Private Cygnus Cargo Carrier departs Space Station Complex

Following a picture perfect blastoff from NASA’s frigid Virginia spaceport and a flawless docking at the International Space Station (ISS) in mid-January, the privately built Cygnus cargo resupply vehicle has completed its five week long and initial operational station delivery mission and departed the facility early this morning, Tuesday, Feb. 18.

The Expedition 38 crewmembers Michael Hopkins of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) demated the Orbital Sciences Cygnus commercial spacecraft from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node using the Canadian built robotic arm at about 5:15 a.m. EST.

The cylindrically shaped ship was released from the grappling snare on the terminus of the 57 foot long extended arm at about 6:41 a.m. EST and with a slight shove as both vehicles were flying at 17500 mph and some 260 miles (415 km) altitude above Earth over the southern tip of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean.

The astronauts were working at a robotics work station in the windowed Cupola module facing the Earth. The arm was quickly pulled back about 5 feet (1.5 m) after triggering the release from the grappling pin.

NASA TV carried the operation live. Station and arm cameras provided spectacular video views of the distinctive grey cylindrical Cygnus back dropped by the massive, cloud covered blue Earth as it was released and sped away.

The Cygnus private cargo craft built by Orbital Sciences Corp. was released from the station's robotic arm at 6:41am EST, Feb 18. It will burn up in Earth's atmosphere on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Credit: NASA TV
The Cygnus private cargo craft built by Orbital Sciences Corp. was released from the station’s robotic arm at 6:41am EST, Feb 18. It will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

Cygnus was commanded to fire its jets for the departure maneuvers to quickly retreat away from the station. It was barely a speck only 5 minutes after the arm release maneuver by Wakata and Hopkins.

“The departure was nominal,” said Houston mission control. “Cygnus is on its way.”

The solar powered Cygnus is America’s newest commercial space freighter and was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership aimed at restoring the cargo up mass capabilities lost following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttles in 2011.

Cygnus, as well as the SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel, functions as an absolutely indispensable “lifeline” to keep the massive orbiting outpost alive and humming with the science for which it was designed.

The Cygnus private cargo craft built by Orbital Sciences Corp. was released from the station's robotic arm at 6:41am EST, Feb 18. It will burn up in Earth's atmosphere on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Credit: NASA TV
The Cygnus private cargo craft built by Orbital Sciences Corp. was released from the station’s robotic arm at 6:41am EST, Feb 18. It will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Credit: NASA TV

The freighter delivered a treasure trove of 1.5 tons of vital research experiments, crew provisions, two dozen student science projects, belated Christmas presents, fresh fruit and more to the million pound orbiting lab complex and its six man crew.

The milestone flight dubbed Orbital 1, or Orb-1, began with the flawless Jan. 9 blast off of Cygnus mounted atop Orbital Sciences’ two stage, private Antares booster on the maiden operational launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility along Virginia’s eastern shore. See a gallery of launch photos and videos – here and here.

“Today’s launch gives us the cargo capability to keep the station going,” said Frank Culbertson, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group, and former Space Shuttle astronaut.

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

And NASA’s commercial cargo initiative is even more important following the recent extension of station operations to at least 2024.

“I think it’s fantastic that the Administration has committed to extending the station,” Culbertson told me following the launch at NASA Wallops.

“So extending it 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.”

Following a two day orbital chase the Cygnus spacecraft reached the station on Jan. 12.

The ship is named in honor of NASA shuttle astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton who passed away in 2013.

Science experiments weighing 1000 pounds accounted for nearly 1/3 of the cargo load.

Among those were 23 student designed experiments representing over 8700 K-12 students involving life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.

The students are participants of the Student SpaceFlight Experiments Program (SSEP) sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE).

Over 20 of the students attended the launch at Wallops. The student experiments selected are from 6 middle school and high school teams from Washington, DC, Traverse, MI, Downingtown and Jamestown, PA, North Charleston, SC and Hays County, TX.

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

“More than half the student experiments were activated within four days of arrival,” Dr. Jeff Goldstein, Director of the NCESSE, told Universe Today exclusively.

Ant colonies from three US states were also on board to study “swarm behavior.” The “ants in space” experiment was among the first to be unloaded from Cygnus to insure they are well fed for their expedition on how they fare and adapt in zero gravity.

33 cubesats were also aboard. Several of those were deployed last week from the Japanese Experiment Module airlock.

The Orbital-1 mission was the first of 8 operational cargo logistics flights scheduled under Orbital Sciences’ multi-year $1.9 Billion Commercial Resupply Services contract (CRS) with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo through 2016.

Cygnus was berthed at the ISS for some 37 days.

After fully unpacking the 2,780 pounds (1,261 kilograms) of supplies packed inside Cygnus, the crew reloaded it with all manner of no longer need trash and have sent it off to a fiery and destructive atmospheric reentry to burn up high over the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 19.

“The cargo ship is now a trash ship,” said NASA astronaut Cady Coleman.

“Getting rid of the trash frees up a lot of valuable and much needed space on the station.”

When it reaches a sufficiently safe separation distance from the ISS, mission controllers will fire its engines two times to slow the Cygnus and begin the final deorbit sequence starting at about 8:12 a.m. on Wednesday.

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

Cygnus departure is required to make way for the next private American cargo freighter – the SpaceX Dragon, which is now slated to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on March 16 atop the company’s upgraded Falcon 9 booster.

Two additional Antares/Cygnus flights are slated for this year.

They are scheduled to lift off around May 1 and early October, said Culbertson.

Indeed there will be a flurry of visiting vehicles to the ISS throughout this year and beyond – creating a space traffic jam of sorts.

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

Ken Kremer

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. Credit: NASA TV

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

Cygnus Commercial Carrier Hurtling towards Space Station Rendezvous Following Spectacular Antares Blastoff – Photo & Video Gallery

Antares rocket blastoff on Jan. 9 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA lofting the Cygnus resupply vehicle on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station. Docking at ISS planned for Jan. 12. Both vehicles built by Orbital Sciences. Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace/awaltersphoto.com
See Photo Gallery below
Story updated[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – The Cygnus commercial resupply freighter is hurtling towards the International Space Station (ISS) at 17,500 MPH following the flawless Jan. 9 blastoff from NASA Wallops Island, Va., atop the Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket.

Cygnus is bound for the ISS on its historic first operational mission to deliver over 1.5 tons of science experiments, provisions and belated Christmas presents to the six man crew aboard the massive orbiting outpost, under Orbital Science’s $1.9 Billion resupply contract with NASA.

See our up close photo and video gallery of the spectacular Jan 9. Launch – above and below.

The privately built Cygnus cargo vessel is in the midst of a two and a half day high speed orbital chase and is scheduled to rendezvous and dock with the station early Sunday morning, Jan 12.

The Orbital-1 ship is named the “SS C. Gordon Fullerton” in honor of NASA space shuttle astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton who later worked at Orbital Sciences and passed away in 2013.

The imagery was shot by remote cameras set up all around the NASA Wallops Launch Pad 0A as well as from the media viewing site some 2 miles away.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket blasts off on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission bound for ISS.  Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace/awaltersphoto.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket blasts off on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission bound for ISS. Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace/awaltersphoto.com

Currently, the Cygnus spacecraft is barely 12 hours from its carefully choreographed arrival at the station on Sunday morning.

NASA TV will provide live coverage starting at 5 a.m. EST Sunday – http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/

Orbital Sciences’ first dedicated Cygnus mission gets underway at 1:07 p.m. EST, Thursday, 9 January, with the launch of Antares from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com
Orbital Sciences’ first dedicated Cygnus mission gets underway at 1:07 p.m. EST, Thursday, 9 January, with the launch of Antares from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com/AmericaSpace

“All Cygnus systems are performing as expected with no issues,” said Orbital Sciences in an update.

“The spacecraft has conducted five orbit-raising maneuvers and is on track for rendezvous with the International Space Station tomorrow morning [Sunday, Jan. 12].”

“Cygnus will maneuver to a distance of about 30 feet from the station,” said Frank Culbertson, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group, and former Space Shuttle commander.

The third Antares rocket springs away from Pad 0A on a mission which firmly establishes Orbital Sciences Corp. as one of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) suppliers.   Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com
The third Antares rocket springs away from Pad 0A on a mission which firmly establishes Orbital Sciences Corp. as one of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) suppliers. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com/AmericaSpace

The goal of Orbital Sciences Cygnus – and the Space X Dragon – is to restore America’s cargo delivery capabilities to low Earth orbit and the ISS that was totally lost following the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles, by utilizing new and privately developed resupply freighters that will cuts costs.

Cygnus is packed with 2,780 pounds (1261 kg) of station supplies and vital research experiments.

Cygnus pressurized cargo module - side view - during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
This Cygnus is streaking to the ISS and docks on Jan. 12
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

Expedition 38 crew members Engineers Mike Hopkins and Koichi Wakata aboard the station will reach out and with the stations 57 foot long Canadarm2 and grapple Cygnus with the robotic arm on Sunday at 6:02 a.m. EDT.

Hopkins and Wakata will then carefully maneuver the robot arm and guide Cygnus to its berthing port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node.

The installation begins around 7:20 a.m. EDT. And NASA TV will provide continuous live coverage of Cygnus rendezvous, docking and berthing operations.

Billowing smoke and flame in all directions, ORB-1 takes flight on Jan. 9, 2014. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com
Billowing smoke and flame in all directions, ORB-1 takes flight on Jan. 9, 2014. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com

The majestic blastoff of Orbital Science’s two stage Antares rocket took place from a beachside pad at NASA’s Wallop’s Flight Facility along the eastern shore of Virginia, Thursday, at 1:07 p.m. EST.

The station was flying about 260 miles over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Brazil as Antares soared aloft.

Following the 10 minute ascent to orbit, Cygnus separated as planned from the ATK built upper stage about 30 minutes after launch. The Ukrainian supplied first stage fired for approximately four and one half minutes

The solar arrays deployed as planned once Cygnus was in Earth orbit to provide life giving energy required to command the spacecraft.

The picture perfect launch of the 133 foot tall Antares put on a spectacular sky show following a trio of delays since mid- December 2013.

The first postponement was forced when spacewalking astronauts were called on to conduct urgent repairs to fix an unexpected malfunction in the critical cooling system on board the station.

Then, unprecedented frigid weather caused by the ‘polar vortex’ forced a one day from Jan. 7 to Jan. 8.

Finally, an unexpected blast of solar radiation from the Earth’s Sun on Tuesday (Jan. 7) caused another 24 postponement because the highly energetic solar particles could have fried the delicate electronics controlling the rockets ascent with disastrous consequences.

Cygnus is loaded with science experiments, computer supplies, spacewalk tools, food, water, clothing and experimental hardware.

“The crew will unload Cygnus starting probably the next day after it docks at station,” said Culbertson.

Among the research items packed aboard the 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.

The student experiments selected are from 6 middle school and high school teams from Michigan, Texas, Colorado, and Washington, DC.

Watch for my ongoing Antares/Cygnus reports.

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

Ken Kremer

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
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.com
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.com
Antares soars aloft on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops.  Credit: Elliot Severn/SpaceFlight Insider
Antares soars aloft on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops. Credit: Elliot Severn/SpaceFlight Insider
Antares soars from NASA Wallops. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com/AmericaSpace
Antares soars from NASA Wallops. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com/AmericaSpace
Antares rocket the night before launch beautifully reflected in icy water at NASA Wallops launch pad amidst bone chilling cold during remote camera setup for the photos featured herein.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares rocket the night before launch beautifully reflected in icy water at NASA Wallops launch pad amidst bone chilling cold during remote camera setup 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 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 photos featured herein. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA Antares Jan. 9, 2014 Launch Video



Video caption: U.S. Cargo Ship Launches to ISS on First Resupply Mission from NASA Wallops

Antares Private Rocket Thunders off Virginia Coast bound for Space Station – Marks 2nd US Commercial Launch This Week

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
Story updated[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – A private Antares rocket thundered off a Virginia launch pad today (Jan. 9) bound for the International Space Station on a breakthrough mission that marks the second successful commercial rocket launch by an American aerospace company this week – a feat that’s sure to send shock waves reverberating around the globe as well as providing an absolutely crucial life line to the station.

The majestic blastoff of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket took place from a beach side pad at NASA’s Wallop’s Flight Facility along the eastern shore of Virginia, Thursday, at 1:07 p.m. EST.

A flock of birds flew by just as Antares soared off the pad – see my lucky shot above.

The milestone flight was conducted under Orbital’s $1.9 Billion contract to NASA as the firm’s first operational cargo delivery flight to the ISS using their own developed Cygnus resupply vehicle.

“Today’s launch gives the cargo capability to keep the station going,” said Frank Culbertson, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group, and former Space Shuttle commander.

“Everything was right on the money.”

And with the ISS lifetime in Earth orbit now newly extended by the Obama Administration to 2024, the resupply freighters pioneered by Orbital Sciences and SpaceX – in partnership with NASA – are even more important than ever before to keep the station well stocked and humming with an ever increasing array of research projects.

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

The goal was to restore America’s cargo and crew capabilities to low Earth orbit and the ISS that was totally lost following the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles.

Cygnus is packed chock full with a myriad of science experiments for dozens of new NASA science investigations as well as two dozen student science experiments from school across the country.

Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Both the terrestrial and space weather forecasts improved dramatically in the final hours of the countdown and cooperated to allow today’s magnificent Antares launch.

The launch of the two stage, 133 foot tall Antares put on a spectacular sky show that may – because of crystal clear skies – have been visible to millions of spectators spread across the US east coast from the Carolina’s to Connecticut.

Antares beautiful liftoff on Thursday comes on the heels of Monday’s (Jan. 6) SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff .

Furthermore, it marks a grand success for the innovative US strategy of forging low cost, reliable and effective access to space by handing the task of building the rockets and cargo vehicles to US commercial companies for routine jobs in Earth orbit while NASA focuses on investing in deep space exploration.

“Today’s launch demonstrates how our strategic investments in the American commercial spaceflight industry are helping create new jobs here at home and keep the United States the world leader in space exploration,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a NASA statement.

“American astronauts have been living and working continuously in space for the past 13 years on board the International Space Station, and we’re once again sending them supplies launched from U.S. soil.”

“In addition to the supplies, the passion and hard work of many researchers and students are being carried by Cygnus today. I congratulate Orbital and the NASA teams that made this resupply mission possible.”

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The fourth launch attempt was finally the charm after a trio of postponements since mid- December 2013 to fix the malfunctioning cooling system on the station, unprecedented frigid weather and then an unexpected blast of solar radiation from the Sun on Tuesday (Jan. 7) that could have fried the delicate electronics controlling the rockets ascent with disastrous consequences.

Gorgeous Wallops Sunrise greets Antares rocket poised at Launch Pad 0A on Virginia shoreline.  A blast of solar radiation on Jan. 7 postponed Antares blastoff from Jan 8 to Jan 9, 2014. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com
Gorgeous Wallops Sunrise greets Antares rocket poised at Launch Pad 0A on Virginia shoreline. A blast of solar radiation on Jan. 7 postponed Antares blastoff from Jan. 8 to Jan. 9, 2014. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com

Both the Antares and Cygnus are private vehicles built by Orbital Sciences under a $1.9 Billion supply contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware to the ISS.

Orbital Sciences commercial competitor, SpaceX, is likewise under contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg of supplies to the ISS with the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon architecture.

Antares majestic contrail soaring to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares majestic contrail as it experiences maximum dynamic pressure (MAX-Q) and flies down range over Atlantic ocean soaring to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Both the Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus and SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon vehicles were developed from the start with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership.

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

A total of eight Antares/Cygnus missions to the space station are scheduled over the next two to three years by Orbital under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

Two additional Antares/Cygnus flight are slated for this year.

They are slated to lift off around May 1 and early October, said Culbertson.

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.

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.

33 cubesats are also on board that will be deployed over time by the 6 person crew living aboard the ISS.

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.

The student experiments selected are from middle school and high school teams from Michigan, Texas, Colorado, and Washington, DC.

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
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

There is also an ant farm aboard with ant colonies from Colorado, North Carolina and of course host state Virginia too. The goal is to study ant behavior in space in zero gravity and compare that to ants on Earth living under normal gravity.

Cygnus will rendezvous with the station on Sunday, Jan 12.

Expedition 38 crew members aboard the station will grapple Cygnus with the stations robotic arm Sunday at 6:02 a.m. EDT.

NASA TV will provide live coverage of Sunday’s docking.

Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. glistens at dusk on Jan. 7 amidst bone chilling cold ahead of blastoff scheduled for Jan. 8, 2014 from NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. glistens at dusk on Jan. 7 amidst bone chilling cold ahead of blastoff on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

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. Cygnus is loaded with 2780 pounds of cargo and 23 student experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Private Antares/Cygnus rocket Glistens and Go for Launch as Polar Vortex Sweeps in Brutal Bone Chilling Cold

UPDATE: Orbital announced the Antares launch today (Jan. 8) has been scrubbed because of solar activity. More info on the issue and a new launch date will be forthcoming.

Update: NASA and Orbital have set Thursday, Jan. 9 as the new Antares launch date. Liftoff is targeted for 1:07 p.m. (EST) Watch the launch live, below.

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Launch managers gave the “GO” for launch of the private Antares/Cygnus rocket to the space station on Wednesday, Jan. 8, even as the polar vortex swept in bone chilling cold to the launch site on the Virginia shore and across much of the United States.

At a launch readiness review today (Jan. 7), managers for spacecraft builder Orbital Sciences approved the launch, pending completion of a few remaining items, said Mike Pinkston, Antares program director for Orbital, at a media briefing today.

The commercial Antares rocket is launching the Cygnus cargo spacecraft on its first operational mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS) with a huge bounty of science experiments.



Live streaming video by Ustream

Antares commercial rocket spacecraft awaits Jan. 8 blastoff at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares commercial rocket awaits Jan. 8 blastoff at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Blastoff is slated for 1:32 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops, Virginia.

There is only a 5 minute launch window that extends to 1:37 p.m.

The launch of the two stage, 133 foot tall Antares could put on a spectacular sky show.

Antares blastoff may be visible to millions of spectators up and down the US East Coast spanning from South Carolina to Massachusetts – weather permitting.

Read my complete launch viewing guide – here.

The Antares launch comes amidst the unprecedented, unrelenting and dangerous cold arctic air mass sweeping across the US.

Frigid, high winds buffeted the rocket and launch site all day today as technicians continued last minute preparations, taking care to insure safety for the rocket and themselves.

But tonight Antares and Cygnus were glistening beautifully under star lit skies during my up close visit to the launch pad.

Antares commercial rocket awaits Jan. 8 blastoff to the ISS from on ramp at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares commercial rocket awaits Jan. 8 blastoff to the ISS from on ramp at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed a day to Wednesday because the rocket is only certified to lift off when the temperature is above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, said Frank Culberton, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group.

Today’s temperatures at Wallops were only in the single digits and teens and felt much lower with the blustery conditions all day long.

Temperatures are expected to ‘skyrocket’ to the balmy 30’s on Wednesday.

Antares commercial rocket awaits Jan. 8 blastoff at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares commercial rocket awaits Jan. 8 blastoff at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

There is a 95 percent chance of favorable weather at the time of launch, NASA said. High, thick clouds are the primary concern for a weather violation, but they are minor.

Both the Antares and Cygnus are private vehicles built by Orbital Sciences under a $1.9 Billion supply contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware to the ISS.

Antares commercial rocket spacecraft awaits Jan. 8 blastoff at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares commercial spacecraft awaits Jan. 8 blastoff at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
The flight is designated the Orbital-1, or Orb-1 mission.

Orbital Sciences commercial competitor, SpaceX, is likewise under contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg of supplies to the ISS with the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon architecture.

Both the Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus and SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon vehicles were developed from the start with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership.

A total of eight Antares/Cygnus missions to the space station are scheduled over the next two to three years by Orbital under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

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.

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.

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.

Cygnus cargo vessel up close view at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Cygnus cargo vessel up close view at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
There is also an ant farm aboard with ant colonies from Colorado, North Carolina and of course host state Virginia too. The goal is to study ant behavior in space in zero gravity and compare that to ants on Earth living under normal gravity.

So you can watch the launch either with your own eyes, if possible, or 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 6:02 a.m. EDT.

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

Just a GORGEOUS view of Antares at Wallops pad 0A this evening. Space journalists Ken Kremer /Universe Today (right) and Mike Killian (left) setting remote cameras at Antares launch pad amidst bone chilling cold.  Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com
Just a GORGEOUS view of Antares at Wallops pad 0A this evening. Space journalists Ken Kremer /Universe Today (right) and Mike Killian (left) setting remote cameras at Antares launch pad amidst bone chilling cold. Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.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 Spectacular Prime Time Night Launch of Antares Commercial Rocket to ISS on Dec. 19

Antares Launch – Maximum Elevation Map
The Antares nighttime 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 Dec 19, 2013 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences[/caption]

UPDATE: The launch of Cygnus has been delayed until no earlier than January 7, 2014 due to the coolant leak at the International Space Station and necessary spacewalks to fix the problem. You can read more about the issue here and here.

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Orbital Sciences Corp. is marching forward with plans for a spectacular night blastoff of the firms privately developed Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft on Thursday, Dec. 19 from a seaside pad at Wallops Island, Virginia on a mission for NASA that’s bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

The nighttime Antares liftoff is currently scheduled for prime time – at 9:19 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. It should be easily visible to tens of millions of residents along a wide swath of the US East Coast spanning from South Carolina to southern Maine – weather permitting.

Here’s our guide on “How to See the Antares/Cygnus Dec. 19 Night Launch” – with your own eyes – complete with viewing maps and trajectory graphics from a variety of prime viewing locations; including Philadelphia, NYC, Baltimore and historic landmarks in Washington, DC.

Update: launch postponed to mid-January 2014 to allow NASA astronauts to conduct 3 EVA’s to swap out the ammonia pump module and restore full cooling capacity to the ISS

It will be visible to spectators inland as well, stretching possibly into portions of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.

For example; Here’s the expected view from Rocky’s famous workout on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Philadelphia
Philadelphia

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 ISS fully stocked and operational for science research.

Up top is the map showing the maximum elevation the rocket will reach in the eastern United States.

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

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 according to its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

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

This marks the maiden night launch of the two stage Antares rocket following a pair of daytime test and demonstration launches earlier this year, in April and September.

It’s important to note that the Dec. 19 liftoff is still dependent on NASA engineers resolving the significant issue with the ammonia cooling system that popped up late last week when a critical flow control valve malfunctioned.

If the pump valve can’t be brought back online, two American astronauts may make two or three unscheduled spacewalks starting later this week.

So in the event spacewalks are required, Antares launch could still slip a few days to the end of the launch window around Dec. 21 or Dec. 22. Thereafter the launch would be postponed until January 2014.

Battery Park, NYC
Battery Park, NYC

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

And its smack dab in the middle of the Christmas and holiday season resplendent with shining bright lights.

Weather outlook appears rather promising at this time – 95% favorable chance of lift off.

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

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

Cygnus is loaded with approximately 1465 kg (3,230 lbs.) of cargo for the ISS crew for NASA.

NASA Television coverage of the Antares launch will begin at 8:45 p.m. on Dec. 19 – www.nasa.gov/ntv

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Antares launch reports from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.

Ken Kremer

Iwo Jima memorial
Iwo Jima memorial
Dover
Dover

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

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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

Antares Maiden Soar Pierces Virginia Sky and delivers NASA SmartPhone Pioneer Nanosats to Orbit

The privately developed Antares rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. successfully blasted off on its maiden test flight from the shores of Virginia on April 21 at 5 p.m. EDT from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad-0A at NASA Wallops – thereby inaugurating the new commercial space race and delivered a pioneering trio of low cost NASA Smartphone nanosatellites dubbed PhoneSat to orbit.

The 13 story Antares rocket pierced the chilly but cloudless clear blue Virginia skies as “the biggest, loudest and brightest rocket ever to launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility,” said former station astronaut and now Orbital Sciences manager Frank Culbertson.

Antares picture perfect liftoff marked the first step in a public/private collaboration between NASA and Orbital Sciences to restart cargo delivery services to the International Space Station (ISS) that were lost following the forced retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in 2011.

“Today’s successful test marks another significant milestone in NASA’s plan to rely on American companies to launch supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, bringing this important work back to the United States where it belongs,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Antares accelerates to orbit on April 21, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Mark Usciak/AmericaSpace
Antares accelerates to orbit on April 21, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Mark Usciak/AmericaSpace

The test flight was dubbed the A-One Test Launch Mission and also signified the first launch from Americas newest space port at Pad-0A.

The primary goal of this test flight – dubbed the A-One mission – was to test the fully integrated Antares rocket and boost a simulated version of the Cygnus cargo carrier – known as a mass simulator – into a target orbit of 250 x 300 kilometers and inclined 51.6 degrees.

Antares also lofted the trio of off-the-shelf-smartphone “PhoneSats” to orbit. The three picture taking satellites are named Alexander, Graham and Bell and could be the lowest-cost satellites ever flown in space.

“The Phonesats cost about $3500 each,” said Andrew Petro, NASA Small Satellite Program executive, to Universe Today. “They are deployed after separation.”

Andrew Petro, NASA Small Satellite Program executive, holds NASA Smartphone Phonesat replica launched on Antares test flight on April 21, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Andrew Petro, NASA Small Satellite Program executive, holds NASA Smartphone Phonesat replica launched on Antares test flight on April 21, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The goal of NASA’s PhoneSat mission is to determine whether a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics of a capable satellite but at a fraction of the cost.

NASA reports that all three lithium battery powered nanosats are functioning and transmitting data to multiple ground stations.

Two of the cubesats are PhoneSat version 1.0 while the other is the more advanced PhoneSat version 2.0. They were developed by engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Calif.

Each square shaped smartphone measures about 4 inches (10 cm) per side, weighs about 4 pounds and is the size of a coffee mug. The smartphone serves as the cubesats onboard computer – see my photos.

NASA Smartphone Phonesat replica. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
NASA Smartphone Phonesat replica. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The cameras will be used for Earth photography. Imaging data will be transmitted in chunks and then stitched together later.

The third time was the charm for Antares following a pair of launch scrubs due to a technical glitch in the final minutes of the initial countdown attempt on Wednesday, April 17 and unacceptable winds on Saturday, April 20.

The rocket flew on a southeasterly trajectory and was visible for about 4 minutes.

This test flight was inserted into the manifest to reduce risk and build confidence for the follow on missions which will fly the fully outfitted Cygnus resupply spacecraft that will dock at the ISS, starting as early as this summer.

The two stage Antares is a medium class rocket similar to the Delta II and SpaceX Falcon 9.

The dummy Cygnus payload was outfitted with instrumentation to collect aerodynamic data until separation from the 2nd stage. That marked the successful conclusion of the A-One mission and the end of all data transmissions.

It will fly in earth orbit for about two weeks or so until atmospheric friction causes the orbit to decay and a fiery reentry.

Frank Culbertson post launch media interview.  Credit: Brent Houston
Frank Culbertson post launch media interview. Credit: Brent Houston

The Antares first stage is powered by dual liquid fueled AJ26 first stage rocket engines that generate a combined total thrust of some 750,000 lbs – original built in the Soviet Union as NK-33 model engines.

The upper stage features an ATK Castor 30 solid rocket motor with thrust vectoring. Antares can loft payloads weighing over 5000 kg to LEO. The 2nd stage will be upgraded starting with the 4th flight.

Antares rocket erect at the Eastern shore of Virginia slated for maiden liftoff on April 17.  Only a few hundred feet of beach sand and a miniscule sea wall separate the Wallops Island pad from the Atlantic Ocean waves and Mother Nature.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket erect at the Eastern shore of Virginia slated for maiden liftoff on April 17. Only a few hundred feet of beach sand and a miniscule sea wall separate the Wallops Island pad from the Atlantic Ocean waves and Mother Nature. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The Antares/Cygnus system was 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 fleet.

Orbital’s Antares/Cygnus system is similar in scope to the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon system. Both firms won lucrative NASA contracts to deliver approximately 20,000 kilograms each of supplies and science equipment to the ISS.

The goal of NASA’s COTS initiative is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the ISS and low-Earth orbit (LEO).
Orbital will launch at least eight Antares/Cygnus resupply missions to the ISS at a cost of $1.9 Billion

Up Close with Antares beautifully decaled nose NASA Wallops Pad 0-A. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Up Close with Antares beautifully decaled nose NASA Wallops Pad 0-A. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Ken Kremer
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Learn more about Antares, Orion, SpaceX, Curiosity and NASA robotic and human spaceflight missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

April 28: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus the Space Shuttle, SpaceX, Antares, Orion and more. Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, NJ, 130 PM

Antares accelerates to orbit on April 21, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Mark Usciak/AmericaSpace
Antares accelerates to orbit on April 21, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Mark Usciak/AmericaSpace
Antares at MARS Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia . Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares at MARS Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia . Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

How the Air Force and SpaceX Saved Dragon from Doom

The picture perfect docking of the SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 3 and the triumphant ocean splashdown last week on March 26 nearly weren’t to be – and it all goes back to a microscopic manufacturing mistake in the oxidizer tank check valves that no one noticed long before the vessel ever took flight.

Barely 11 minutes after I witnessed the spectacular March 1 blastoff of the Dragon atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, everyone’s glee suddenly turned to disbelief and gloom with the alarming news from SpaceX Mission Control that contact had been lost.

I asked SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk to explain what caused the failure and how they saved the drifting, uncontrolled Dragon capsule from doom – just in the nick of time.

Applying the space version of the Heimlich maneuver turned out to be the key. But if you can’t talk to the patient – all is lost.

dragonRight after spacecraft separation in low Earth orbit , a sudden and unexpected failure of the Dragon’s critical thrust pods had prevented three out of four from initializing and firing. The oxidizer pressure was low in three tanks. And the propulsion system is required to orient the craft for two way communication and to propel the Dragon to the orbiting lab complex.

So at first the outlook for the $133 million Dragon CRS-2 cargo resupply mission to the ISS appeared dire.

Then, SpaceX engineers and the U.S Air Force sprang into action and staged an amazing turnaround.

“The problem was a very tiny change to the check valves that serve the oxidizer tanks on Dragon.” Musk told Universe Today

“Three of the check valves were actually different from the prior check valves that had flown – in a very tiny way. Because of the tiny change they got stuck.”

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS – shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS – shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

SpaceX engineers worked frantically to troubleshoot the thruster issues in an urgent bid to overcome the serious glitch and bring the crucial propulsion systems back on line.

“What we did was we were able to write some new software in real time and upload that to Dragon to build pressure upstream of the check valves and then released that pressure- to give it a kind of a kick,” Musk told me at a NASA media briefing.

“For the spacecraft you could call it kind of a Heimlich maneuver. Basically that got the valves unstuck and then they worked well”

“But we had difficulty communicating with the spacecraft because it was in free drift in orbit.”

“So we worked closely with the Air Force to get higher intensity, more powerful dishes to communicate with the spacecraft and upload the software to do the Heimlich pressure maneuver.”

Schematic of SpaceX Dragon. Credit: SpaceX
Schematic of SpaceX Dragon. Credit: SpaceX

Just how concerned was Musk?

“Yes, definitely it was a worrying time,” Musk elaborated.

“It was a little frightening,” Musk had said right after the March 1 launch.

Later in the briefing Musk explained that there had been a small design change to the check valves by the supplier.

“The supplier had made mistakes that we didn’t catch,” said Musk. “You would need a magnifying glass to see the difference.”

SpaceX had run the new check valves through a series of low pressurization systems tests and they worked well and didn’t get stuck. But SpaceX had failed to run the functional tests at higher pressures.

“We’ll make sure we don’t repeat that error in the future,” Musk stated.

Musk added that SpaceX will revert to the old check valves and run tests to make sure this failure doesn’t happen again.

SpaceX, along with Orbital Sciences Corp, are both partnered with NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program to replace the cargo up mass capability the US lost following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in 2011.

Orbital’s Antares rocket could blast off on its first test mission as early as April 17.

Of course the Dragon CRS-2 flight isn’t the first inflight space emergency, and surely won’t be the last either.

So, for some additional perspective on the history of reacting to unexpected emergencies in space on both human spaceflight and robotic science probes, Universe Today contacted noted space historian Roger Launius, of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (NASM).

Roger provided these insights to Universe Today editor Nancy Atkinson – included here:

“There are many instances in the history of spaceflight in which the mission had difficulties that were overcome and it proved successful,” said Launius.

“Let’s start with Hubble Space Telescope which had a spherical aberration on its mirror and the first reports in 1990 were that it would be a total loss, but the engineers found workarounds that allowed it to be successful even before the December 1993 servicing mission by a shuttle crew that really turned it into a superb scientific instrument.”

“Then what about Galileo, the Jupiter probe, which had a problem with its high gain antenna. It never did fully deploy but the engineers found ways to overcome that problem with the communication system and the spacecraft turned into a stunning success.”

“If you want to feature human spaceflight let’s start with the 1999 shuttle flight with Eileen Collins as commander that had a shutdown of the SSMEs prematurely and it failed to reach its optimum orbit. It still completed virtually all of the mission requirements.”

“That says nothing about Apollo 13,… I could go on and on. In virtually every mission there has been something potentially damaging to the mission that has happened. Mostly the folks working the mission have planned for contingencies and implement them and the public rarely hears about it as it looks from the outside like a flawless operation.”

“Bottom line, the recovery of the Dragon capsule was not all that amazing. It was engineers in the space business doing what they do best,” said Launius.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX, Antares, Curiosity and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

April 20/21 : “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus Orion, SpaceX, Antares, the Space Shuttle and more! NEAF Astronomy Forum, Suffern, NY

April 28: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus the Space Shuttle, SpaceX, Antares, Orion and more. Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, NJ, 130 PM

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule poised to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on a commercial resupply mission to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com