SS John Glenn Stellar Space Station Launch – Photo/Video Gallery

Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station -in tribute to John Glenn- launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT April 18, 2017, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – This week’s blastoff of the ‘SS John Glenn’ Cygnus cargo freighter atop an Atlas V rocket on a critical mission delivering over 7000 pounds of science and gear to the International Space Station (ISS) yielded stellar imagery from all around the Florida Space Coast.

On the occasion of what amounts to a sentimental third journey to space for NASA astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit Earth – near perfect weather conditions enabled spectacular views of the lunchtime liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V carrying Orbital ATK’s commercial Cygnus supply ship named in honor of a true American hero.

The SS John Glenn blasted to orbit on time at 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The cargo ship safely reached the station early Saturday morning.

The stunning launch events were captured by journalists and tourists gathered from across the globe.

Liftoff of Orbital ATK SS John Glenn OA-7 mission atop ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on April 18, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

Check out this expanding gallery of eyepopping photos and videos from several space journalist colleagues and friends and myself – for views you won’t see elsewhere.

Click back as the gallery grows !

Watch this truly magnificent and unique video from space journalist Jeff Seibert positioned at a Playalinda Beach on the Atlantic Ocean – as excited vacationers and space enthusiasts frolic together in the waves and sands of this public beach.

Video Caption: Launch of Orbital ATK OA-7 Cygnus cargo vessel viewed from Playalinda Beach, FL on April 18, 2017. An Atlas 5 rocket launching a Cygnus cargo vessel, the “S.S. John Glenn” to the ISS loaded with 7452 pounds of science equipment, experiments, consumables and spare parts. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Playalinda is located just north of NASA’s Launch Complex 39A and offers the closest and clearest possible views of Atlas rocket launches from only about 5 miles away.

Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station – in tribute to John Glenn- launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT April 18, 2017, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Four days after liftoff the SS John Glenn finally arrived at the station as planned Saturday morning April 22 following a carefully choreographed series of thruster maneuvers this past week.

The private Cygnus resupply vessel is carrying nearly four tons of science and supplies crammed inside for the five person multinational Expedition 51 crew.

After reaching the vicinity of the space station overnight Saturday, Cygnus was successfully captured by astronaut crew members Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Expedition 51 Station Commander Peggy Whitson of NASA at 6:05 a.m. EDT using the space station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) Canadian-built Canadarm2 robotic arm.

The SS John Glenn Cygnus vehicle counts as Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the station.

The vehicle is also known alternatively as the Cygnus OA-7 or CRS-7 mission.

Cygnus OA-7 is loaded with 3459 kg (7626 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware to the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 51 and 52 crews. The total volumetric capacity of Cygnus exceeds 27 cubic meters.

Blastoff of SS John Glenn on Orbital ATK OA-7 resupply mission bound for the ISS atop ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on April 18, 2017. Credit: Julia Bergeron

The Orbital ATK SS John Glenn Cygnus is the 2nd US cargo ship to launch to the ISS this year following the SpaceX Dragon CRS-10 mission in February – as I reported here.

ULA Atlas V streaks aloft carrying Orbital ATK SS John Glenn OA-7 resupply mission to the ISS after April 18, 2017 liftoff from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

Blastoff of SS John Glenn on Orbital ATK OA-7 resupply mission bound for the ISS atop ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on April 18, 2017. Credit: Julia Bergeron
ULA Atlas V soars to orbit with the Orbital ATK SS John Glenn OA-7 resupply mission to the ISS after April 18, 2017 liftoff from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Julia Bergeron
Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station – in tribute to John Glenn- launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT April 18, 2017, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK’s 7th cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT April 18, 2017 carrying the SS John Glenn atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, as seen from the VAB roof at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of Orbital ATK SS John Glenn OA-7 mission atop ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on April 18, 2017, as seen from VAB roof at KSC. Credit: Julian Leek
ULA Atlas V soars to orbit with the Orbital ATK SS John Glenn OA-7 resupply mission to the ISS after April 18, 2017 liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL – as seen from Titusville Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn. Credit: Gerald DeBose
Launch of Orbital ATK SS John Glenn atop ULA Atlas V on April 18, 2017 from pad 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL – as seen from KSC Press Site Complex 39. Credit: Jean Wright
Orbital ATK’s seventh cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station -in tribute to John Glenn- launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT April 18, 2017, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named for Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida behind a sign commemorating Glenn on March 9, 2017. It launched on April 18, 2017 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SS John Glenn Launching Science Stash to Space Station atop Atlas V April 18 – Watch Live and 360 Degree Video

Orbital ATK SS John Glenn CRS-7 launch vehicle with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft bolted to the top of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is poised for launch at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The ‘SS John Glenn’ cargo freighter stands proudly poised for launch at pad 41 from the Florida Space Coast on Tuesday April 18, loaded with a stash of nearly 4 tons of science investigations and essential supplies atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket destined for the multinational crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The lunchtime liftoff of the ‘SS John Glenn’ Cygnus resupply spacecraft manufactured by NASA commercial cargo provider Orbital ATK is slated for 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

The US cargo ships provided by NASA suppliers Orbital ATK and SpaceX every few months act as NASA’s essential railroad to space. And they are vital to operating the station with a steady stream of new research experiments as well as essential hardware, spare parts, crew supplies, computer, maintenance and spacewalking equipment as well food, water, clothing, provisions and much more.

The launch window lasts 30 minutes and runs from 11:11-11:41 a.m. EDT April 18.

Excited spectators are gathering from near and far and Tuesday’s weather outlook is spectacular so far.

Orbital ATK OA-7/CRS-7 vehicle rolls out to pad 41 atop ULA Atlas V rocket for launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 18, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

Blastoff of the S.S. John Glenn on the OA-7 or CRS-7 flight counts as Orbital ATK’s seventh contracted commercial resupply services mission to the ISS for NASA.

The ‘S.S. John Glenn’ is named in honor of legendary NASA astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit Earth back in February 1962.

If you can’t attend in person, there are a few options to watch online.

NASA’s Atlas V/Cygnus CRS-7 launch coverage will be broadcast on NASA TV and the NASA launch blog beginning at 10 AM, Tuesday morning.

You can watch the launch live NASA TV at: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

A ULA webcast will be available starting at 10 a.m. at: www.ulalaunch.com

And for the first time ever you can also watch the launch live via a live 360 stream on the NASA Television YouTube channel. The 360 degree broadcast starts about 10 minutes prior to lift off at:

http://youtube.com/nasatelevision

The late morning daytime launch offers the perfect opportunity to debut this technology with the rocket magnificently visible atop a climbing plume of smoke and ash – and with a “pads-eye” view!

NASA/ULA Atlas V launch of Orbital ATK SS John Glenn Cygnus spacecraft on OA-7 resupply ship on April 18, 2017. Credit: ULA/Orbital ATK/NASA

Science plays a big role in this mission in tribute named in tribute to John Glenn. Over one third of the payload loaded aboard Cygnus involves science.

“The new experiments will include an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment and an advanced plant habitat for studying plant physiology and growth of fresh food in space,” according to NASA.

The astronauts will grow food in space, including Arabidopsis and dwarf wheat, in an experiment that could lead to providing nutrition to astronauts on a deep space journey to Mars.

“Another new investigation bound for the U.S. National Laboratory will look at using magnetized cells and tools to make it easier to handle cells and cultures, and improve the reproducibility of experiments. Cygnus also is carrying 38 CubeSats, including many built by university students from around the world as part of the QB50 program. The CubeSats are scheduled to deploy from either the spacecraft or space station in the coming months.”

Also aboard is the ‘Genes in Space-2’ experiment. A high school student experiment from Julian Rubinfien of Stuyvescent High School, New York City, to examine accelerated aging during space travel. This first experiment will test if telomere-like DNA can be amplified in space with a small box sized experiment that will be activated by station astronauts.

The Saffire III payload experiment will follow up on earlier missions to study the development and spread of fire and flames in the microgravity environment of space. The yard long experiment is located in the back of the Cygnus vehicle. It will be activated after Cygnus departs the station roughly 80 days after berthing. It will take a few hours to collect the data for transmission to Earth.

Furthermore you can learn more about the Orbital ATK CRS-7 mission by going to the mission home page at: http://www.nasa.gov/orbitalatk

Up close view of umbilical’s connecting to Atlas V rocket carrying Orbital ATK CRS-7 launch vehicle to the ISS at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 17, 2017 prior to planned launch on April 18. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

From a weather standpoint, Tuesday’s launch outlook is outstanding at this time.

According to meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron we are forecasting a 90 percent chance of “go” conditions at the 11:11 a.m. EDT launch time. The primary concern is for the possibility of cumulus clouds.

The forecast calls for temperatures of 75-76° F with on-shore winds peaking below 10 knots during the countdown.

In the event of a delay for any reason related to weather or technical issues a backup launch opportunity exists for Wednesday, April 19, and also looks promising.

The AF is also predicting the same 90 percent chance of “go” conditions at launch time. With the primary concern again being for the possibility of cumulus clouds.

Orbital ATK SS John Glenn OA-7 vehicle atop ULA Atlas V rocket slated for launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on April 18, 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

The rocket was rolled out to pad 41 at about 9 a.m. EDT this morning Monday April 17, in a process that takes about 25 minutes

The rocket and spacecraft passed the Launch Readiness Review held by United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK on April 15. Launch managers from ULA, Orbital ATK and NASA determined all is ready for Tuesday’s targeted launch to the ISS.

OA-7 is loaded with 3500 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware to the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 51 and 52 crews. The total volumetric capacity of Cygnus exceeds 27 cubic meters.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named for Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida behind a sign commemorating Glenn on March 9, 2017. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-7 (OA-7) mission will launch aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) in the 401 configuration vehicle. This includes a 4-meter-diameter payload fairing in its longest, extra extended configuration (XEPF) to accommodate the enhanced, longer Cygnus variant being used.

Orbital ATK SS John Glenn Cygnus CRS-7 cargo ship bolted on top of United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is poised for launch to the ISS at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The first stage of the Atlas V booster is powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. There are no side mounted solids on the first stage. The Centaur upper stage is powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

Overall this is the 71st launch of an Atlas V and the 36th utilizing the 401 configuration.

The 401 is thus the workhorse version of the Atlas V and accounts for half of all launches.

Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 spacecraft named the SS John Glenn for Original 7 Mercury astronaut and Sen. John Glenn, undergoes processing inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 9, 2017 for launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about the SS John Glenn/ULA Atlas V launch to ISS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Apr 18-19: “SS John Glenn/ULA Atlas V launch to ISS, SpaceX SES-10, EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Orbital ATK SS John Glenn Cygnus CRS-7 cargo ship bolted on top of United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is poised for launch to the ISS at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 18, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Next Cygnus Cargo Ship Christened the SS John Glenn to Honor First American in Orbit

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named for Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida behind a sign commemorating Glenn on March 9, 2017. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The next Cygnus cargo ship launching to the International Space Station (ISS) has been christened the ‘S.S. John Glenn’ to honor legendary NASA astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit the Earth back in February 1962.

John Glenn was selected as one of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts chosen at the dawn of the space age in 1959. He recently passed away on December 8, 2016 at age 95.

The naming announcement was made by spacecraft builder Orbital ATK during a ceremony with the ‘S.S. John Glenn’, held inside the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) clean room facility where the cargo freighter is in the final stages of flight processing – and attended by media including Universe Today on Thursday, March 9.

“It is my humble duty and our great honor to name this spacecraft the S.S. John Glenn,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of Orbital ATK’s Advanced Programs division, during the clean room ceremony in the inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The next Orbital ATK Cygnus supply ship was christened the SS John Glenn in honor of Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts as it stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on March 9, 2017. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The S.S. John Glenn is scheduled to liftoff as the Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 spacecraft for NASA on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launch no earlier than March 21 from Space launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The space station resupply mission dubbed Cygnus OA-7 is dedicated to Glenn and his landmark achievement as the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962 and his life promoting science, human spaceflight and education.

“John Glenn was probably responsible for more students studying math and science and being interested in space than anyone,” said former astronaut Brian Duffy, Orbital ATK’s vice president of Exploration Systems, during the clean room ceremony on March 9.

“When he flew into space in 1962, there was not a child then who didn’t know his name. He’s the one that opened up space for all of us.”

The Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 supply ship named in honor of Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at KSC. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Julian Leek

Glenn’s 3 orbit mission played a pivotal role in the space race with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War era.

“He has paved the way for so many people to follow in his footsteps,” said DeMauro.

All of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus freighters have been named after deceased American astronauts.

Glenn is probably America’s most famous astronaut in addition to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon during Apollo 11 in 1969.

John Glenn went on to become a distinguished U.S. Senator from his home state of Ohio on 1974. He served for 24 years during 4 terms.

He later flew a second mission to space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998 as part of the STS-95 crew at age 77. Glenn remains the oldest person ever to fly in space.

“Glenn paved the way for America’s space program, from moon missions, to the space shuttle and the International Space Station. His commitment to America’s human space flight program and his distinguished military and political career make him an ideal honoree for the OA-7 mission,” Orbital ATK said in a statement.

Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 spacecraft named the SS John Glenn for Original 7 Mercury astronaut and Sen. John Glenn, undergoes processing inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 9, 2017 for launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

“The OA-7 mission is using the Enhanced Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) to deliver cargo to the International Space Station,” said DeMauro.

Cygnus will carry 7,700 pounds (3500 kg) of cargo to the station with a total volumetric capacity of 27 cubic meters.

“All these teams have worked extremely hard to get this mission to this point and we are looking forward to a great launch.”

Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 supply ship named the SS John Glenn undergoes processing inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at KSC on March 9, 2017. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

This is the third Cygnus to launch on an Atlas V rocket from the Cape. The last one launched a year ago on March 24, 2016 during the OA-6 mission. The first one launched in December 2015 during the OA-4 mission.

“We’re building the bridge to history with these missions,” said Vernon Thorp, ULA’s program manager for Commercial Missions.

“Every mission is fantastic and every mission is unique. At the end of the day every one of these missions is critical.”

The Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-7 supply ship named in honor of Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at KSC. Launch slated for March 21 on a ULA Atlas V. Credit: Julian Leek

The other Cygnus spacecraft have launched on the Orbital ATK commercial Antares rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore.

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

Overall this is Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply services mission (CRS) to the space station under contract to NASA.

OA-7 also counts as NASA’s second supply mission of the year to the station following last month’s launch of the SpaceX Dragon CRS-10 capsule on Feb. 19 and which is currently berthed to the station at a Earth facing port on the Harmony module.

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Cygnus OA-8 mission will launch again from NASA Wallops in the summer of 2017, DeMauro told me.

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

Ken Kremer

Posing with the newly christened SS John Glenn for the Cygnus OA-7 resupply mission to the ISS are Vern Thorp, United Launch Alliance Program program manager for Commercial Missions, Ken Kremer, Universe Today and Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK vice president and general manager of Orbital ATK’s Advanced Programs division inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility cleanroom at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on March 9, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

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Learn more about SpaceX EchoStar 23 and CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar launch GOES-R launch, Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX AMOS-6, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Mar 13-15: “SpaceX EchoStar 23, CRS-10 launch to ISS, ULA Atlas SBIRS GEO 3 launch, EchoStar 19 comsat launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, SpaceX and Orbital ATK missions to the ISS, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Installation complete! Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft was attached to the International Space_Station at 10:53 a.m.  EDT on 23 Oct. 2016 after launching atop Antares rocket on 17 Oct. 2016 from NASA Wallops in Virginia. Credit: NASA
Installation complete! Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft was attached to the International Space_Station at 10:53 a.m. EDT on 23 Oct. 2016 after launching atop Antares rocket on 17 Oct. 2016 from NASA Wallops in Virginia. Credit: NASA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On-Ramp to the International Space Station (ISS) with Orbital ATL Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter which launched on 17 Oct. 2016 and berthed at the Unity docking port on 23 Oct. 2016.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
On-Ramp to the International Space Station (ISS) with Orbital ATL Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter which launched on 17 Oct. 2016 and berthed at the Unity docking port on 23 Oct. 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

Altogether a trio of Cygnus vessels might launch in 2017.

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

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

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

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

Under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 28,700 kilograms of cargo to the space station. OA-5 is the sixth of these missions.

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

Cygnus cargo spacecraft atop Orbital ATK Antares rocket on Pad-0A prior to blastoff on Oct. 17, 2016 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer
Cygnus cargo spacecraft atop Orbital ATK Antares rocket on Pad-0A prior to blastoff on Oct. 17, 2016 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer

Re-engined’ Antares Rocket Completes Crucial Engine Test Firing

Orbital ATK conducted a full-power test of the upgraded first stage propulsion system of its Antares rocket on May 31, 2016 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A.  Credit: NASA/Orbital ATK
Orbital ATK conducted a full-power test of the upgraded first stage propulsion system of its Antares rocket on May 31, 2016 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A. Credit: NASA/Orbital ATK

Orbital ATK announced late Tuesday that the company’s Antares medium-class commercial rocket outfitted with new first stage RD-181 engines has successfully completed a test firing of the powerplants.

The 30-second long static test firing took place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, May 31, at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A.

The now revamped launch vehicle – dubbed Antares 230 – has been ‘re-engined’ and upgraded with a pair of modern and more powerful first stage engines – the Russian-built RD-181 fueled by LOX/kerosene.

The engine test was conducted using only the first stage of Antares at the MARS Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

“Early indications show the upgraded propulsion system, core stage and launch complex all worked together as planned,” said Mike Pinkston, Orbital ATK General Manager and Vice President, Antares Program.

“Congratulations to the combined NASA, Orbital ATK and Virginia Space team on a successful test.”

Orbital ATK engineers will now “review test data over the next several days to confirm that all test parameters were met”

Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new RD-181 engines stands erect at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming stage test on May 31. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new RD-181 engines stands erect at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming stage test on May 31. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

If all goes well with the intensive data review, the company could launch Antares as soon as July on its next NASA contracted mission – known as OA-5 – to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

The test involved firing up Antares dual first stage RD-181 engines at full 100% power (thrust) for a scheduled duration of approximately 30 seconds. Hold down restraints kept the rocket firmly anchored at the pad during the test.

The RD-181 replaces the previously used AJ26 which failed moments after liftoff during the last launch on Oct. 28, 2014 resulting in a catastrophic failure of the rocket and the Cygnus cargo freighter.

The RD-181 flight engines are built by Energomash in Russia and had to be tested via the static hot fire test to ensure their readiness.

“They are a good drop in replacement for the AJ26. And they offer 13% higher thrust compared to the AJ26,” said Kurt Eberly, Orbital ATK Antares deputy program manager, in an interview with Universe Today.

First stage of Orbital ATK Antares rocket outfitted with new RD-181 engines stands erect at Launch Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming May 31 hot fire engine test. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
First stage of Orbital ATK Antares rocket outfitted with new RD-181 engines stands erect at Launch Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming May 31 hot fire engine test. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As a result of switching to the new RD-181 engines, the first stage also had to be modified to incorporate new thrust adapter structures, actuators, and propellant feed lines between the engines and core stage structure.

So the primary goal was to confirm the effectiveness of the new engines and all the changes in the integrated rocket stage.

“The successful stage test, along with the extensive testing of each new RD-181, gives us further confidence in the first stage propulsion and in moving forward to launch,” said Pinkston.

“We are now focused on the OA-5 mission and launching the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station on our upgraded, higher-performing Antares rocket.”
The test used the first stage core planned to launch the OA-7 mission from Wallops late this year.

With the engine test is completed, the OA-7 stage will be rolled back to the HIF and a new stage fully integrated with the Cygnus cargo freighter will be rolled out to the pad for the OA-5 ‘Return to Flight’ mission as soon as July.

“Each of the new flight RD-181 engines has undergone hot fire acceptance testing at the manufacturer’s facility prior to being shipped to Orbital ATK. A certification test series was successfully completed in the spring of 2015 where a single engine was test fired seven times, accumulating 1,650 seconds of test time and replicating the Antares flight profile, before being disassembled for inspection,” said Orbital ATK officials.

Bird takes flight over Orbital ATK Antares set to sail skyward again in summer 2016 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Bird takes flight over Orbital ATK Antares set to sail skyward again in summer 2016 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

Reborn Antares Raised at Virginia Launch Pad for Crucial May 31 Engine Test

First stage of Orbital ATK Antares rocket outfitted with new RD-181 engines stands erect at Launch Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming May 31 hot fire engine test. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
First stage of Orbital ATK Antares rocket outfitted with new RD-181 engines stands erect at Launch Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for upcoming May 31 engine test. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – The soon to be reborn Orbital ATK Antares commercial rocket sporting new first stage engines has been raised at its repaired launch pad on Virginia’s scenic eastern shore for a long awaited test firing of the powerplants. The static test firing is now slated to take place in less than 3 days on Tuesday evening, May 31.

The now revamped launch vehicle – dubbed Antares 230 – has been ‘re-engined’ and upgraded with a pair of modern and more powerful first stage engines – the Russian-built RD-181 fueled by LOX/kerosene.

The engine test will be conducted using only the first stage of Antares at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

The raised rocket with the first stage capped at the top is visible right now at the Wallops pad – as seen in my new photos taken this week.

NASA announced that the static test firing is slated for no earlier than May 31 during a test window that runs from 5 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. EDT. As a contingency, the Wallops range has been reserved for backup test dates that run through June 5 just in case issues crop up.

NASA will not be carrying a live webcast of the test. Rather they will note the completion of the test on the Wallops’ Facebook and Twitter sites.

Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new RD-181 engines stands erect at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming stage test on May 31. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new RD-181 engines stands erect at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming stage test on May 31. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The test firing will be visible from various public viewing locations in the local Wallops area. However the NASA Wallops Visitor center will not be open.

NASA will not be carrying a live webcast of the test. Rather they will note the completion of the test on the Wallops’ Facebook and Twitter sites.

Bird takes flight over Orbital ATK Antares set to sail skyward again in summer 2016 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Bird takes flight over Orbital ATK Antares set to sail skyward again in summer 2016 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The test firing will be visible from various public viewing locations in the local Wallops area. However the NASA Wallops Visitor center will not be open.

Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new RD-181 engines stands erect at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming stage test on May 31. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new RD-181 engines stands erect at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming stage test on May 31. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The test involves firing up Antares dual first stage RD-181 engines at full 100% power (thrust) for a scheduled duration of approximately 30 seconds. Hold down restraints will keep the rocket firmly anchored at the pad during the test.

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

To prepare for the static hot fire test, Orbital ATK technicians rolled the vehicle on a dedicated multi-wheeled transporter erector launcher from the rockets processing hangar inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A about a mile away.

A successful outcome is absolutely crucial for permitting Antares to carry out its ‘Return to Flight’ launch dubbed OA-5 and set for sometime this summer.

“The hot fire will demonstrate the readiness of the rocket’s first stage and the launch pad fueling systems to support upcoming flights,” said NASA officials.

Antares launches ground to a halt following a devastating launch failure 19 months ago which destroyed the rocket and its payload of space station science and supplies for NASA in a huge fireball.

The ‘Return to Flight’ blastoff – which could come as soon as July 2016 – will be the first for the private Antares rocket since that catastrophic launch failure on Oct. 28, 2014, just seconds after liftoff from Wallops. That flight was carrying Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo freighter on the critical Orb-3 resupply mission for NASA and the astronauts living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch mishap was traced to a failure in the AJ26 first stage engine turbopump and caused Antares launches to immediately grind to a halt.

The RD-181 replaces the AJ26. The flight engines are built by Energomash in Russia.

“They are a good drop in replacement for the AJ26. And they offer 13% higher thrust compared to the AJ26,” said Kurt Eberly, Orbital ATK Antares deputy program manager, in an interview with Universe Today.

As a result of switching to the new RD-181 engines, the first stage also had to be modified to incorporate new thrust adapter structures, actuators, and propellant feed lines between the engines and core stage structure.

“This stage test paradigm is a design verification test,” said Eberly.

“After the 30 second test is done we will shut it down and have a pile of data to look at,” Eberly told Universe Today.

“Hopefully it will confirm all our environments and all our models and give us the confidence so we can proceed with the return to flight.”

Technicians have been processing the rocket at the pad to ready it for the test. They also conducted a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) and loaded the propellants like during an actual launch campaign.

The full up engine test follows the WDR.

“After the WDR we will do the stage test,” Eberly explained.

“It is a 30 second test. We will fire up both engines and hit all 3 power levels that we plan to use in flight.”

“We will use the thrust vector controls. So we will move the nozzles and sweep them through sinusoidal sweeps at different frequencies and excite various resonances and look for any adverse interaction between fluid modes and structural modes.”

The test uses the first stage core planned to launch the OA-7 mission from Wallops late this year.

The new RD-181 engines are installed on the Orbital ATK Antares first stage core ready to support a full power hot fire test at the NASA Wallops Island launch pad in March 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The new RD-181 engines are installed on the Orbital ATK Antares first stage core ready to support a full power hot fire test at the NASA Wallops Island launch pad in May 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

After the engine test is completed, the stage will be rolled back to the HIF and a new stage fully integrated with the Cygnus cargo freighter will be rolled out to the pad for the OA-5 ‘Return to Flight’ mission as soon as July.

“Orbital ATK is building, testing and flying the Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. NASA initiatives like the cargo resupply contracts are helping develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit,” according to NASA.

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

Orbital ATK Integration of Upgraded Antares Kicks Into High Gear For 2016 ‘Return to Flight’

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Assembly and testing of a significantly upgraded version of Orbital ATK’s commercially developed Antares rocket has kicked into high gear and is on target for rebirth – as the clock ticks down towards its ‘Return to Flight’ by approximately mid-2016 from a launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia, company managers told Universe Today during a recent up close media visit to see the actual flight hardware.

Mission integration operations are in full swing right now as technicians were actively processing Antares hardware in order to resume launches of critical cargo missions to crews living aboard the space station, during my visit to Orbital ATK’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in mid-December. Continue reading “Orbital ATK Integration of Upgraded Antares Kicks Into High Gear For 2016 ‘Return to Flight’”