Commercial Cygnus Cargo Freighter Departs ISS After Resuming US Resupply Runs

Cygnus before we let her go as we flew above Bolivia this morning, Feb. 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly
Cygnus before we let her go as we flew above Bolivia this morning, Feb. 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

A commercial Cygnus cargo freighter departed the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Feb. 19) after successfully resuming America’s train of resupply runs absolutely essential to the continued productive functioning of the orbiting science outpost.

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra commanded the release of the privately developed Orbital ATK “S.S. Deke Slayton II” Cygnus resupply ship from the snares of the stations Canadian-built robotic arm at 7:26 a.m. EST – while the space station was flying approximately 250 miles (400 km) above Bolivia.

“Honor to give #Cygnus a hand (or arm) in finalizing its mission this morning. Well done #SSDekeSlayton!” Kelly quickly posted to his social media accounts.

The Orbital ATK “S.S. Deke Slayton II” Cygnus craft had arrived at the station with several tons of supplies on Dec. 9, 2015 after blazing to orbit on Dec. 6 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the company’s fourth NASA-contracted commercial station resupply mission dubbed CRS-4.

Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named SS Deke Slayton II is released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 on Feb 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly
Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named SS Deke Slayton II is released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 on Feb 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

To prepare for today’s release, ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center first used the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6- meter-long) robotic arm, Canadarm2, to unberth Cygnus from its place on the stations Earth-facing port of the Unity module at about 5:38 a.m.

Cygnus came loaded with over three tons of critically needed supplies and research experiments as well as Christmas presents for the astronauts and cosmonauts living and working on the massive orbital lab complex during Expeditions 45 and 46.

Today’s activities were carried live on NASA TV. This brief NASA video shows a few highlights from Cygnus departure:

Altogether, Cygnus spent approximately 72 days attached to the station. During that time the crews unloaded all the research gear for experiments in areas such as biology, biotechnology, and physical and Earth science.

“All good things must come to an end. #Cygnus, your mission was a success! Farewell #SSDekeSlayton,” said Kelly.

Mission controllers at Orbital ATK’s Dulles, VA space operations facility soon commanded Cygnus to fire its thrusters to gradually maneuver away from the station.

The Cygnus spacecraft is released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 on Feb 19, 2016.  Credit: NASA TV
The Cygnus spacecraft is released from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 on Feb 19, 2016. Credit: NASA TV

Before departure, the crew had loaded Cygnus back up with about 3000 pounds of trash for disposal.

On Saturday, after the spacecraft is far away from the station, controllers will fire the engines twice to pushing the vehicle into Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery reentry where it will harmlessly burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, Kelly himself will also be departing the ISS in about ten days when his historic ‘1 Year ISS Mission’ concludes on March 1, when he returns to Earth on a Russian Soyuz capsule along with his cosmonaut crewmates Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov.

December’s arrival of the Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 cargo freighter – also known as OA-4 – represented the successful restart of American’s critically needed cargo missions to the ISS following a pair of launch failures by both of NASA’s cargo providers – Orbital ATK and SpaceX – over the past year and a half. It was the first successful US cargo delivery mission in some 8 months.

Cygnus was named the ‘SS Deke Slayton II’ in memory of Deke Slayton, one of the America’s original seven Mercury astronauts. He was a member of the Apollo Soyuz Test Flight. Slayton was also a champion of America’s commercial space program.

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay clean room at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized module is being processed for Dec. 3, 2015 launch, Dan Tani, former astronaut and now Orbital ATK VP for Mission and Cargo Operations, center, poses with Cygnus and mural of Deke Slayton, along with Randy Gordon, Launch Support Project manager for NASA, and Kevin Leslie, ULA Mission manager. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the Orbital ATK Cygnus pressurized module is being processed for Dec. 3, 2015 launch, Dan Tani, former astronaut and now Orbital ATK VP for Mission and Cargo Operations, center, poses with Cygnus and mural of Deke Slayton, along with Randy Gordon, Launch Support Project manager for NASA, and Kevin Leslie, ULA Mission manager. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

CRS-4 counts as the first flight of Cygnus on an Atlas and the first launch to the ISS using an Atlas booster.

This is also the first flight of the enhanced, longer Cygnus, measuring 5.1 meters (20.5 feet) tall and 3.05 meters (10 feet) in diameter, sporting a payload volume of 27 cubic meters.

“The enhanced Cygnus PCM is 1.2 meters longer, so it’s about 1/3 longer,” Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK Vice President for Human Spaceflight Systems Programs, said in an exclusive interview with Universe Today.

This Cygnus also carried its heaviest payload to date since its significantly more voluminous than the original shorter version.

“It can carry about 50% more payload,” DeMauro told me.

“This Cygnus will carry more payload than all three prior vehicles combined,” former NASA astronaut Dan Tani elaborated.

The total payload packed on board amounted to 3513 kilograms (7745 pounds), including science investigations, crew supplies, vehicle hardware, spacewalk equipment and computer resources.

Among the contents are science equipment totaling 846 kg (1867 lbs.), crew supplies of 1181 kg (2607 lbs.), and spacewalk equipment of 227 kg (500 lbs.).

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus Spacecraft carrying vital cargo to resupply the International Space Station lifts-off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Dec. 6, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK’s Cygnus Spacecraft carrying vital cargo to resupply the International Space Station lifts-off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Dec. 6, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orbital ATK holds a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from NASA worth $1.9 Billion to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for eight Cygnus cargo delivery flights to the ISS.

Orbital ATK has contracted a second Cygnus to fly on an Atlas on the OA-6 mission, currently slated for liftoff around March 22, 2016. Liftoff was delayed about two weeks to decontaminate an infestation of mold found in cargo already packed on the Cygnus.

NASA has also contracted with Orbital ATK to fly three additional missions through 2018. Orbital also recently was awarded six additional cargo missions by NASA as part of the CRS-2 procurement.

Orbital ATK hopes to resume Cygnus cargo launches with their own re-engined Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia this summer.

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

Ken Kremer

Cygnus Docks at Station for Christmas Delivery to Successfully Resume American Resupply Chain

@OrbitalATK’s #Cygnus spacecraft is moving toward its capture point at the International Space Station as astronaut maneuver the Canadian-built robotic arm to  reach out for dramatic vehicle grappling on Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: NASA TV
@OrbitalATK’s #Cygnus spacecraft is moving toward its capture point at the International Space Station as astronauts maneuver the Canadian-built robotic arm to reach out for dramatic vehicle grappling on Dec. 9, 2015. Credit: NASA TV
Story/photos updated

The commercial Cygnus cargo spaceship, loaded with over three tons of critically needed supplies and research experiments, successfully rendezvoused and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Dec. 9) after blazing to orbit on Sunday, Dec. 6, and thereby successfully resumed the American resupply chain to orbit – just in time for Christmas in Space!

The Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 resupply vessel arrived in the vicinity of the massive orbiting outpost around 530 a.m. EST today with pinpoint accuracy after precisely firing its maneuvering thrusters to home in on the complex during a two day orbital chase.

After moving close in to Continue reading “Cygnus Docks at Station for Christmas Delivery to Successfully Resume American Resupply Chain”

Critical Cygnus Return to Flight Mission via Atlas V Set to Restore US Cargo Launches to ISS – Watch Live

Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft poised for blastoff  to ISS on  ULA Atlas V on Dec. 3, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 spacecraft poised for blastoff to ISS on ULA Atlas V on Dec. 3, 2015 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In the shadow of the spanking new commercial crew access tower that our astronauts will soon ascend to restore America’s human access to space, the first ever Atlas V rocket that will launch a commercial Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) is poised for blastoff on Thursday, December 3, from the Florida Space Coast and resume the train of critically needed American cargo launches to the orbiting science laboratory.

The stakes are high for NASA and the ISS partners following a string of three cargo mission mishaps over the past year resulting from a trio of launch failures by both US and Russian rocket providers involving Orbital ATK, SpaceX and Roscosmos.

The ISS and her six person crew cannot Continue reading “Critical Cygnus Return to Flight Mission via Atlas V Set to Restore US Cargo Launches to ISS – Watch Live”

Cygnus Freighter Fueled and Loaded to Resume American Cargo Launches to Space Station

First enhanced Orbital ATK Cygnus commercial cargo ship is fully assembled and being processed for blastoff  to the ISS on Dec. 3, 2015 on an ULA Atlas V rocket. This view shows the Cygnus, named the SS Deke Slayton II, and twin payload enclosure fairings inside the Kennedy Space Center clean room.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
First enhanced Orbital ATK Cygnus commercial cargo ship is fully assembled and being processed for blastoff to the ISS on Dec. 3, 2015 on a ULA Atlas V rocket. This view shows the Cygnus, named the SS Deke Slayton II, and twin payload enclosure fairings inside the Kennedy Space Center clean room. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The largest and most advanced version of the privately developed Cygnus cargo freighter ever built by Orbital ATK is fueled, loaded and ready to go to orbit – signifying a critical turning point towards resuming American commercial cargo launches to the space station for NASA that are critical to keep it functioning.

The enhanced and fully assembled commercial Cygnus was unveiled to the media, including Universe Today, during an exclusive tour inside the clean room facility on Friday, Nov. 13, where it is undergoing final prelaunch processing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Blastoff of Cygnus atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on the OA-4 resupply mission under contract to NASA is anticipated on Continue reading “Cygnus Freighter Fueled and Loaded to Resume American Cargo Launches to Space Station”

How to Watch Spectacular 1st Nighttime Antares Launch to ISS on Oct. 27 – Complete Viewing Guide

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Tens of millions of US East Coast residents can expect a dinnertime spectacular for the first ever nighttime launch of the commercial Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket slated to blastoff on Monday evening, October 27, from a beachside NASA launch base along the eastern shore of Virginia – if the weather holds as currently forecast.

You can watch live, below.

Antares is carrying Orbital’s private Cygnus cargo freighter loaded with a diverse array of science experiments on a critical cargo resupply mission named Orb-3, and is bound for the International Space Station (ISS).



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

NASA and Orbital Sciences are now targeting liftoff at 6:45 p.m. EDT on Oct. 27 from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility on Virginia’s shore.

Viewing over New York City from River Road in North Bergen, New Jersey, looking south . Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
Viewing over New York City from River Road in North Bergen, New Jersey, looking south . Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.

The launch to the ISS was delayed three days due to Hurricane Gonzalo and its direct hit on the island of Bermuda which is also home to a critical rocket tracking station – as reported here. The tracking is required to ensure public safety.

If you have never seen a rocket launch, this could be the one for you – especially since its conveniently in the early evening and you don’t have to take the long trek to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Here’s our complete guide on “How to See the Antares/Cygnus Oct. 27 Blastoff” – chock full of viewing maps and trajectory graphics (above and below) from a variety of prime viewing locations, including historic and notable landmarks Washington, DC, NYC, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and more.

Viewing the launch across the tidal basin from the MLK Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
Viewing the launch across the tidal basin from the MLK Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.

Depending on local weather conditions, the Antares blastoff will be visible along much of the US eastern seaboard – stretching from Maine to South Carolina.

For precise viewing locations and sighting times, see the collection of detailed maps and trajectory graphics courtesy of Orbital Sciences and NASA.

Antares first night launch will also be visible to some inland regions, including portions of New England, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Of course the absolute best viewing will be locally in the mid-Atlantic region closest to Wallops Island.

Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft await launch on Orb 2 mission on July 13, 2014 from 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 await launch on Orb 2 mission on July 13, 2014, from 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

Locally at Wallops 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 pressurized Cygnus cargo spacecraft is loaded with some 5,000 pounds of research experiments, top notch student science investigations from the NCESSE/SSEP, supplies, spare parts, and crew provisions on what will be the fourth Cygnus flight overall, including a demonstration flight in 2013.

Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops.  Science experiments from these students representing 15 middle and high schools across  America were selected to fly aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-2 spacecraft which launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on July 13, 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 15 middle and high schools across America were selected to fly aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus Orb-2 spacecraft which launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on July 13, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

This is the heaviest Cygnus cargo load to date because the Antares rocket is outfitted with a more powerful second stage from ATK – for the first time.

Altogether eight operational resupply missions will be flown for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. That’s the same contract NASA has with SpaceX and that company’s just completed Dragon CRS-4 mission which ended with a successful Pacific Ocean splashdown on Saturday, Oct. 25 – as I reported here.

Viewing the launch from the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, VA.  Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
Viewing the launch from the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, VA. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.

It is the third of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA through 2016.

The Orbital-3, or Orb-3, mission is the third of the eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS under the NASA CRS award valued at $1.9 Billion.

This Cygnus resupply module, dubbed “SS Deke Slayton,” honors one of America’s original Mercury 7 astronauts, Donald “Deke” K. Slayton. He flew on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission in 1975 and championed commercial space endeavors after retiring from NASA in 1982. Slayton passed away in 1993.

NASA Television will broadcast live coverage of the event, including pre- and post-launch briefings and arrival at the station. Launch coverage begins at 5:45 p.m. Monday – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

You can also watch the pre- and post launch briefing on Sunday and Monday on NASA TV.

What the Antares launch will look like from Fells Point in Baltimore, MD. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
What the Antares launch will look like from Fells Point in Baltimore, MD. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.

The weather prognosis is currently very favorable with a greater than a 90% chance of acceptable weather conditions at launch time.

Watch here for Ken’s onsite reporting direct from NASA Wallops.

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

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Commercial Space, Orion and NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations:

Oct 26/27: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

What the Antares launch will look like over the Port of Baltimore, MD. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
What the Antares launch will look like over the Port of Baltimore, MD. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
What the Antares launch will look looking south over Heritage Commission in Dover, DE. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
What the Antares launch will look looking south over Heritage Commission in Dover, DE. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
Viewing the launch from looking East from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.  Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
Viewing the launch from looking East from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.
Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft blasts off on July 13  2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility , VA, on the Orb-2 mission and loaded with over 3000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the crew aboard the International Space Station.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft blasts off on July 13, 2014, from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility , VA, on the Orb-2 mission and loaded with over 3000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the crew aboard the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Men Who Didn’t Go to the Moon

On this day (Feb. 28) in 1966, the Gemini 9 prime crew was in a T-38 airplane making a final approach to a McDonnell Aircraft plant in St. Louis, Missouri. Amid deteriorating weather conditions, Elliot See tried to make a landing. His airplane collided with the factory building in which his spacecraft was under construction. The plane crashed, killing both See and his crewmate Charlie Bassett.

The accident sent shockwaves through the small astronaut corps, and also necessitated some hasty reassignments. The Gemini 9 backup crew of Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan immediately became the prime crew and launched into space on May 17, 1966 on a mission that included a challenging spacewalk for Cernan.

But according to Deke Slayton, who was responsible for crew selections at the time, the deaths of See and Bassett even affected the Moon missions of Apollo.

“I … had a lot of plans for Charlie Bassett — after GT-9 [Gemini 9] he would have moved on to command module pilot for Frank Borman’s Apollo crew. Elliott was going to be backup commander for GT-12,” wrote Slayton in his memoir Deke!, which he created with help from Twilight Zone writer (and multiple book author) Michael Cassutt.

In Slayton’s mind, the loss of this one crew affected assignments all the way to the first crew who landed on the Moon: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11. (Michael Collins was also on the mission, but remained in orbit in the command module.)

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon for Apollo 11. Credit: NASA

“All the backups were changed, and Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin wound up being pointed at GT-12,” Slayton wrote. “Without flying GT-12, it was very unlikely that Buzz would have been in any position to be lunar module pilot on the first landing attempt.”

It’s possible this crash could even have affected Apollo 13, which happened four years later.

Jim Lovell flew on Apollo 8 as the command module pilot. While Slayton didn’t state it, Lovell’s experience on that mission likely led to his appointment as commander for Apollo 14. Fate then shifted him forward a flight to the ill-fated Apollo 13, which was crippled by an oxygen tank explosion, after the original commander of that flight, Al Shepard, required a little more time for training.

As for See and Bassett, their remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which is also home to many other fallen crews. Several crew members from Apollo 1, the Challenger disaster and the Columbia disaster have been laid to rest there.