket to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, was tentatively slated for May 6. But the target date will now slip to into mid-June since it can’t arrive until the Dragon departs.

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:  Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014. Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Both the Dragon and Antares dock at the same port on the Harmony module at the end of the station.

This extra powerful new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff on April 18, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Credit: Julian Leek
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff on April 18, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Credit: Julian Leek
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:  John Studwell
Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, April 18, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, April 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April18, 2014.   Credit:   NASA TV
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

SpaceX Resets Space Station Launch with Revolutionary Rocket Legs and Robonaut Legs to March 30

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following last week’s sudden and late in the processing flow postponement of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch, SpaceX announced a reset of its next cargo mission launch for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) to a new target date of Sunday, March 30.

The commercially developed Falcon 9 booster and Dragon cargo vessel are slated for a spectacular night time liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:50 p.m. EDT on March 30, SpaceX announced on Friday.

This mission, soaring to space under a resupply contract to NASA, could ignite a revolution in both rocketry and robotics.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket sports a quartet of never before tried landing legs and the Dragon freighter is loaded with a set of lanky legs to enable mobility in space for NASA’s Robonaut 2 standing at the cutting edge of space robotics technology.

Launch preparations were suddenly halted less than 72 hours prior to the then planned March 16 early morning launch because of unspecified technical issues concerning the sudden discovery of “contamination,” sources told me.

The Falcon 9 rocket with landing legs in SpaceX’s hangar at Cape Canaveral, Fl, preparing to launch Dragon to the space station this Sunday March 30.  Credit: SpaceX
The Falcon 9 rocket with landing legs in SpaceX’s hangar at Cape Canaveral, Fl, preparing to launch Dragon to the space station this Sunday March 30. Credit: SpaceX

“To ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance and allow additional time to resolve remaining open items, the team is taking additional time to resolve open items and ensure SpaceX does everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch,” according to a statement from SpaceX.

Several sources told me that the problem related to “contamination” that was found in the “unpressurized truck section” at the rear of the Dragon spacecraft.

“An unknown contaminant of unknown origin was found on a blanket in the Dragon trunk,” independent sources said to Universe Today soon after the postponement was announced.

“After careful review and analysis, engineering teams representing both the ISS and SpaceX have determined Dragon is ready to fly ‘as-is.’ All parties agree that the particular constituents observed in Dragon’s trunk are in line with the previously defined environments levels and do not impose additional risk to the payloads,” SpaceX announced in a new statement.

With the contamination issues now resolved, the launch is back on track.

Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA Television will air live coverage on Sunday.

In case the launch is delayed, the backup launch opportunity is at 9:39 p.m. Wednesday, April 2.

Altogether, this unmanned SpaceX CRS-3 mission will deliver over 5000 pounds of science experiments, a pair of legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition imaging camera suite, an optical communications experiment and essential gear, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard the ISS soaring in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights over the next few years at a cost of about $1.6 Billion.

To date SpaceX has completed two operational cargo resupply missions and a test flight. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013 atop the initial version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Following the rescheduled March 30 launch and a series of orbit raising and course corrections over the next two days, Dragon will rendezvous and dock at the Earth facing port on the station’s Harmony module on Wednesday, April 2.

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch of Dragon spacecraft on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building.   During 2014, SpaceX plans  two flight tests simulating Dragon emergency abort scenarios launching from pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch of Dragon spacecraft on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention on April 12/13 and at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ on April 6. Also evenings at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL, March 24/25 and March 29/30
.

And watch for Ken’s upcoming SpaceX launch coverage at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

Historic SpaceX Landing Leg Rocket and Dragon Bound for Station Check Fires Engines at T Minus 1 Week

The historic blast off of the first SpaceX rocket equipped with ‘landing legs’ and also carrying a private Dragon cargo vessel bound for the Space Station is now slated for March 16 following a short and “successful” hot fire check test of the first stage engines on Saturday, March 8.

It’s T Minus 1 week to lift off !

The brief two second ignition of all nine upgraded Merlin 1D engines powering the first stage of SpaceX’s next generation, commercial Falcon 9 rocket at the end of a simulated countdown is a key test required to clear the way for next Sunday’s planned night time lift off at 4:41 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“Falcon 9 and Dragon conducted a successful static fire test in advance of next week’s CRS-3 launch to station!” SpaceX announced today.

The primary goal of the unmanned SpaceX CRS-3 mission is to deliver over 5000 pounds of science experiments, gear and supplies loaded inside Dragon to the six person crew living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS) flying in low Earth orbit under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

“In this final major preflight test, Falcon 9’s 9 first-stage engines were ignited for 2 seconds while the vehicle was held down to the pad,” said SpaceX.

All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for Mar 16 launch.  Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
All four landing legs now mounted on Falcon 9 rocket being processed inside hanger at Cape Canaveral, FL for Mar 16 launch. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

The static hot firing is a full up assessment of the rocket, engines, propellant loading and countdown procedures leading to a launch. The engines typically fire for a barely a few seconds.

SpaceX engineers will evaluate the engine firing to ensure all systems are ready for launch.

This commercial Falcon 9 rocket is equipped for the first time with a quartet of landing legs, Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, announced recently as outlined in my story – here.

The attachment of landing legs to the first stage of SpaceX’s next-generation Falcon 9 rocket counts as a major step towards the firm’s future goal of building a fully reusable rocket.

The eventual goal is to accomplish a successful first stage touchdown by the landing legs on solid ground back at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

For this Falcon 9 flight, the rocket will sprout legs for a controlled soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean guided by SpaceX engineers.

Extensive work and testing remains to develop and refine the technology before a land landing will be attempted by the company.

“F9 will continue to land in the ocean until we prove precision control from hypersonic thru subsonic regimes,” Musk says.

1st stage of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket equipped with landing legs and now scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on March 16, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
1st stage of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket equipped with landing legs and now scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on March 16, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

SpaceX hopes the incorporation of landing legs will one day lead to cheaper, reusable boosters that can be manufactured at vastly reduced cost.

The March 16 launch will be the fourth overall for the next generation Falcon 9 rocket, but the first one capped with a Dragon and heading to the massive orbital lab complex.

Falcon 9 and Dragon static fire test on March 8, 2014. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 and Dragon static fire test on March 8, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

Three prior launches of the more powerful Falcon 9 lofting commercial telecom satellites in September and December 2013 and January 2014 were all successful and paved the way for SpaceX’s new mission to the ISS.

And this Dragon is loaded with the heaviest manifest yet.

The research cargo includes 100 protein crystal experiments that will allow scientists to observe the growth of crystals in zero-G.

In the absence of gravity, the crystals will hopefully grow to much larger sizes than here on Earth and afford scientists new insights into designing and developing new drugs and pesticides.

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights over the next few years at a cost of about $1.6 Billion.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has completed two operational cargo resupply missions. The last flight dubbed CRS-2 blasted off a year ago on March 1, 2013 atop the initial version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

If the launch takes place as planned on March 16, Dragon will rendezvous and dock at the Earth facing port on the station’s Harmony module, after a two day orbital chase, on March 18.

The Harmony port was recently vacated by the Orbital Sciences built Cygnus cargo spacecraft to make way for Dragon.

Both the Dragon and Cygnus resupply spacecraft were privately developed with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership in order to restore the cargo up mass capability the US completely lost following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in 2011.

The Dragon docking will take place a few days after Monday’s (March 10) scheduled departure of three crew members aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.

Watch the Soyuz leave live on NASA TV.

The departure of Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy along with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins marks the end of Expedition 38 and the beginning of Expedition 39.

It also leaves only a three person crew on board to greet the Dragon.

The Soyuz return to Earth comes amidst the ongoing Crimean crisis as tensions continue to flare between Russian, Ukraine and the West.

American and station partner astronauts are 100% dependent on Russia’s three seat Soyuz capsule and rocket for rides to the ISS and back.

Expedition 38 crew members proudly sport their national flags in this March 2014 picture from the International Space Station. Pictured (clockwise from top center) are Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, commander; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, all flight engineers. Credit: NASA
Expedition 38 crew members proudly sport their national flags in this March 2014 picture from the International Space Station. Pictured (clockwise from top center) are Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, commander; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, all flight engineers. Credit: NASA

Command of the station was passed today from Oleg Kotov to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata.

With the start of Expedition 39, Wakata thus becomes the first Japanese astronaut to command the ISS.

Wakata and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio with use the stations Canadarm 2 to grapple and berth Dragon to its docking port.

SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon  CRS-3 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon CRS-3 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX

Dragon is due to stay at station for about three weeks until April 17.

Then it will undock and set course for a parachute assisted splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.

For the return to Earth, Dragon will be packed with more than 3,500 pounds of highly valuable experiment samples accumulated from the crews onboard research as well as assorted equipment and no longer need items.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news. Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention on April 12/13.

And watch for Ken’s upcoming SpaceX launch coverage at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

Extend ISS to 2050 as Stepping Stone to Future Deep Space Voyages – Orbital VP/Astronaut tells Universe Today

The International Space Station could potentially function far beyond its new extension to 2024. Perhaps out to 2050. The ISS as seen from the crew of STS-119. Credit: NASA
Story updated[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Just days ago, the Obama Administration approved NASA’s request to extend the lifetime of the International Space Station (ISS) to at least 2024. Ultimately this will serve as a stepping stone to exciting deep space voyages in future decades.

“I think this is a tremendous announcement for us here in the space station world,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at a press briefing on Jan. 8.

But there’s really “no reason to stop it there”, said Frank Culbertson, VP at Orbital Sciences and former NASA astronaut and shuttle commander, to Universe Today when I asked him for his response to NASA’s station extension announcement.

“It’s fantastic!” Culbertson told me, shortly after we witnessed the picture perfect blastoff of Orbital’s Antares/Cygnus rocket on Jan. 9 from NASA’s Wallops launch facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS.

“In my opinion, if it were up to me, we would fly it [the station] to 2050!” Culbertson added with a smile. “Of course, Congress would have to agree to that.”

Gerstenmaier emphasized that the extension will allow both the research and business communities to plan for the longer term and future utilization, be innovative and realize a much greater return on their investments in scientific research and capital outlays.

“The station is really our stepping stone,” Robert Lightfoot, NASA Associate Administrator, told me at Wallops following Antares launch.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) – which is searching for elusive dark matter – was one of the key science experiments that Gerstenmaier cited as benefitting greatly from the ISS extension to 2024. The AMS is the largest research instrument on the ISS.

ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV
ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port on Jan. 12, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

The extension will enable NASA, the academic community and commercial industry to plan much farther in the future and consider ideas not even possible if the station was de-orbited in 2020 according to the existing timetable.

Both the Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter are private space vehicles developed and built by Orbital Sciences with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership to keep the station stocked with essential supplies and research experiments and to foster commercial spaceflight.

So I asked Culbertson and Lightfoot to elaborate on the benefits of the ISS extension to NASA, scientific researchers and commercial company’s like Orbital Sciences.

“First I think it’s fantastic that the Administration has committed to extending the station, said Culbertson. “They have to work with the ISS partners and there is a lot to be done yet. It’s a move in the right direction.”

“There is really no reason to stop operations on the space station until it is completely no longer usable. And I think it will be usable for a very long time because it is very built and very well maintained.”

“If it were up to me, we would fly it to 2050!”

“NASA and the engineers understand the station very well. I think they are operating it superbly.”

Birds take flight as Antares lifts off for Space Station from Virginia Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station and loaded with science experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer
Birds take flight as Antares lifts off for Space Station from Virginia Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station and loaded with science experiments.
Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer

“The best thing about the station is it’s now a research center. And it is really starting to ramp up. It’s not there yet. But it is now finished [the assembly] as a station and a laboratory.”

“The research capability is just starting to move in the right direction.”

The Cygnus Orbital 1 cargo vehicle launched on Jan. 9 was loaded with approximately 2,780 pounds/1,261 kilograms of cargo for the ISS crew for NASA including vital science experiments, computer supplies, spacewalk tools, food, water, clothing and experimental hardware.

The research investigations alone accounted for over 1/3 of the total cargo mass. It included a batch of 23 student designed experiments representing over 8700 students sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE).

“So extending it [ISS] gives not only commercial companies but also researchers the idea that ‘Yes I can do long term research on the station because it will be there for another 10 years. And I can get some significant data.”

“I think that’s really important for them [the researchers] to understand, that it will be backed for that long time and that they won’t be cut off short in the middle of preparing an experiment or flying it.”

Robert Lightfoot; NASA Associate Administrator, and Frank Culbertson; executive vice president and general manager of Orbital's advanced spaceflight programs group and former Space Shuttle commander, at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA discuss extension of the International Space Station lifetime following Jan. 9 Antares/Cygnus blastoff bound for the station loaded with science experiments.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Robert Lightfoot; NASA Associate Administrator, and Frank Culbertson; executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group and former Space Shuttle commander, at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA discuss extension of the International Space Station lifetime following Jan. 9 Antares/Cygnus blastoff bound for the station loaded with science experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“So I think that first of all it demonstrates the commitment of the government to continue with NASA. But also it presents a number of opportunities for a number of people.”

What does the ISS extension mean for Orbital?

The purpose for NASA and Orbital Sciences in building Antares and Cygnus was to restore America’s ability to launch cargo to the ISS – following the shutdown of NASA’s space shuttles – by using commercial companies and their business know how to thereby significantly reduce the cost of launching cargo to low Earth orbit.

“As far as what it [the ISS extension] means for Orbital and other commercial companies – Yes, it does allow us to plan long term for what we might be able to do in providing a service for NASA in the future,” Culbertson replied.

“It also gives us the chance to be innovative and maybe invest in some improvements in how we can do this [cargo service] – to make it more cost effective, more efficient, turnaround time quicker, go more often, go a lot more often!”

“So it allows us the chance to think long term and make sure we can get a return on our investment.”

What does the ISS extension mean for NASA?

“The station is really our stepping stone,” Robert Lightfoot, NASA Associate Administrator, told Universe Today. “If you use that analogy of stepping stones and the next stone. We need to use this stone to know what the next stone looks like. So we can get ready. Whether that’s research or whether that things about the human body. You don’t want to jump off that platform before you are ready.”

“We are learning every day how to live and operate in space. Fortunately on the ISS we are close to home. So if something comes up we can get [the astronauts] home.”

The ISS extension is also the pathway to future exciting journey’s beyond Earth and into deep space, Culbertson and Lightfoot told Universe Today.

“It actually also presents a business opportunity that can be expanded not just to the station but to other uses in spaceflight, such as exploration to Asteroids, Mars and wherever we are going,” said Culbertson.

And we hope it will extend to other civilian uses in space also. Maybe other stations in space will follow this one and we’ll be able to participate in that.”

Lightfoot described the benefits for astronaut crews.

“The further out we go, the more we need to know about how to operate in space, what kind of protection we need, what kind of research we need for the astronauts,” said Lightfoot.

“Orbital is putting systems up there that allow us to test more and more. Get more time. Because when we get further away, we can’t get home as quick. So those are the kinds of things we can do.

“So with this extension I can make those investments as an Agency. And not just us, but also our academic research partners, our industry partners, and the launch market too is part of this.”

He emphasized the benefits for students, like those who flew experiments on Cygnus, and how that would inspire the next generation of explorers!

“You saw the excitement we had today with the students at the viewing area. For example with those little cubesats, 4 inches by 4 inches, that they worked on, and got launched today!”

“That’s pretty cool! And that’s exactly what we need to be doing!

Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops Science experiments from these students representing six schools across  America were selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft which launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops
These are among the students benefiting from ISS extension
Science experiments from these students representing six schools across America were selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft which launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“So eventually they can take our jobs. And as long as they know that station will be there for awhile, the extension gives them the chance to get the training and learning and do the research we need to take people further out in space.”

“The station is the stepping stone.”

“And it really is important to have this station extension,” Lightfoot explained to me.

The Jan. 9 launch of the Orbital-1 mission is the first of eight operational Antares/Cygnus flights to the space station scheduled through 2016 by Orbital Sciences under its $1.9 Billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg of cargo to orbit.

Orbital Sciences and SpaceX – NASA’s other cargo provider – will compete for follow on ISS cargo delivery contracts.

The next Antares/Cygnus flight is slated for about May 1 from NASA Wallops.

In an upcoming story, I’ll describe Orbital Sciences’ plans to upgrade both Antares and Cygnus to meet the challenges of the ISS today and tomorrow.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

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
Frank Culbertson; executive vice president and general manager of Orbital's advanced spaceflight programs group and former Space Shuttle commander, and Ken Kremer; Universe Today, at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA, discuss extension of the International Space Station lifetime following Jan. 9 Antares/Cygnus blastoff.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Frank Culbertson; executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group and former Space Shuttle commander, and Ken Kremer; Universe Today, at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA, discuss extension of the International Space Station lifetime following Jan. 9 Antares/Cygnus blastoff. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Up Close Launch Pad Cameras capture Spectacular Sound and Fury of Antares/Cygnus Jan. 9 Blast off to Space Station – Video Gallery


Video caption: Antares ORB-1 Launch Pad Camera on south side of pad 0A being hammered from Orbital Sciences Antares rocket launch at 1:07 p.m. EST on January 9th 2014, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, carrying the Cygnus resupply spacecraft to the ISS. Credit: Mike Killian/Jeff Seibert/Mike Barrett/AmericaSpace.com/MikeKillianPhotography.com/Wired4Space.com

What’s it like to be standing at a rocket launch pad? Especially when it’s a private spaceship embarking on a history making flight to the space station that’s blasting the opening salvos of the new ‘commercial space era’ heard round the world?

Thrilling beyond belief!

And what’s it like to be standing at the launch pad when the engines ignite and the bird begins soaring by guzzling hundreds of thousands of pounds of burning fuel, generating intense heat and deadly earsplitting noise?

Well for a first-hand, up-close adventure to hear the deafening sound and feel the overwhelming fury, I’ve collected a gallery of videos from the Jan. 9 blastoff of the privately built Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The videos were created by a team of space journalists from a variety of space websites working together to create the best possible products for everyone’s enjoyment- including Alan Walters, Mike Killian, Matt Travis, Jeff Seibert, Mike Barrett and Ken Kremer representing AmericaSpace, Zero-G News, Wired4Space and Universe Today.


Video caption: Close up camera captures Antares liftoff carrying the Cygnus Orb-1 ISS resupply spacecraft. This was composed of 59 images taken by a Canon Rebel xti and 18 mm lens of the Antares Orbital 1 launch to the ISS on Jan. 9, 2013 at NASA Wallops Island, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Alan Walters/Matthew Travis/kenkremer.com

Wallops is located along the eastern shore of Virginia at America’s newest space port.

Because the launch pad is near the most heavily populated ares of the US, millions have a chance to view the launch along the US eastern seaboard.

And the pad sits almost directly on the Atlantic Ocean, so you can hear the waves constantly crashing on shore.

Well we always want to be as close as possible. But as you’ll see, it’s really not a very good idea to be right there.


North Side Launch Pad Camera Captures Antares Rocket Launch With Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-1 To ISS on Jan. 9, 2013 from NASA Wallops. A GoPro Hero 2 camera captures the launch of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on the Orb-1 mission to resupply the International Space Station. Credit: Matt Travis/Mike Killian/MikeKillianPhotography.com/ZeroGnews.com/AmericaSpace.com

Virtually every camera on the south side got creamed and was blown over by the approaching fiery exhaust fury seen in the videos.

Amazingly they continued taking pictures of the exhaust as they were violently hit and flung backwards.

Luckily, as they were knocked over and fell to the ground, the lenses were still facing skyward and snapping away showing the sky and exhaust plume swirling around and eventually dissipating.

Our cameras capture the experience realistically.

We’ve set them up around the north and side sides at NASA’s Wallops Launch Pad 0A on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS).

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS.  Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS. Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

How do the cameras, called remotes, collect the imagery?

They are activated either by sound triggers or timers.

It takes a lot of hard work and equipment and doesn’t always work out as planned.

But the payoff when it does is absolutely extraordinary.

The Jan. 9 blast off of Orbital Sciences’ private Antares booster delivered the firm’s Cygnus Orbital-1 cargo freighter to orbit.

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus cargo spacecraft, with the moon seen in the background, is moved into installation position by astronauts using a robotic arm aboard the International Space Station Jan. 12. Credit: NASA
Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo spacecraft, with the moon seen in the background, is moved into installation position by astronauts using a robotic arm aboard the International Space Station Jan. 12. Credit: NASA

Following a two day orbital chase and an intricate series of orbit raising maneuvers, the Cygnus vessel reached the station on Sunday, Jan. 12, and was berthed by astronauts maneuvering the robot arm at an Earth-facing port on the massive orbiting lab complex.

The Orbital -1 spaceship is conducting the first of 8 operational cargo logistics flights scheduled under Orbital Sciences’ multi-year $1.9 Billion Commercial Resupply Services contract (CRS) with NASA that runs through 2016.

SpaceX likewise has a contract with NASA to deliver cargo to the ISS via their Dragon spaceship. The next SpaceX launch is slated for Feb. 22.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

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
Space journalists Ken Kremer/Universe Today (left) and Mike Killian  and Alan Walters  of AmericaSpace (center, right) setting remote cameras at Antares launch pad amidst bone chilling cold for the photos featured herein.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Space journalists Ken Kremer/Universe Today (left) and Mike Killian and Alan Walters of AmericaSpace (center, right) setting remote cameras at Antares launch pad amidst bone chilling cold for the imagery featured herein. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

How to See Spectacular Antares Commercial Rocket Launch to Space Station on Jan. 8 – Complete Viewing Guide

Orbital 1 Launch from NASA Wallops Island, VA on Jan. 8, 2014- Time of First Sighting Map
This map shows the rough time at which you can first expect to see Antares after it is launched on Jan. 8, 2014. It represents the time at which the rocket will reach 5 degrees above the horizon and varies depending on your location . We have selected 5 degrees as it is unlikely that you’ll be able to view the rocket when it is below 5 degrees due to buildings, vegetation, and other terrain features. As an example, using this map when observing from Washington, DC shows that Antares will reach 5 degrees above the horizon approximately 100 seconds after launch (L + 100 sec). Credit: Orbital Sciences/NASA [/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Catching a slim weather break amidst the monster blizzard and unprecedented arctic air low temperatures afflicting the central and northern United States, Orbital Sciences Corp. is marching forward with plans for a spectacular daylight blastoff of the firms privately developed Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft on Wednesday, Jan. 8 from a beachside pad at NASA Wallops Island, VA – on a critical mission for NASA bound for the Space Station carrying a huge cargo of vital science experiments.

Here’s our complete guide on “How to See the Antares/Cygnus Jan. 8 Blastoff” – chock full of viewing maps and trajectory graphics (above and below) from a variety of prime viewing locations; including historic landmarks in Washington, DC., NYC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Virginia and more.

The cold weather, daytime Antares liftoff is currently scheduled for 1:32 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops, Virginia.

Antares will be the 2nd of two private rockets soaring to space this week. And the path up is clear following today’s successful blastoff of the SpaceX upgraded Falcon 9 with the Thaicom-6 commercial telecom satellite.

National Mall, Washington, DC
National Mall, Washington, DC

Due to continuing extremely cold weather conditions forecast for mid week, the launch could slip a day to Thursday, Jan. 9 when slightly warmer temperatures are expected, but it looks acceptable at this time.

This flight was originally due to blastoff at night in mid-December 2013 but was postponed due to the unexpected need for urgent repairs to get the stations critical cooling system restored to full operation following a malfunction. The fixes were accomplished during a pair of pre-Christmas spacewalks by American astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins, paving the way for the Antares/Cygnus rescheduled liftoff.

Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. LADEE lunar mission launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. LADEE lunar mission launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

And although it’s now moved to daylight due to orbital mechanics, the two stage Antares rockets exhaust plume should easily be visible to many millions of residents up and down the US East Coast spanning from South Carolina to Massachusetts – weather permitting.

Antares will be able to be seen by spectators inland as well, reaching potentially into portions of West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and New England depending on cloud cover.

For example; Here’s the expected view from the US Capitol – for all the politicians who decide NASA’s budget as well as myriads of tourists visiting from all across the globe.

Capitol-East-Front-Steps
US Capitol- East Front Steps

The viewing maps are courtesy of Orbital Sciences, the private company that developed both the Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply vessel aimed at keeping the International Space Station (ISS) fully stocked and operational for science research.

Up top is the time of first sighting map showing when the rocket reaches 5 degrees of elevation in the eastern United States.

If you want to imitate Rocky’s famous workout on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, here’s what you’ll see:

Philadelphia
Philadelphia

And with yet another cold arctic air mass gushing towards eastwards, its certain to be frigid in many regions – so be sure to dress warmly.

The flight is designated the Orbital-1, or Orb-1 mission.

Orb-1 is the first of eight commercial cargo resupply missions to the ISS by Orbital under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

Battery Park, NYC
Battery Park, NYC

This launch follows a pair of successful launches in 2013, including the initial test launch in April and the 1st demonstration launch to the ISS in September.

So here’s your chance to witness a mighty rocket launch – from the comfort of your home from locations along the east coast.

Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia
Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia

Best viewing of all will be in the mid-Atlantic region closest to Wallops Island.

If you have the opportunity to observe the launch locally, you’ll get a magnificent view and hear the rockets thunder at either the NASA Wallops Visitor Center or the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague National Seashore.

For more information about the Wallops Visitors Center, including directions, see: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/wallops/visitorcenter

The rocket was rolled out to the Wallops launch pad on Sunday by Orbital’s technicians.

Cygnus is loaded with approximately 2,780 pounds / 1,261 kilograms of cargo for the ISS crew for NASA including science experiments, computer supplies, spacewalk tools, food, water, clothing and experimental hardware.

Cygnus pressurized cargo module - side view - during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Docking mechanism to ISS at right. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Among the research items packed aboard the Antares/Cygnus flight are an experiment to study the effectiveness of antibiotics in space and a batch of 23 student experiments involving life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.

Of course you can still view the launch live via the NASA TV webcast.

NASA Television coverage of the Antares launch will begin at 1 p.m. on Jan. 8 – www.nasa.gov/ntv

A launch on either Jan. 8 or Jan. 9 will result in a grapple of Cygnus by the Expedition 38 crew aboard the station on Sunday, Jan. 12 at at 6:02 a.m. EDT.

Weather outlook appears rather promising at this time – 90% favorable chance of lift off.

Watch for my ongoing Antares launch reports from on site at NASA Wallops.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 8 launch, SpaceX, Curiosity, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 7-9: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 8” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

Iwo Jima memorial
Iwo Jima memorial
Dover
Dover
Antares rocket slated for Jan. 7, 2014 launch undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops, Virginia, during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares rocket slated for Jan. 8, 2014 launch undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops, Virginia, during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Seaside panoramic view of an Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia Eastern Shore.  Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Jan. 7 at 1:55 p.m. EDT.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Seaside panoramic view of an Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft built by Orbital Sciences at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia Eastern Shore. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Jan. 8, 2014 at 1:32 p.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares Launch from Virginia– Maximum Elevation Map  The Antares daytime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Antares rocket will reach during the Jan 7, 2014 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Antares Launch from Virginia– Maximum Elevation Map
The Antares daytime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Antares rocket will reach during the Jan 8, 2014 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Mike Whalen of Orbital Sciences and Ken Kremer of Universe Today pose at the base of the Antares rocket 1st stage now slated for liftoff on Jan. 7, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Mike Whalen of Orbital Sciences and Ken Kremer of Universe Today pose at the base of the Antares rocket 1st stage now slated for liftoff on Jan. 8, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

How to See the Historic Antares/Cygnus Launch to Space Station on Sept. 18

Top of the Rock – New York City
Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft approximate launch trajectory view as should be seen from atop Rockefeller Center, NYC, on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT – weather permitting – after blastoff from NASA Wallops, VA. Credit: Orbital Sciences
See more Antares launch trajectory viewing graphics below[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – “All Systems Are GO” for the Sept. 18 launch of Orbital Sciences Antares commercial rocket carrying the first ever fully functional Cygnus commercial resupply vehicle to orbit on the history making first flight blasting off from NASA’s Wallops Island Facility– along the eastern shore of Virginia and bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

Here’s our guide on “How to See the Antares/Cygnus Launch” – complete with viewing maps and trajectory graphics from a variety of prime viewing locations courtesy of Orbital Sciences, the private company that developed both the Antares rocket and Cygnus spaceship aimed at keeping the ISS fully operational for science research.

And although the launch is slated for late morning it should still be visible to millions of spectators along a lengthy swath of the US East Coast from North Carolina to Connecticut – weather permitting – who may have never before witnessed such a mighty rocket launch.

The daylight liftoff of the powerful two stage Antares rocket is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept 18 at 10:50 a.m. EDT from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. The launch window extends 15 minutes to 11:05 a.m.

Up top is the view as anticipated from “The Top of the Rock” or Rockefeller Center in New York City. See below the extraordinary image of LADEE’s launch from “Top of the Rock” by Ben Cooper to compare the day and night time sighting delights.

In anticipation of liftoff, the Antares rocket was rolled out to Pad 0A on Friday morning Sept. 13 and I was on hand for the entire event – see my rollout photos here and upcoming.

Seaside panoramic view of Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops at the Virginia Eastern Shore  on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Seaside panoramic view of Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops at the Virginia Eastern Shore on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT. LADEE launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares.
Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Here’s a hi res version of the viewing map courtesy of NASA Wallops Flight Facility:

Antares/Cygnus Launch - Hi Res Visibility map The Antares/Cygnus daylight rocket launch on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT from NASA Wallops, VA.  will potentially be visible to millions of spectators along the Eastern US coast from Connecticut to North Carolina -weather permitting. This high resolution map shows the regions of visibility over time in the seconds after the rocket launch on a demonstration cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA Wallops Flight Facility
Antares/Cygnus Launch – Hi Res Visibility map
The Antares/Cygnus daylight rocket launch on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT from NASA Wallops, VA. will potentially be visible to millions of spectators along the Eastern US coast from Connecticut to North Carolina -weather permitting. This high resolution map shows the regions of visibility over time in the seconds after the rocket launch on a demonstration cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA Wallops Flight Facility

The Antares launch follows closely on the heels of the spectacularly bright Sept. 6 nighttime Moon shot blastoff of the Minotaur V rocket that successfully injected NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter into its translunar trajectory.

And just as was the case with the Minotaur V and LADEE, you don’t have to be watching locally to join in and experience all the fun and excitement. As with any NASA launch, you can also follow along with up to the minute play by play by watching the NASA TV webcast online or on smartphones, iPods or laptops.

Atlantic City
Atlantic City

It’s hard to say exactly how long and how bright the rockets flames and exhaust trail will be visible since it depends on the constantly changing lighting, prevailing clouds and overall weather conditions.

But one thing is for sure. If you don’t go outside and watch you’re giving up a great opportunity.

And keep in mind that Antares will be moving significantly slower than the Minotaur V.

Herein are a series of graphics showing the Antares trajectory and what you should see during firings of both stages from the perspective of standing on the ground or skyscrapers at a variety of popular destinations including Annapolis, the US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, National Air and Space Museum, Atlantic City, NJ, New York City and more.

Capitol East-Front Steps
Capitol East-Front Steps
Goddard Space Flight Center - GSFC
Goddard Space Flight Center – GSFC
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA.,on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT.  LADEE launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA.,on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT. LADEE launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The goal of the mission is to demonstrate the safe and successful launch, rendezvous and docking of the privately developed Cygnus cargo carrier with the International Space Station (ISS) and delivery of 1300 pounds of essential supplies, food, clothing, spare parts and science gear to the six person resident human crews – currently Expedition 37.

Although it’s the 2nd launch of Antares following the maiden flight in April, this is the first flight of the Cygnus commercial delivery system. The demonstration and testing will be the same as what SpaceX accomplished in 2012 with their competing Falcon 9/Dragon architecture.

The mission is designated Orb-D1 and is funded with seed money by NASA’s COTS program to replace the cargo delivery duties of NASA’s now retired Space Shuttle orbiters.

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
Richmond
Richmond

For those who are traveling to witness the launch locally in the Chincoteague, Va., area, there will be two public viewing sites said Jeremy Eggers, NASA Wallops Public Affairs Officer in an interview with Universe Today.

“There will be are two local sites open to the public,” Eggers told me. “Folks can watch at either the NASA Wallops Flight facility Visitors Center (http://sites.wff.nasa.gov/wvc) or the beach at Assateague National Seashore (http://www.nps.gov/asis/index.htm).”

“There will be loudspeakers to follow the progress of the countdown, but no TV screens as done with the LADEE launch.”

National Air & Space Udvar-Hazy Museum
National Air & Space Udvar-Hazy Museum
Annapolis
Annapolis

So far the weather outlook is promising with a 75% chance of “GO” with favorable conditions at launch time.

NASA Television coverage of the Antares launch will begin at 10:15 a.m. on Sept 18 – (www.nasa.gov/ntv).

Be sure to watch for my continuing Antares and LADEE mission reports from on site at NASA’s Wallops Launch Pads in sunny Virginia – reporting for Universe Today.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rovers, MAVEN, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 17/18: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

This magnificent view of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter launched on Friday night Sept 6, on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from Virginia was captured by space photographer Ben Cooper perched atop Rockefeller Center in New York City. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launchphotography.com
This magnificent view of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter launched on Friday night Sept 6, on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from Virginia was captured by space photographer Ben Cooper perched atop Rockefeller Center in New York City. Compare this actual launch view to the graphic calculated for Antares (above) as seen from the exact same location atop Rockefeller Center. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launchphotography.com

Powerful Private Rocket Crucial to ISS Set for Maiden April Blast Off from Virginia – Launch Pad Gallery

The first stage of the privately developed Antares rocket stands erect at newly constructed Launch Pad 0-A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility during exclusive launch complex tour by Universe Today. Maiden Antares test launch is scheduled for mid-April 2013. Later operational flights are critical to resupply the ISS.
Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
See Antares photo gallery below[/caption]

The most powerful rocket ever to ascend near major American East Coast population centers is slated to blast off soon from the eastern Virginia shore on its inaugural test flight in mid April.

And Universe Today took an exclusive inspection tour around the privately developed Antares rocket and NASA Wallops Island launch complex just days ago.

NASA announced that the maiden flight of the commercial Antares rocket from Orbital Sciences is slated to soar to space between April 16 to 18 from the newly constructed seaside launch pad dubbed 0-A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The two stage Antares rocket is absolutely pivotal to NASA’s plans to ship essential cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) in the wake of the shutdown of the Space Shuttle program in July 2011.

No admittance to the Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket without permission from the pad manager! Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
No admittance to the Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket without permission from the pad manager. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Antares stands 131 feet tall and serves as the launcher for the unmanned commercial Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

Both Antares and Cygnus were developed by Orbital Sciences Corp under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to replace the ISS cargo resupply capability previously tasked to NASA’s now retired Space Shuttle’s. The goal is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the ISS and low-Earth orbit (LEO).

I visited NASA Wallops for an up close personal tour of the impressive Antares 1st stage rocket erected at the launch pad following the successful 29 second hot fire engine test that cleared the last hurdle to approve the maiden flight of Antares. Umbilical lines were still connected to the rocket.

Antares rocket 1st stage and umbilicals at NASA Wallops Flight Facility.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket 1st stage and umbilical lines at NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The pads protective seawall was rebuilt following significant damage from Hurricane Sandy, NASA Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler told me.

Launch Complex 0-A sits just a few hundred yards (meters) from Virginia’s eastern shore line on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s hard to believe just how close the low lying pad complex is to the beach and potentially destructive tidal surges.

Barely 400 meters (1300 feet) away lies the adjacent Launch Pad 0-B – from which Orbital’s new and unflown solid fueled Minotaur 5 rocket will boost NASA’s LADEE lunar science probe to the Moon in August 2013 – see my upcoming article.

The maiden Antares test flight is called the A-One Test Launch Mission. It will validate the medium class rocket for the actual follow-on flights to the ISS topped with the Cygnus cargo carrier starting later this year with a demonstration docking mission to the orbiting lab complex.

The first stage of the privately developed Antares rocket stands on the pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
1st stage of private Antares rocket erect at new Launch Pad 0-A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. This rocket will be rolled back to the hanger to make way for the complete Antares booster due to blast off in mid-April 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The Antares first stage is powered by dual liquid fueled AJ26 first stage rocket engines that generate a combined total thrust of some 680,000 lbs. The upper stage features a Castor 30 solid rocket motor with thrust vectoring. Antares can loft payloads weighing over 5000 kg to LEO.

The launch window opens at 3 p.m. and extends for a period of time since this initial test flight is not docking at the ISS, Orbital spokesman Barry Boneski told Universe Today.

Antares will boost a simulated version of the Cygnus carrier – known as a mass simulator – into a target orbit of 250 x 300 kilometers and inclined 51.6 degrees.

Antares A-One will fly on a southeast trajectory and the Cygnus dummy will be instrumented to collect flight and payload data.

The simulated Cygnus will separate from the upper stage 10 minutes after liftoff for orbital insertion.

“All launches are to the south away from population centers. Wildlife areas are nearby,” said Koehler.

The goal of the ambitious A-One mission is to fully demonstrate every aspect of the operational Antares rocket system starting from rollout of the rocket and all required functions of an operational pad from range operation to fueling to liftoff to payload delivery to orbit.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Launch Complex 0-A at the edge of Virginia’s shore at NASA Wallops are crucial to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Launch Complex 0-A at the edge of Virginia’s shore at NASA Wallops are crucial to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). . Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Antares/Cygnus will provide a cargo up mass service similar to the Falcon 9/Dragon system developed by SpaceX Corporation – which has already docked three times to the ISS during historic linkups in 2012 and earlier this month following the tension filled March 1 liftoff of the SpaceX CRS-2 mission.

The Dragon is still docked to the ISS and is due to make a parachute assisted return to Earth on March 26.

The first stage of the privately developed Antares rocket stands on the pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket 1st stage and huge water tower at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Orbital has eight commercial resupply missions manifested under a $1.9 Billion contact with NASA to deliver approximately 20,000 kilograms of supplies and equipment to the ISS, Orbital spokesman Barry Boneski told me.

Tens of millions of American East Coast residents in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions have never before had the opportunity to witness anything as powerful as an Antares rocket launch in their neighborhood.

Watch for my continuing reports through liftoff of the Antares A-One Test flight.

Ken Kremer

NASA Wallops Launch Control Center. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
NASA Wallops Launch Control Center. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Ken Kremer & Antares rocket at NASA Wallops launch pad at the Virginia Eastern Shore.  Only a few hundred feet separate the pad from the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Ken Kremer & Antares rocket at NASA Wallops launch pad at the Virginia Eastern Shore. Only a few hundred feet of beach sand and a low sea wall separate the pad from the Atlantic Ocean and Mother Nature. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

SpaceX Dragon Sealed for Earth Return on May 31

[/caption]

The historic flight of the first private spaceship to ever connect to the International Space Station (ISS) has entered its waning hours and by all accounts it’s been a resounding success thus far ahead of the imminent return trip to Earth.

All objectives have been fully accomplished and all that remains is for the unmanned Dragon cargo capsule to be detached from the huge outpost early Thursday morning, May 31, following by a mission ending splashdown and ocean recovery off the coast of California some 6 hours later.

Astronauts living aboard the huge Earth orbiting lab closed the hatches to the SpaceX Dragon capsule earlier today (May 30) and will finish their activities to seal the capsule for a safe departure before going to sleep later today ahead of tomorrow’s momentous final feats on this landmark mission.

Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft and was built by Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

This view of European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, Expedition 31 flight engineer, is among the first set of imagery from the crew showing the freshly opened SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. Credit: NASA

NASA and SpaceX described the Dragon’s upcoming unberthing and return to Earth activities at a news media briefing today.

The ISS crew is scheduled to disconnect the Dragon from the Earth-facing Harmony node using the station’s robotic arm at 4:05 a.m. EDT (0805 GMT), said NASA flight director Holly Ridings. They will release the Dragon from the arm’s grip into space at 5:35 a.m. EDT (0935 GMT).

“The Dragon really looks great,” Ridings told Universe Today.

Ridings said that the crew completed virtually “all the cargo [unloading and refilling] operations in a single day on Monday”.

Dragon will fire the first of a series of three small orbit transfer burns starting at 5:36 a.m. EDT (0936 GMT) to back it away from the orbiting lab complex. The big de-orbit burn lasting about 7 minutes is set for 10:51 am, the Dragon trunk will be jettisoned at 11:09 a.m., main chutes deploy at 11:36 a.m. and the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean is due at 11:44 a.m. (1544 GMT) some 490 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles off the West Coast of California using a flotilla of recovery vessels rented by SpaceX for the ocean retrieval process.

Although SpaceX has demonstrated the capability to safely return Dragon to Earth once before in December 2010, the firm is taking nothing for granted.

“It’s still a very challenging phase of flight,” said SpaceX Dragon Mission Manager John Couluris at the briefing. “Only a few countries have done this so far, so we’re not taking this lightly.”

“It will take about 2 to 3 days to return the capsule to the port of Los Angeles and then to the SpaceX facility in Texas for cargo unloading.”

Unlike the other Russian, European and Japanese cargo freighters that service the ISS and then disintegrate on reentry, the SpaceX Dragon is uniquely equipped with a heat shield (made of PICA-X) that allows it to plunge safely through the Earth’s atmosphere and survive the fiery temperatures exceeding more than 3000 degrees F (1600 degrees C).

The down mass capability restores another critical capability lost with the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in July 2011. The astronauts filled Dragon with about 620 kilograms (1367 pounds) of science experiments, trash and non-critical items on this historic test flight.

The Dragon arrived at the million pound orbiting space lab on May 25. On May 26, the crew opened the hatches and ‘Entered the Dragon’ for the first time.

Look here for a collection of incredible images snapped by European ISS astronaut Andre Kuipers who berthed Dragon at an open parking port on the ISS after it was snared with the 18 m (58 ft) Canadian robot arm by NASA astronaut Don Pettit.

Ridings said the astronauts used the robot arm to thoroughly inspect the Dragon’s exterior, trunk space and solar arrays.

“The results were very positive and our models were very accurate and match the on orbit Dragon configuration and clearances. On downstream flights we’ll be using Dextre on the end of the robot arm to reach around into the Dragon’s truck and grab payloads out,” Ridings told Universe Today.

Capturing SpaceX's Dragon. With clouds and land forming a backdrop, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station. Expedition 31 Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers grappled Dragon at 9:56 a.m. EDT and used the robotic arm to berth Dragon to the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony node at 12:02 p.m. May 25, 2012. Dragon became the first commercially developed space vehicle to be launched to the station to join Russian, European and Japanese resupply craft that service the complex while restoring a U.S. capability to deliver cargo to the orbital laboratory. Dragon is scheduled to spend about a week docked with the station before returning to Earth on May 31 for retrieval. Credit: NASA

Dragon is the world’s first commercial resupply vehicle. It was launched atop a SpaceX built Falcon 9 booster on May 22 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX signed a contract with NASA in 2006 to conduct twelve Falcon 9/Dragon resupply missions to carry about 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS at a cost of some $1.6 Billion over the next several years.

NASA TV will provide live coverage of Dragon’s return to Earth and ocean splash down starting at 2:30 a.m. EDT.

Ken Kremer

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Dragon Return Timeline from SpaceX – (times are approximate and subject to change)

5/31/12

Time (Pacific) — Event
01:05 — Dragon uninstalled using station’s robotic arm
02:35 — Dragon released by the station’s robotic arm
03:11 — Dragon’s Draco thrusters fire departure burns
04:07 — Unlatch/close/latch GNC door holding sensors
07:51 — Dragon’s Draco thrusters fire deorbit burn
08:09 — Dragon’s trunk is jettisoned
08:35 — Dragon’s drogue parachutes are deployed
08:36 — Dragon’s main parachutes are deployed
08:44 — Dragon lands in the Pacific