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
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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

What’s Ahead for Human Rated SpaceX Dragon in 2014 – Musk tells Universe Today

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch of Dragon spacecraft on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. During 2014, SpaceX plans two flight tests simulating human crewed Dragon emergency abort scenarios launching from right here at pad 40. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
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CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – A trio of American companies – SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada – are working diligently to restore America’s capability to launch humans into low Earth orbit from US soil, aided by seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in a public-private partnership.

We’ve been following the solid progress made by all three companies. Here we’ll focus on two crucial test flights planned by SpaceX in 2014 to human rate and launch the crewed version of their entry into the commercial crew ‘space taxi’ sweepstakes, namely the Dragon spacecraft.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak about the upcoming test flights with the head of SpaceX, Elon Musk.

So I asked Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, about “what’s ahead in 2014”; specifically related to a pair of critical “abort tests” that he hopes to conduct with the human rated “version of our Dragon spacecraft.”

“Assuming all goes well, we expect to conduct [up to] two Dragon abort tests next year in 2014,” Musk told me.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite  from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two abort flight tests in 2014 involve demonstrating the ability of the Dragon spacecraft abort system to lift an uncrewed spacecraft clear of a simulated launch emergency.

The crewed Dragon – also known as DragonRider – will be capable of lofting up to seven astronauts to the ISS and remaining docked for at least 180 days.

First a brief overview of the goals of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. It was started in the wake of the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program which flew its final human crews to the International Space Station (ISS) in mid-2011.

“NASA has tasked SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada to develop spacecraft capable of safely transporting humans to the space station, returning that capability to the United States where it belongs,’ says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Since 2011, US astronauts have been 100% dependent on the Russians and their Soyuz capsules to hitch a ride to low Earth orbit and the ISS.

The abort tests are essential for demonstrating that the Dragon vehicle will activate thrusters and separate in a split second from a potentially deadly exploding rocket fireball to save astronauts lives in the event of a real life emergency – either directly on the launch pad or in flight.

“We are aiming to do at least the pad abort test next year [in 2014] with version 2 of our Dragon spacecraft that would carry astronauts,” Musk told me.

This is the Dragon mock-up that will be used for an upcoming pad abort test on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40.  Credit: SpaceX
This is the Dragon mock-up that will be used for an upcoming pad abort test on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX plans to launch the crewed Dragon atop the human rated version of their own developed Falcon 9 next generation rocket, which is also being simultaneously developed to achieve all of NASA’s human rating requirements.

The initial pad abort test will test the ability of the full-size Dragon to safely push away and escape in case of a failure of its Falcon 9 booster rocket in the moments around launch, right at the launch pad.

“The purpose of the pad abort test is to demonstrate Dragon has enough total impulse (thrust) to safely abort,” SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin informed me.

For that test, Dragon will use its pusher escape abort thrusters to lift the Dragon safely away from the failing rocket. The vehicle will be positioned on a structural facsimile of the Dragon trunk in which the actual Falcon 9/Dragon interfaces will be represented by mockups.

This test will be conducted on SpaceX’s launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will not include an actual Falcon 9 booster.

The second Dragon flight test involves simulating an in flight emergency abort scenario during ascent at high altitude at maximum aerodynamic pressure at about T plus 1 minute, to save astronauts lives. The pusher abort thrusters would propel the capsule and crew safely away from a failing Falcon 9 booster for a parachute assisted landing into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Assuming all goes well we expect to launch the high altitude abort test towards the end of next year,” Musk explained.

The second test will use the upgraded next generation version of the Falcon 9 that was successfully launched just weeks ago on its maiden mission from Cape Canaveral on Dec. 3. Read my earlier reports – starting here.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. The upgraded Falcon 9 will be used to launch the human rated SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

To date, SpaceX has already successfully launched the original cargo version of the Dragon a total of three times. And each one docked as planned at the ISS.

The last cargo Dragon blasted off on March 1, 2013. Read my prior articles starting – here.

The next cargo Dragon bound for the ISS is due to lift off on Feb. 22, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, FL.

SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon berthing at ISS on March 3, 2013. Credit: NASA

Orbital Sciences – the commercial ISS cargo competitor to SpaceX – plans to launch its Cygnus cargo vehicle on the Orb-1 mission bound for the ISS on Jan. 7 atop the firms Antares rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Watch for my on site reports from NASA Wallops.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program’s goal is launching American astronauts from U.S. soil within the next four years – by 2017 to the ISS.

The 2017 launch date is dependent on funding from the US federal government that will enable each of the firms to accomplish a specified series of milestones. NASA payments are only made after each companies milestones are successfully achieved.

SpaceX was awarded $440 million in the third round of funding in the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCAP) initiative which runs through the third quarter of 2014. As of November 2013, NASA said SpaceX had accomplished 9 of 15 milestones and was on track to complete all on time.

Musk hopes to launch an initial Dragon orbital test flight with a human crew of SpaceX test pilots perhaps as early as sometime in 2015 – if funding and all else goes well.

Either a US commercial ‘space taxi’ or the Orion exploration capsule could have blasted off with American astronauts much sooner – if not for the continuing year-by-year slashes to NASA’s overall budget forced by the so called ‘political leaders’ of all parties in Washington, DC.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss Falcon 9/SES-8 launch by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Ken Kremer of Universe Today discuss SpaceX upcoming flight plans by SpaceX Mission Control at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 7 launch, Curiosity, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 6-8: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 7”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX Test Fires SuperDraco Abort Engines Critical To Astronaut Launch Safety

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Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has test fired a prototype of its new SuperDraco engine that will be critical to saving the lives of astronauts flying aboard a manned Dragon spacecraft soaring to orbit in the event of an in-flight emergency.

The successful full-duration, full-thrust firing of the new SuperDraco engine prototype was completed at the company’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. The SuperDraco is a key component of the launch abort system of the Dragon spacecraft that must fire in a split second to insure crew safety during launch and the entire ascent to orbit.

The Dragon spacecraft is SpaceX’s entry into NASA’s commercial crew development program – known as CCDEV2 – that seeks to develop a commercial ‘space taxi’ to launch human crews to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).

The engine fired for 5 seconds during the test, which is the same length of time the engines need to burn during an actual emergency abort to safely thrust the astronauts away.

Watch the SpaceX SuperDraco Engine Test Video:

Nine months ago NASA awarded $75 million to SpaceX to design and test the Dragon’s launch abort system . The SuperDraco firing was the ninth of ten milestones that are to be completed by SpaceX by around May 2012 and that were stipulated and funded by a Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

“SpaceX and all our industry partners are being extremely innovative in their approaches to developing commercial transportation capabilities,” said Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango in a NASA statement. “We are happy that our investment in SpaceX was met with success in the firing of its new engine.”

Dragon will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket, also developed by SpaceX.

SpaceX test-fires its SuperDraco engine that will eventually power the manned Dragon spacecrafts launch escape system critical for Astronaut safety during launch to orbit. Credit: SpaceX

“Eight SuperDracos will be built into the sidewalls of the Dragon spacecraft, producing up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to quickly carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX chief executive officer and chief technology officer in a statement. “Those engines will have the ability to deep throttle, providing astronauts with precise control and enormous power.”

“Crews will have the unprecedented ability to escape from danger at any point during the launch because the launch abort engines are integrated into the side walls of the vehicle,” Musk said. “With eight SuperDracos, if any one engine fails the abort still can be carried out successfully.”

SuperDraco engines will power the launch escape system of SpaceX’s Dragon. Eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is one of four commercial firms working to develop a new human rated spacecraft with NASA funding. The other firms vying for a commercial crew contract are Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin.

“SuperDraco engines represent the best of cutting edge technology,” says Musk. “These engines will power a revolutionarylaunch escape system that will make Dragon the safest spacecraft in history and enable it to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy.”

The privately developed space taxi’s will eventually revive the capability to ferry American astronauts to and from the ISS that was totally lost when NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters were forcibly retired before a replacement crew vehicle was ready to launch.

Because the US Congress slashed NASA’s commercial crew development funding by more than 50% -over $400 million – the first launch of a commercial space taxi is likely to be delayed several more years to about 2017. Until that time, all American astronauts must hitch a ride to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz capsules.

This week the Russian manned space program suffered the latest in a string of failures when when technicians performing a crucial test mistakenly over pressurized and damaged the descent module of the next manned Soyuz vehicle set to fly to the ISS in late March, thereby forcing about a 45 day delay to the launch of the next manned Soyuz from Kazakhstan.