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

The International Space Station could potentially function far beyond its new extension to 2024. Perhaps out to 2050. The ISS as seen from the crew of STS-119. Credit: NASA
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WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Just days ago, the Obama Administration approved NASA’s request to extend the lifetime of the International Space Station (ISS) to at least 2024. Ultimately this will serve as a stepping stone to exciting deep space voyages in future decades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the ISS extension mean for Orbital?

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

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

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

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

What does the ISS extension mean for NASA?

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

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

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

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

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

Lightfoot described the benefits for astronaut crews.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The station is the stepping stone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12 Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Frank Culbertson; executive vice president and general manager of Orbital's advanced spaceflight programs group and former Space Shuttle commander, and Ken Kremer; Universe Today, at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA, discuss extension of the International Space Station lifetime following Jan. 9 Antares/Cygnus blastoff.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Frank Culbertson; executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group and former Space Shuttle commander, and Ken Kremer; Universe Today, at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA, discuss extension of the International Space Station lifetime following Jan. 9 Antares/Cygnus blastoff. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Private Cygnus Freighter Berths at Space Station with Huge Science Cargo and Ant Colony

With the Moon as a spectacular backdrop, an Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo spacecraft speeding at 17500 MPH on a landmark flight and loaded with a huge treasure trove of science, belated Christmas presents and colonies of ants rendezvoued at the space station early this Sunday morning (Jan. 12), captured and then deftly parked by astronauts guiding it with the Canadian robotic arm.

Cygnus is a commercially developed resupply freighter stocked with 1.5 tons of vital research experiments, crew provisions and student science projects that serves as an indispensible “lifeline” to keep the massive orbiting outpost alive and humming with the science for which it was designed.

Following a two day orbital chase that started with the spectacular blastoff on Jan. 9 atop Orbital’s private Antares booster from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Va., Cygnus fired its on board thrusters multiple times to approach in close proximity to the million pound International Space Station (ISS) by 3 a.m. Sunday.

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

When Cygnus had moved further to within 30 feet (10 meters) NASA Astronaut and station crew member Mike Hopkins – working inside the Cupola – then successfully grappled the ship with the stations 57 foot long Canadarm2 at 6:08 a.m. EST to complete the first phase of today’s operations.

“Capture confirmed,” radioed Hopkins as the complex was flying 258 miles over the Indian Ocean and Madagascar.

“Congratulations to Orbital and the Orbital-1 team and the family of C. Gordon Fullerton,” he added. The ship is named in honor of NASA shuttle astronaut G. Gordon Fullerton who passed away in 2013.

“Capturing a free flyer is one of the most critical operations on the ISS,” explained NASA astronaut and ISS alum Cady Coleman during live NASA TV coverage.

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

Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency then took command of the robotic arm and maneuvered Cygnus to berth it at the Earth-facing (nadir) port on the station’s Harmony Node at 8:05 a.m while soaring over Australia.

16 bolts will be driven home and 4 latches tightly hooked to firmly join the two spacecraft together and insure no leaks.

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

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

The purpose of the unmanned, private Cygnus spaceship – and the SpaceX Dragon – is to restore America’s cargo to orbit capability that was terminated following the shutdown of NASA’s space shuttles.

Cygnus and Dragon will each deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station according to the NASA CRS contracts.

“This cargo operation is the lifeline of the station,” said Coleman.

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12
Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The six person crew of Expedition 38 serving aboard the ISS is due to open the hatch to Cygnus tomorrow, Monday, and begin unloading the 2,780 pounds (1,261 kilograms) of supplies packed inside.

“Our first mission under the CRS contract with NASA was flawlessly executed by our Antares and Cygnus operations team, from the picture-perfect launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to the rendezvous, capture and berthing at the space station this morning,” said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement from Orbital.

“From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts.”

Up-close view of Orbital Sciences Cygnus service module outfitted with propulsion, power generating solar arrays and guidance during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Service module gets attached to pressurized cargo module and flies Cygnus vehicle to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Up-close view of Orbital Sciences Cygnus service module outfitted with propulsion, power generating solar arrays and guidance during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Service module gets attached to pressurized cargo module and flies Cygnus vehicle to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

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

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

Student Space Flight team  at NASA Wallops from Washington, DC discusses their microencapsulation science experiment selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft with Ken Kremer/Universe Today.  23 student experiments launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) and have arrived at the station.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Student Space Flight team at NASA Wallops from Washington, DC discusses their microencapsulation science experiment selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft with Ken Kremer/Universe Today. 23 student experiments launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) and have arrived at the station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Ant colonies from three US states are also aboard, living inside 8 habitats. The “ants in space” experiment will be among the first to be unloaded from Cygnus to insure the critters are well fed for their expedition on how they fare and adapt in zero gravity.

33 cubesats are also aboard that will be deployed from the Japanese Experiment Module airlock.

“One newly arrived investigation will study the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight. Another will examine how different fuel samples burn in microgravity, which could inform future design for spacecraft materials,” said NASA in a statement.

Cygnus is currently scheduled to remain berthed at the ISS for 37 days until February 18.

The crew will reload it with all manner of no longer need trash and then send it off to a fiery and destructive atmospheric reentry so it will burn up high over the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 19.

Cygnus departure is required to make way for the next cargo freighter – the SpaceX Dragon, slated to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Feb. 22 atop the company’s upgraded Falcon 9.

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

Cygnus berthed at Harmony node on ISS. Credit: NASA TV
Cygnus berthed at Harmony node on ISS. Credit: NASA TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Everything was right on the money.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

Cygnus pressurized cargo module - side view - during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Cygnus is loaded with 2780 pounds of cargo and 23 student experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia
Philadelphia

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

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

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

Battery Park, NYC
Battery Park, NYC

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

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

Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia
Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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