One Day, Two Launches: East Coast Launch Facilities Set to Roar Tomorrow

AEHF 3 ULA Atlas V Cygnus 1 Antares Orbital Sciences Corporation photo credit Mike Howard Jason Rhian AmericaSpace
As it currently stands, two launches will take place off the U.S. East Coast on Sept. 18. Photo Credit: Mike Howard & Jason Rhian / AmericaSpace

WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, Va — From two different locations, NASA, in partnership with Orbital Sciences Corporation, along with United Launch Alliance ULA) and the U.S. Air Force, are preparing to launch two spacecraft to two very different locations.

AEHF 3 ULA Atlas V rocket payload Cape Canaveral photo credit John Studwell AmericaSpace
The launch of a ULA Atlas V rocket with its AEHF-3 spacecraft is set to take place at 3:04 a.m. EDT Sept. 18. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, ULA is readying an Atlas V 531 rocket to hoist the U.S. military’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency 3 spacecraft to orbit in the wee hours (the launch window opens at 3:04 a.m. EDT and lasts for two hours, closing at 5:04 a.m.).

Meanwhile, farther north at NASA’s Wallop Flight Facility in Virginia, NASA and Orbital are working to have the second Antares rocket launch the Dulles, Va.-based company’s Cygnus 1 spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station. The launch window for this mission is much shorter than that of AEHF-3. The window opens at 10:50 a.m. and remains open for just 15 minutes.

The tempo of launches taking place at Wallops Flight Facility is picking up; in large part this is due to the efforts of Orbital Sciences Corporation. This past April, Orbital conducted the first launch of Antares, and on Sept. 6 the company’s Minotaur V launch vehicle, a modified Peacekeeper upper stage, launched NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission to the Moon.

“We’ve seen an uptick in interest in Wallops Flight Facility in recent months,” said Dale Nash with the Virginia Space Authority. “Tomorrow’s flight is just the start of what you can expect to see happen from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.”

While launches at Wallops are gaining steam, the pace at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is more like a steady drumbeat, with a launch taking place about once a month. Predominantly, these launches are being conducted by United Launch Alliance.

This means tomorrow will provide a “target-rich” period for space enthusiasts. Within a time span of less than eight hours, two launches could take place off the East Coast of the United States. There has been a misconception among the general public that space efforts are at an end, and Wednesday’s twin launches could serve to dispel this notion.

Antares Orbital Cygnus ISS Wallops photo credit Jason Rhian AmericaSpace
Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / AmericaSpace

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