Astrophoto: Seeing the Cygnus Capsule Before Its Demise

Here’s a nice photo of the trails in the sky from the International Space Station and Orbital Science’s Cygnus freighter. This was captured just a few hours after Cygnus was undocked from the station on October 22, 2013. Astrophotographer Wendy Clark says to “please ignore my garden spaceship to the right,” but sorry, having a model of the starship Enterprise in your yard is just too wonderful to ignore!

This is a 20 sec exposure at ISO 1600 f4.5, 18mm, taken at 19.25 BST. The brightened spot is a flare (sun-glint) from one of the spacecraft.

And about an hour ago from this posting, Orbital Sciences confirmed that the Cygnus had deorbited:

Cygnus’ mission elapsed time (launch through deorbit) was 35 days 3 hours 18 minutes 27 seconds

Here’s another great photo of the two spacecraft together in the sky from Germany by Wolfgang Dzieran:

The International Space Station and the Cygnus capsule on October 22, 2013, as seen from from Bad Lippspringe, Eastwestphalia, Germany. Credit and copyright: Wolfgang Dzieran.
The International Space Station and the Cygnus capsule on October 22, 2013, as seen from from Bad Lippspringe, Eastwestphalia, Germany. Credit and copyright: Wolfgang Dzieran.

He explains what you are seeing in the photo: “The long, light line is the track in the middle is the ISS. The second track, which runs almost parallel to the orbit of the ISS is the Cygnus supply module, and at one point becomes conspicuously bright. This bright illumination is called a flare,” Dzieran writes on his website. “At top right and bottom you can see the traces of two aircraft.

Thanks to both astrophotographers for sharing their images!

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Cygnus Commercial Cargo Craft Completes Historic First Flight to Space Station

Commercial space took another major leap forward this morning, Oct 22., when the privately developed Cygnus cargo vehicle undocked from the International Space Station on its historic maiden flight and successfully completed a highly productive month long stay during its demonstration mission – mostly amidst the US government shutdown.

The Cygnus was maneuvered about 10 meters (30 feet) away from the station and held in the steady grip of the stations fully extended robotic arm when astronauts Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano unlatched the arm and released the ship into free space at 7:31 a.m. EDT today – signifying an end to joint flight operations.

The next Cygnus resupply vessel is due to blast off in mid-December and is already loaded with new science experiments for microgravity research and assorted gear and provisions.

After the Expedition 37 crew members quickly pulled the arm back to a distance 1.5 meters away from Cygnus, ground controllers issued a planned “abort” command to fire the ships thrusters and safely depart from the massive orbiting lab complex.

Space Station robotic arm releases Cygnus after detachment from the ISS Harmony node. Credit: NASA TV
Space Station robotic arm releases Cygnus after detachment from the ISS Harmony node. Credit: NASA TV

“It’s been a great mission. Nice work today!” radioed Houston Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The vehicles were flying over the Atlantic Ocean and off the east coast of Argentina as Cygnus left the station some 250 miles (400 km) overhead in low Earth orbit.

The event was carried live on NASA TV and Cygnus was seen moving rapidly away.

Barely five minutes later Cygnus was already 200 meters away, appeared very small in the cameras view and exited the imaginary “Keep Out Sphere” – a strictly designated safety zone around the million pound station.

Cygnus commercial cargo craft rapidly departed the ISS this morning (Oct. 22) after release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Station modules visible at bottom. Credit: NASA TV
Cygnus commercial cargo craft rapidly departed the ISS this morning (Oct. 22) after release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Station modules visible at bottom. Credit: NASA TV

The Cygnus resupply ship delivered about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food, clothing, water, science experiments, spare parts and gear to the six person Expedition 37 crew.

After the crew unloaded all that cargo, they packed the ship with 2,850 pounds of no longer needed trash.

On Wednesday (Oct. 23), a pair of deorbit burns with target Cygnus for a destructive reentry back into the Earth’s atmosphere at 2:18 p.m. EDT, to plummet harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean.

Cygnus was developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership between NASA and Orbital Sciences under NASA’s COTS commercial transportation initiative.

SpaceX Corp. was also awarded a COTS contract to develop the Dragon cargo carrier so that NASA would have a dual capability to stock up the station.

COTS was aimed at fostering the development of America’s commercial space industry to deliver critical and essential supplies to the ISS following the retirement of the Space Shuttle program.

“Congratulations to the teams at Orbital Sciences and NASA who worked hard to make this demonstration mission to the International Space Station an overwhelming success,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

“We are delighted to now have two American companies able to resupply the station. U.S. innovation and inspiration have once again shown their great strength in the design and operation of a new generation of vehicles to carry cargo to our laboratory in space. Orbital’s success today is helping make NASA’s future exploration to farther destinations possible.”

America completely lost its capability to send humans and cargo to the ISS when NASA’s space shuttles were forcibly retired in 2011. Orbital Sciences and SpaceX were awarded NASA contracts worth over $3 Billion to restore the unmanned cargo resupply capability over 20 flights totally.

Cygnus was launched to orbit on its inaugural flight on Sept. 18 atop Orbital’s commercial Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern shore of Virginia.

The initially planned Sept. 22 berthing of the spacecraft at a port on the Earth facing Harmony node was delayed a week to Sept. 29 due to an easily fixed communications glitch. It was no worse for the wear and performed admirably.

“Antares next flight is scheduled for mid December,” according to Frank Culbertson, former astronaut and now Orbital’s executive Vice President responsible for the Antares and Cygnus programs.

Ken Kremer

After launching to orbit atop the Antares rocket on Sept. 18, the first ever Cygnus cargo spacecraft is chasing the ISS and set to dock on Sept 22. Until then you may be able to track it in the night skies. Here is full scale, high fidelity mockup of Cygnus to give a feel for its size being similar to a small room. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
After launching to orbit atop the Antares rocket on Sept. 18, the first ever Cygnus cargo spacecraft chased the ISS and docked on Sept 29. Here is full scale, high fidelity mockup of Cygnus to give a feel for its size being similar to a small room. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Doubly Historic Day for Private Space: Cygnus docks at Station & Next Gen Falcon 9 Soars

The Cygnus cargo spacecraft is just a few feet away from the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 during rendezvous and berthing on Sept 29, 2013. Credit: NASA
Updated – See Falcon 9 launch video below[/caption]

Today (Sept. 29) was a doubly historic day for private spaceflight! And a boon to NASA as well!

Early this morning the Orbital Sciences Cygnus commercial cargo ship docked at the International Space Station (ISS) speeding along some 250 miles (400 km) overhead in low Earth orbit.

Barely a few hours later the Next Generation commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared to space on a demonstration test flight from the California coast carrying a Canadian satellite to an elliptical earth orbit.

These missions involved the dramatic maiden flights for both Cygnus and the upgraded Falcon 9.

And both were high stakes endeavors, with literally billions of dollars and the future of commercial spaceflight, as well as the ISS, on the line. Their significance cannot be overstated!

Falcon 9 lifts off from SpaceX’s pad at Vandenberg on Sept 29, 2013, carrying Canada's CASSIOPE satellite to orbit. Credit: SpaceX
Falcon 9 lifts off from SpaceX’s pad at Vandenberg on Sept 29, 2013, carrying Canada’s CASSIOPE satellite to orbit. Credit: SpaceX

Both Cygnus and Falcon 9 were developed with seed money from NASA in a pair of public-private partnerships between NASA and Orbital Sciences and SpaceX under NASA’s COTS commercial transportation initiative aimed at fostering the development of America’s private space industry to deliver critical and essential supplies to the ISS.

The powerful new Falcon 9 will also be used to send cargo to the ISS.

America completely lost its capability to send humans and cargo to the ISS when NASA’s space shuttles were retired in 2011. Orbital Sciences and SpaceX were awarded NASA contracts worth over $3 Billion to restore the unmanned cargo resupply capability over 20 flights totally.

The Cygnus spacecraft put on a spectacular space ballet – and was no worse for the wear after its docking was delayed a week due to an easily fixed communications glitch.

The Cygnus commercial resupply craft is installed by the Canadarm2 to the Harmony node. Credit: NASA TV
The Cygnus commercial resupply craft is installed by the Canadarm2 to the Harmony node.
Credit: NASA TV

Cygnus is a privately developed resupply vessel built by Orbital Sciences Corp and Thales Alenia Space that is a crucial railroad to orbit for keeping the massive orbital lab complex well stocked with everyday essentials and science experiments that are the purpose of the ISS.

Cygnus was grappled in free drift by Expedition 37 space station astronauts Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg at about 7 a.m. EDT Sunday morning.

The pair were working at two robotics work stations from inside the Cupola and Destiny modules. They used the stations 57 foot long Canadarm2 to snare Cygnus at a distance of about 30 feet (10 meters). They gradually motioned the arm closer.

Running a bit ahead of schedule they successfully berthed Cygnus at the earth facing port of the Harmony module by about 8:44 a.m. EDT.

Cygnus was launched to orbit on its inaugural flight on Sept. 18 atop Orbital’s commercial Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern shore of Virginia.

Sept. 22 had been the initially targeted station docking date for this demonstration mission.

Hatches to Cygnus will be opened on Monday, Sept. 30 after completing leak checks.

“Today, with the successful berthing of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo module to the ISS, we have expanded America’s capability for reliably transporting cargo to low-Earth orbit, “ said NASA Admisistrator Charles Bolden in a statement.

“It is an historic milestone as this second commercial partner’s demonstration mission reaches the ISS, and I congratulate Orbital Sciences and the NASA team that worked alongside them to make it happen.”

“Orbital joins SpaceX in fulfilling the promise of American innovation to maintain America’s leadership in space. As commercial partners demonstrate their new systems for reaching the Station, we at NASA continue to focus on the technologies to reach an asteroid and Mars,” said Bolden.

Cygnus delivers about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food, clothing, water, science experiments, spare parts and gear to the Expedition 37 crew.

The upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off from Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9 a.m. PDT (12 p.m. EDT).

Here’s a video of the launch:

It successfully deployed Canada’s 1,060 pound (481 kg) Cascade, Smallsat, and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) weather satellite and several additional small satellites.

This powerful new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of the new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines and can therefore boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS and beyond.

The next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It’s much taller than a standard Falcon 9 – some 22 stories vs. 13.

It could launch from Cape Canaveral as early as this Fall.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Cygnus, Antares, SpaceX, Curiosity, Mars rovers, MAVEN, Orion, LADEE and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares and Cygnus streak to space and the ISS from NASA Wallops on Sept. 18, 2013.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares and Cygnus streak to space and the ISS from NASA Wallops on Sept. 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

How to Spot Commercial Cygnus Craft Chasing ISS for Sept. 22 Coupling

After launching to orbit atop the Antares rocket on Sept. 18, the first ever Cygnus cargo spacecraft is chasing the ISS and set to dock on Sept 22. Until then you have the opportunity to track it in the night skies. This full scale, high fidelity mockup of the Orbital Sciences/Thales Alenia Cygnus gives a feel for it being similar in size to a small room. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Story Updated: Further details and photos – and NASA TV link to Live Docking Coverage [/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Following Wednesday morning’s (Sept. 18) spectacular blastoff of the Antares rocket with the commercial Cygnus resupply spacecraft, sky watchers now have a very limited window of opportunity to spot the maiden Cygnus chasing down the International Space Station (ISS) in the early morning skies before it arrives for the historic 1st rendezvous and docking on Sunday morning, Sept 22.

So between now and early Sunday you have the chance to gaze skywards and see and photograph history’s first Earth orbiting Cygnus hunting the ISS and gradually close in for the delicate coupling maneuver.

Here’s our guide on ‘How to Spot Cygnus’.

Sighting opportunities are available worldwide from at least North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa according to NASA’s ‘Spot the Station’ website – here. See more websites listed below.

Update 4 a.m. Sunday Sept 22– Cygnus Rendezvous Delayed 48 Hours due to communications glitch
Update Sept 23: delayed to no earlier than Saturday due to Soyuz launch on Wednesday. Thus more chances to view!

Time is of the essence! So don’t delay to check this out!

Since the successful separation of the first Cygnus – built by Orbital Sciences and Thales Alenia – from Antares, the Earth orbiting vehicle has been successfully firing its hydrazine fueled thrusters to move ever closer to the massive orbiting lab complex – at a rate of 82 statute miles per orbit..

Artist rendering of Cygnus spacecraft approaching the International Space Station
Artist rendering of Cygnus spacecraft approaching the International Space Station

If all of the ten on orbit maneuvering tests proceed satisfactorily, Cygnus will reach the vicinity of the station on Sunday early morning (US East Coast time).

“There are some ‘goodies’ stowed on board for the crew’s enjoyment,” Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s program manager for commercial crew and cargo, told Universe Today at NASA Wallops.

ISS astronauts Karen Nyberg (NASA) and Luca Parmitano (ESA) are scheduled to grapple Cygnus with the station’s Canadian built robotic arm between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. EDT, if all goes well.

Nyberg and Parmitano, working at a robotic work station in the Cupola module, are due to install the cargo carrier at an earth facing docking port on the Harmony pressurized module as early as 9 a.m. EDT, Sept 22.

Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

It’s the same docking port already used by the SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel on three successful missions to date since 2012.

Cameras on the second stage captured this amazing image of the Cygnus spacecraft separating from the rocket into orbit.
Cameras on the second stage captured this amazing image of the Cygnus spacecraft separating from the rocket into orbit.
Although Cygnus is much smaller than the ISS, it should still be visible – weather permitting of course.

At 17 feet (5 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) wide, Cygnus is the size of a small room.

In fact, while I was at NASA Wallops this week reporting on the Antares launch for Universe Today, I had a chance to visit a full scale, high fidelity mockup of Cygnus built for Orbital Sciences and on display at the local community center in Chincoteague, VA.

The Cygnus display model gives one a great feel for just how big Cygnus really is- see my photos herein.

Front view showing docking mechanism and hatch of Cygnus module in this full scale, high fidelity mockup of the Orbital Sciences/Thales Alenia spacecraft gives a feel for it being similar in size to a small room.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Front view showing docking mechanism and hatch of Cygnus module in this full scale, high fidelity mockup of the Orbital Sciences/Thales Alenia spacecraft gives a feel for it being similar in size to a small room. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

A full size human mannequin standing inside showed that a human can fit comfortably inside.

Thales Alenia Space in Italy designed and constructed the 17 foot ( 5 meter) long Cygnus pressurized module under contract with Orbital.

“Thales Alenia has actually built 50% of the pressurized modules currently comprising the ISS,” said Luigi Quaglino, Thales Alenia Senior Vice President.

“We have built 25 pressurized space modules and learned a lot along the way,” Quaglino told Universe Today at NASA Wallops.

The ISS is the largest manmade object in orbit. It’s the size of a football field and the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon thanks also to the huge, reflecting solar arrays.

Cygnus will be significantly dimmer, but nevertheless should be readily visible.

Look for a ‘star’ moving gradually against the backdrop of stars trailing behind the ISS that likewise appears as a bright moving ‘star’.

ISS streaks over Princeton, NJ - time lapse image.  Credit: Ken Kremer
ISS streaks over Princeton, NJ – time lapse image. Credit: Ken Kremer

As Sunday approaches, the gap between the ISS and Cygnus narrows.

On Thursday Cygnus was trailing about 10 minutes behind the ISS. Whereas on Friday and Saturday, the gap narrows down to roughly 4 minutes and then just 1 minute.

You can also try and photograph the ISS and Cygnus trails by mounting your camera on a tripod and leaving the shutter open at least several seconds and longer. Send me any cool time lapse photos to post here at Universe Today.

Many folks have never seen an ISS flyover and this is a fantastic time to start as the dynamic duo speed merrily across the nighttime sky.

To determine if there are any favorable sighting opportunities in your area, check out NASA’s Spot the Station website – here.

Check the NASA website for a detailed listing of the precise times, elevations, direction and durations. It’s an easy to use viewing guide. Just plug in the particulars of the country in which you live.

Another great source is Heaven’s Above – here

Also check Spaceweather.com – here

And Orbital Sciences reports that “AGI has developed a slick interactive 2D/3D simulation that allows you to track the location of Cygnus in real-time.”

Details here and here

I have personally watched the SpaceX Dragon, European ATV and Japanese HTV cargo carriers streaking through the night sky, trailing a few minutes behind the ISS. And it’s always a thrill.

The cargo vessel will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food, clothing, water, science experiments, spare parts and gear to the Expedition 37 crew.

Cygnus will remain attached to the ISS for about a month. The astronauts will unload the supplies including few goodies starting on Monday. They they’ll pack it with trash. After undocking Cygnus will come to a flaming finale by burning up upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

So there should be a final opportunity to view it circling Earth.

NASA Television coverage of the arrival and capture of Cygnus will begin at 4:30 a.m. EDT

Streaming video will be available on NASA’s website at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Saturday evening Update:

NASA has given the GO for Sunday morning Docking !

Happy Viewing and Clear Skies

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rovers, MAVEN, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

1st operational Cygnus pressurized cargo module from Orbital Sciences Corp. & Thales Alenia Space sits inside high bay clean room facility at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA for preflight processing. This Cygnus spacecraft arrived from Italy and may launch to the ISS as early as December 2013 from Wallops launch pad 0A. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
1st operational Cygnus pressurized cargo module from Orbital Sciences Corp. & Thales Alenia Space sits inside high bay clean room facility at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA for preflight processing. This Cygnus spacecraft arrived from Italy and may launch to the ISS as early as December 2013 from Wallops launch pad 0A. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Ken Kremer (Universe Today)and Antares rocket at NASAWallops Launch Complex 0A. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer (Universe Today) and Antares rocket at NASA Wallops Launch Complex 0A. Credit: Ken Kremer

Antares Picture Perfect Blastoff Launches Commercial Space Race

Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Story updated[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – The new ‘Commercial Space Era’ received a resounding boost today when a privately developed Antares rocket lofting the first ever Cygnus commercial cargo resupply craft thundered to space from America’s newest launch pad at NASA Wallops along the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

The history making launch marks the first time that a spacecraft launched from Virginia is blazing a path to the International Space Station (ISS) – thereby scoring a milestone achievement to keep the orbiting lab complex stocked up with supplies and science experiments from American soil. This is the maiden flight of Cygnus.

Move over SpaceX ! Your space competition from Orbital Sciences has arrived!

It was a ‘picture perfect’ blastoff for the two stage Antares booster at 10:58 a.m. EDT this morning (Sept. 18) from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The blastoff of Antares was stunningly beautiful with intensely bright flames spewing from the rockets rear. And the incredibly loud roar of the first stage engines reverberated widely and wowed hoards of spectators gathered throughout the local viewing area in Chincoteague, Va. – and woke late sleepers some folks told me later today!

The rumbling thunder of Antares sounded as loud as a space shuttle.

Launch of the Antares rocket at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the ISS NASA Wallops, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Launch of the Antares rocket at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the ISS NASA Wallops, VA. LADEE Moon shot launch pad at right. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Antares and Cygnus were built by Orbital Sciences Corporation and its team of industrial partners using seed money from NASA’s COTS commercial transportation initiative aimed at fostering the development of America’s commercial space industry to deliver critical and essential supplies to the ISS.

America lost 100% of its capability to send humans and cargo to the ISS when NASA’s space shuttles were retired in 2011. Orbital Sciences and their competitor SpaceX, were awarded NASA contracts to restore the unmanned cargo resupply capability.

Thales Alenia Space in Italy designed and constructed the 17 foot ( 5 meter) long Cygnus module under contract with Orbital.

“Thales Alenia has actually built 50% of the pressurized modules currently comprising the ISS,” said Luigi Quaglino, Thales Alenia Senior Vice President.

“This is a historic accomplishment for commercial spaceflight with the picture perfect launch of Antares and Cygnus headed for the space station,” said Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s program manager for commercial crew and cargo, at a post launch briefing for reporters at NASA Wallops.

In fact this was the heaviest cargo load ever delivered to the ISS by a commercial vehicle, said Frank Culbertson, former astronaut and now Orbital’s executive Vice President responsible for the Antares and Cygnus programs.

A revolutionary new day has dawned in space by opening up new pathways enabling space exploration And it’s not a moment too soon given the continuing significant reductions to NASA’s budget.

Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket lifts off at 10:58 a.m. EDT Sept 18 with commercial Cygnus cargo resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

COTS was aimed at revolutionizing how we reach space by privatizing routine space operations that thereby allows NASA to focus more on exploration beyond low earth orbit, getting people back to the Moon and beyond to deep space destinations including Asteroids and Mars.

Today’s Antares launch is the culmination of the COTS contract that NASA awarded to Orbital back in 2008.

Antares launch on Sept. 18 from NASA Wallops. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Antares launch on Sept. 18 from NASA Wallops. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

“Today marks a milestone in our new era of exploration as we expand the capability for making cargo launches to the International Space Station from American shores,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement.

“Orbital’s extraordinary efforts are helping us fulfill the promise of American innovation to maintain our nation’s leadership in space.”

The Cygnus spacecraft is healthy and successfully unfurled its life giving solar panels starting 1.5 minutes after separation from the second stage that took place about 10 minutes after launch, said Culbertson.

Antares placed Cygnus into its intended orbit of about 180 x 160 miles above the Earth, inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator, Orbital said.

Antares launch on Sept. 18 from NASA Wallops. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Antares launch on Sept. 18 from NASA Wallops. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Cygnus is traveling at 17,500 MPH and is on its way to rendezvous with the space station Sunday, Sept. 22. The cargo vessel will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food, clothing, water, science experiments, spare parts and gear to the Expedition 37 crew.

The flight, known as Orb-D1 is a demonstration mission to prove that Cygnus can conduct a complex series of maneuvers in space safely bringing it to the vicinity of the ISS.

Mission controllers at Orbital will guide Cygnus to the vicinity of the ISS on Sept. 22.

Antares and Cygnus soar to space on a plume of smoke and ash from NASA Wallops on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares and Cygnus soar to space on a plume of smoke and ash from NASA Wallops on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

But its only after carrying out a series of 10 complicated maneuvering tests proving that the vehicle can safely and reliably approach the station up close that NASA and the ISS partners will grant permission to dock.

ISS astronauts Karen Nyberg (NASA) and Luca Parmitano (ESA) will then grapple Cygnus with the station’s Canadian built robotic arm and berth the capsule at an earth facing docking port on Sunday, Sept 22. will then grapple Cygnus with the station’s robotic arm and berth the capsule at an earth facing docking port.

NASA and Orbital Sciences officials brief reporters at the Antares post launch press conference on Sept 18; Robert Lightfoot, NASA Associate Administrator, Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s program manager for commercial crew and cargo, Frank Culbertson, Orbital Sciences Executive VP. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
NASA and Orbital Sciences officials brief reporters at the Antares post launch press conference on Sept 18; Robert Lightfoot, NASA Associate Admisistrator, Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s program manager for commercial crew and cargo, Frank Culbertson, Orbital Sciences Executive VP. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

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

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

“Antares next flight is scheduled for December sometime between the 8th and 21st”, said Culbertson.

Ken Kremer
…………….

Learn more about Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rovers, MAVEN, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 17/18: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

1st operational Cygnus pressurized cargo module from Orbital Sciences Corp. & Thales Alenia Space sits inside high bay clean room facility at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA for preflight processing. This Cygnus spacecraft arrived from Italy and may launch to the ISS as early as December 2013 from Wallops launch pad 0A. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
1st operational Cygnus pressurized cargo module from Orbital Sciences Corp. & Thales Alenia Space sits inside high bay clean room facility at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA for preflight processing. This Cygnus spacecraft arrived from Italy and may launch to the ISS as early as December 2013 from Wallops launch pad 0A. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s program manager for commercial crew and cargo  at pre-launch rollout of Antares rocket to pad 0A at NASA Wallops.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s program manager for commercial crew and cargo at pre-launch rollout of Antares rocket to pad 0A at NASA Wallops. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Watch Live: Commercial Antares Rocket Launches to Space Station

UPDATE: Orbital Sciences successfully launched its Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard its Antares rocket at 10:58 a.m. EDT Wednesday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This is the first time a spacecraft launched from Virginia is heading toward the International Space Station. Above is the launch video, and we’ll have a full re-cap article coming soon! The live NASA TV feed is below. (end of update)

Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft is set to become the second private spacecraft to launch to the International Space Station. Today’s historic launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia has a launch window from 10:50 AM to 11:30 AM EDT, with launch likely to occur at 0:58 a.m. EDT (1458 GMT) from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. You can watch it live here on NASA TV’s Ustream feed.

As of this writing, the Wallops range is currently red due to low cloud conditions and something called “distance focus over pressure,” according to the Orbital Sciences Twitter feed. However, they expect it to clear later in count, and the rocket is being fueled.

Also, if you live along the US east coast near the Virginia area, you may be able to see the launch for yourself! It won’t be as visible as the recent nighttime launch of the LADEE mission, but should still be visible to a wide area, if the skies are clear. Read our complete guide to how to view the launch here.



Live streaming video by Ustream

Here’s a timelapse of the Antares rocket heading out the the launchpad:

Proof! – Frogs Jump at Chance to Board Rockets to Space from NASA Wallops during Antares booster Rollout

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Have you seen the NASA frog? The one that became famous worldwide last week following the historic Moon Shot of the LADEE mission from NASA Wallops Island in Virginia?

The one that the inexplicably appeared in a single photograph from a NASA Wallops remote camera when the pressure wave from the Minotaur rockets exhaust sent it hurtling skywards?

Perhaps you are an unbeliever? And think the frog photo was photoshopped?

Well after a thorough investigation, Universe Today has uncovered undeniable proof that NASA’s resident frogs are indeed jumping at the chance to make history again and leap aboard the next rocket headed to space from NASA Wallops on Sept 18.

How do I know this?

Well on Friday the 13th of September, I was on site at NASA Wallops for a photo shoot of the lengthy rollout of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket to Launch Pad 0A – and the famous frog was a topic of endless conversation in between our gorgeous views of Antares moving along the road to the launch pad atop the Transporter Erector vehicle.

See my frog and rollout photo gallery herein.

Antares rocket arrives at on ramp to launch pad with cool new signs directing traffic to launch pads for trips to the Moon and the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket arrives at on ramp to launch pad with cool new signs directing traffic to launch pads for trips to the Moon and the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Nary a frog was to be found anywhere all day and night along the 1 mile rollout route.

Finally, after much delay the Antares rocket was raised and erected firmly atop the launch mount.

And then at last the great frog discovery was made.

Close up of frog hiding near the Antares launch pad and apparently eager to jump aboard.    Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Close up of frog hiding near the Antares launch pad and apparently eager to jump aboard. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

And of course it took a woman, a NASA photographer named Jamie, to do a man’s job – finding and corralling that frog and fearlessly holding the critter in front of all the guys, including me.

Antares rocket begins rollout atop transporter erector to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Island Facility, VA., on Sept. 13, 2013.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket begins rollout atop transporter erector to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Island Facility, VA., on Sept. 13, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

My photos are the proof that the mysterious origin of NASA’s apparently space loving resident frogs has been solved.

Jamie discovered the frog lurking inside a telescope dome used to protect NASA’s launch pad cameras during liftoff.

Antares rocket begins rollout atop transporter erector to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Island Facility, VA., on Sept. 13, 2013.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket begins rollout atop transporter erector to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Island Facility, VA., on Sept. 13, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

She found the frog hiding inside the dome to evade the ever present security patrols on the lookout for intruders. Where is the NSA when you need them?

And quite clearly these are intelligent frogs – eager to blast off to the High Frontier in pursuit of science.

Why?

Because for the past few weeks these space loving frogs have been reading the new pair of signs installed by the launch pad gates right in front of the on ramps directing traffic to the Minotaur and Antares rockets headed to the Moon and the International Space Station.

They were just waiting for the right moment to hop aboard.

Antares rocket rolls up on on ramp at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket rolls up on on ramp at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Everything remains on target for the Sept. 18 blastoff of Orbital Sciences Antares commercial rocket carrying the first fully functional Cygnus commercial resupply vehicle to orbit from NASA’s Wallops Island Facility on a demonstration mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

“The weather forecast remains at 75% chance of “GO” with favorable conditions,” said NASA Wallops test director Sarah Daugherty at a news media briefing at Wallops today.

“The launch could be widely visible along the East Coast from New York City to South Carolina.” – Weather permitting

Antares rocket raised at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket raised at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Learn how and where to view the Antares launch by reading my “How to see the Antares Launch” story.

NASA Television coverage of the Antares launch will begin at 10:15 a.m. on Sept 18 – (www.nasa.gov/ntv).

Antares rocket raised at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket raised at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Stay tuned to Universe Today for complete coverage of the Antares/Cygnus Orb-D1 mission to the ISS and my continuing Antares and LADEE mission reports from on site at NASA’s Wallops Launch Pads in sunny Virginia – reporting for Universe Today.

Ken Kremer

Antares rocket raised at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket raised at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA.,on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT.  LADEE launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA.,on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT. LADEE launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

…………….

Learn more about Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rovers, MAVEN, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 17/18: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Seaside panoramic view of Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops at the Virginia Eastern Shore  on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Seaside panoramic view of Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops at the Virginia Eastern Shore on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

NASA’s LADEE Lunar Probe Set for Spectacular Science and September Night Launch – Visible to Millions and Millions

LADEE Minotaur V Launch – Maximum Elevation Map
The LADEE nighttime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Minotaur V rocket will reach during the Sep. 6, 2013 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences [/caption]

A spectacular nighttime blastoff blazing a historic trail to the Moon is set to soar in two weeks time when NASA’s LADEE spacecraft lifts off from the Eastern Shore of Virginia at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island – from America’s newest spaceport.

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Observatory will thunder to space at 11:27 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, from the commercial Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch complex 0B at NASA’s Wallops Island facility atop the maiden flight of the new, solid fueled Minotaur V rocket developed by Orbital Sciences Corp.

LADEE’s late night launch will be absolutely spectacular and visible to tens of millions of spectators up and down the US East coast and interior areas stretching into the Midwest- weather permitting.

“I love this mission,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters, at a media briefing today, Aug. 22.

Close-up view of STAR 37FM 5th stage solid fuel motor of Minotaur V rocket at NASA Wallops rocket facility will propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
LADEE’s Ticket to the Moon – 5th Stage of new Minotaur V rocket
Close-up view of STAR 37 5th stage solid fuel motor for inaugural Minotaur V rocket launch at NASA Wallops rocket facility will propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. LADEE will be mounted on top and surrounded by the payload fairing attached at bottom ring. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“With NASA’s prior LRO and GRAIL spacecraft we studied the Moon’s surface and interior. Now with LADEE we study the atmosphere and dust,” said John Grunsfeld.

The purpose of LADEE is to collect data that will inform scientists in unprecedented detail about the ultra thin lunar atmosphere, environmental influences on lunar dust and conditions near the surface. In turn this will lead to a better understanding of other planetary bodies in our solar system and beyond.

The small car sized LADEE lunar orbiter mission will be historic in many ways. It’s the first probe of any kind ever launched to beyond Earth orbit from NASA Wallops, as well as being the first planetary science mission from Wallops.

It also marks the first launch of a five stage rocket and the first launch of a decommissioned Peacekeeper missile from Wallops.

The first three stages of the Minotaur V are based on the nuclear armed Peacekeeper ICBM intercontinental ballistic missile built during the Cold War – now retired and refurbished by Orbital for peaceful uses. Its literally beating sword into ploughshares.

The 5th stage is a new addition and what makes this Minotaur a new rocket class. The added thrust is precisely what enables shooting for the Moon.

Recently, I had an exclusive tour and photoshoot up close and personal with the upper stages of LADEE’s Minotaur V rocket at Wallops prior to integration at the commercial launch pad – 0B – and will be reporting on that here and in upcoming stories.

4th and 5th stages of the inaugural Minotaur V rocket launch that will propel NASA’s LADEE lunar spacecraft to the Moon on Sep. 6, 2013 from NASA Wallops Island in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
4th and 5th stages of the inaugural Minotaur V rocket launch that will propel NASA’s LADEE lunar spacecraft to the Moon on Sep. 6, 2013 from NASA Wallops Island in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“LADEE is equipped with three science instruments to study the atmosphere and dust and a lunar laser technology demonstration,” said Joan Salute, LADEE program executive, NASA Headquarters.

These include an ultraviolet and visible light spectrometer that will gather detailed information about the composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere; a neutral mass spectrometer to measure variations in the lunar atmosphere over time; a laser dust experiment that will collect and analyze dust particle samples; and a laser communications experiment that will test the use of lasers in place of radio waves for high speed dad communications with Earth.

“The lunar atmosphere is so thin that the molecules never collide,’ said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist, NASA Headquarters.

“It’s a ‘Surface Boundary Exosphere’ which is actually the most common type of atmosphere in our Solar System.”

Scientists also hope to solve a mystery dating back nearly five decades to the Apollo moon landing era, by determining if electrically charged lunar dust is responsible for the pre-sunrise horizon glow seen by the Apollo astronauts and also by the unmanned Surveyor 7 lander, according to Noble.

LADEE_Poster_01

“This is the first NASA mission with a dedicated laser communications experiment,” said Don Cornwell, mission manager for the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
I asked when we could see laser communications implemented on future NASA spacecraft?

“A new laser communications system could possibly be used on the 2020 Mars rover from the surface of Mars,” Grunsfeld told Universe Today.

The couch sized 844 pound (383 kg) robotic explorer was assembled at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and is a cooperative project with NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland.

The spacecraft is a first of its kind vehicle built from a NASA Ames-developed Modular Common Spacecraft Bus architecture that can be applied to other missions. The mission cost is approximately $280 million.

The Minotaur V will boost LADEE into a highly elliptical orbit. Then over the next 23 days, as LADEE orbits Earth 3.5 times, the Moon’s gravitational field will increase the perigee of its orbit. The spacecraft will fire its on-board braking thrusters to achieve lunar orbit.

NASA Ames LADEE Mission – Lunar Orbital Insertion Animation

Video caption: This animation is a representation of lunar orbital insertion for LADEE, which is the path the spacecraft follows when it is captured by the Moon’s gravity and enters lunar orbit. Credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry. Note: Animation is silent with no audio/music track included.

The mission will fly in a very low science orbit of about 50 kilometers altitude above the moon. The science mission duration is approximately 100 days.

“It’s limited by the amount of onboard fuel required to maintain orbit,” Doug Voss, launch manager, Wallops, told Universe Today.

“I’m excited about the night launch because people up and down the Atlantic seacoast will be able to see it,” Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA HQ, told me.

And don’t forget that NASA has a 2nd really big launch from Wallops slated for Sep. 17 – with blastoff of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo carrier on their historic 1st mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

I’ll be on site at Wallops for both historic launches on Sep. 6 and 17 – reporting for Universe Today.

We’ll see you in Virginia!

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about LADEE, Cygnus, Antares, MAVEN, Orion, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 5/6/16/17: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 9: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Looking up the Flame Trench of the LADEE Minotuar V Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Looking up the Flame Trench of the LADEE Minotaur V Launch Pad 0B at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

1st Operational Cygnus Module Bound for ISS Lands at NASA Wallops Launch Site

NASA WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – The 1st operational Cygnus cargo spacecraft slated to ferry crucial supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) under a commercial contract with NASA, has been delivered to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The privately built Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) was developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. & Thales Alenia Space under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) cargo transport contract with NASA.

Universe Today took an exclusive look at the unmanned Cygnus cargo carrier housed inside the high bay facility where the vehicle is being processed for flight during a visit at NASA Wallops.

This Cygnus transport vessel is scheduled to lift off atop an Antares rocket bound for the ISS from the Wallops Island launch site towards the end of this year.

Cygnus is an essential lifeline to stock the station with all manner of equipment, science experiments, food, clothing, spare parts and gear for the international crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts.

1st operational Cygnus pressurized cargo module from Orbital Sciences Corp. sits inside high bay clean room facility with crane overhead at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA for preflight processing.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
1st operational Cygnus pressurized cargo module from Orbital Science Corp. sits inside high bay clean room facility with crane overhead at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA for preflight processing. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The Cygnus PCM is manufactured by Thales Alenia Space at their production facility in Turin, Italy under a subcontract from Orbital.

The design is based on the Multi Purpose Logistic Module (MPLM) space shuttle cargo transporter.

The standard version has an internal volume of 18.9 cubic meters and can carry a total cargo mass of 2000 kg.

It was encased inside a special shipping container and flown from Italy to the US aboard an Antonov An-124 aircraft on July 17. The massive An-124 is the world’s second largest operating cargo aircraft.

After unloading from the An-124 and movement into a clean room high bay at Wallops Processing Building H-100, the shipping crate’s cover was raised using a 20 ton bridge crane. The PCM was unloaded and likewise gently craned over to an adjacent high bay work stand for flight processing.

Cygnus pressurized cargo module was loaded inside this shipping container and transported inside Antonov An-124 from Italy to NASA Wallops Flight Facility high bay processing facility and launch site in Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Cygnus pressurized cargo module was loaded inside this shipping container and transported aboard Antonov An-124 from Italy to NASA Wallops Flight Facility high bay processing facility and launch site in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Approximately a month and a half before launch, technicians mate the Cygnus PCM to the Service Module (SM) which houses the spacecraft’s avionics, propulsion and power systems and propels the combined vehicle to berth at the ISS.

The Cygnus SM is built by Orbital at their manufacturing facility in Dulles, VA., and shipped to Wallops for integration with the PCM in the processing building.

This particular vehicle is actually the second PCM bound for the ISS, but will be the first of eight operational cargo delivery runs to the space station over the next few years.

The first PCM to fly is set to blast-off on a Demonstration Mission (COTS 1) to the ISS in some six weeks on Sept. 14 atop Orbital’s privately developed Antares rocket. It is also in the midst of flight processing at Wallops inside a different building known as the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) where it is integrated with the Antares rocket.

Cygnus stored inside shipping container is unloaded from Antonov An-124 aircraft after arrival at NASA Wallops, VA on July 17, 2013. Credit:  NASA/Patrick Black
Cygnus stored inside shipping container is unloaded from Antonov An-124 aircraft after arrival at NASA Wallops, VA on July 17, 2013. Credit: NASA/Patrick Black

Orbital says the Cygnus Demo vehicle is already fueled and will be loaded with about 1550 kg of cargo for the station crew.

The purpose of the demonstration flight is to prove that the unmanned spacecraft can safely and successfully rendezvous and dock with the orbiting outpost. The flight objectives are quite similar to the initial cargo delivery test flights successfully accomplished by Orbital’s commercial rival, SpaceX.

All of Orbital’s ISS cargo resupply missions will occur from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s (MARS) pad 0A at Wallops.

Antares rocket awaits liftoff from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket will launch Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

This past spring on April 21, Orbital successfully launched the 1st test flight of the Antares rocket. Read my articles here and here.

Orbital’s Antares/Cygnus system is similar in scope to the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon system.

Both firms won lucrative NASA contracts to deliver approximately 20,000 kilograms each of supplies and science equipment to the ISS during some 20 flights over the coming 3 to 4 years.

Cygnus spacecraft is loaded onto the Cygnus Vertical Carrier (CVC)  16-wheeled transporter to move between processing facilities at NASA’s Wallops Island launch site. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Cygnus spacecraft is loaded onto the Cygnus Vertical Carrier (CVC) 16-wheeled transporter to move between processing facilities at NASA’s Wallops Island launch site. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The goal of NASA’s CRS initiative is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the ISS and low-Earth orbit (LEO) as a replacement for NASA’s now retired Space Shuttle Program.

Orbital’s contract with NASA for at least eight Antares/Cygnus resupply missions to the ISS is worth $1.9 Billion.

Ken Kremer

Antonov An-124 aircraft carrying Cygnus module from Italy arrives at NASA Wallops Island, VA on July 17, 2013.   Credit: NASA/Brea Reeves
Antonov An-124 aircraft carrying Cygnus module from Italy arrives at NASA Wallops Island, VA on July 17, 2013. Credit: NASA/Brea Reeves

…………….
Learn more about Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations

Aug 12: “RockSat-X Suborbital Launch, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Awesome Image from Space: Cygnus Mass Simulator Separates from Orbital’s Antares Rocket

This image almost looks like an artist’s concept, but is an actual photo taken by a camera on board Orbital Science’s Antares rocket showing the Cygnus mass simulator shortly after separation from the rocket’s upper stage.

Antares launched on April 21 for its first test flight – dubbed the A-One mission. The goal of the flight was to test the fully integrated Antares rocket and boost a simulated version of the Cygnus cargo carrier into a target orbit of 250 x 300 kilometers and inclined 51.6 degrees.

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

Orbital says that both the mass simulator and the upper stage are expected to stay in orbit for several months before their orbits degrade, causing them to re-enter and burn up in the atmosphere.

A test flight of an actual Cygnus capsule is expected later this year, and is currently scheduled for June 2013.

Source: Orbital Science Corporation