Orbital Sciences Corporation successfully launched their Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station last Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. With freezing cold and clear blue skies as a backdrop, the company sent Cygnus skyward atop their Antares rocket, which thundered away from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. The mission, Orb-1, marks the first of eight contracted resupply flights for Orbital under a $1.9 billion agreement with NASA, and AmericaSpace was there to cover the action—up close and personal.
Precisely on time, at 1:07:06 p.m. EST, the AJ-26 engines roared to life, steadily ramping up to full power as computers constantly monitored their performance. All was well. At T+2 seconds, at 1:07:08 p.m. EST, the hold-down clamps were released and Antares took flight, rocketing away from Pad 0A. Although this represents the second Cygnus mission to the ISS, following the ORB-D demonstration in September-October 2013, it is Orbital’s first “dedicated” cargo supply flight under the provisions of a $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, signed with NASA back in December 2008. According to the language of that contract, Orbital will stage eight CRS missions by 2016 to deliver payloads and supplies to the ISS. With SpaceX having already completed its own demonstration flight of its Dragon cargo ship in May 2012, followed by two dedicated CRS missions in October 2012 and March 2013, the United States now has two fully fledged private contractors restocking the space station.
VIDEO: Incredible launch pad views of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket thundering off launch pad-0A, sending Cygnus on an 18,000 mph chase to catch the International Space Station on the company’s first contracted ISS resupply mission for NASA (mission Orb-1). Video Credits: AmericaSpace / Zero-G News / Wired4Space / Mike Killian / Jeff Seibert / Matt Travis / Mike Barrett
Cygnus will perform several orbit-raising and “phasing” maneuvers to bring it into the neighborhood of the space station early on Sunday, 12 January. In a manner not dissimilar to September’s ORB-D mission, the ORB-1 profile will see Cygnus showcase its ability to “hold” position at various distances before entering the Keep-Out Sphere—a virtual exclusion zone, extending about 660 feet (200 meters) around the space station to prevent a collision—and being grappled by Canadarm2 at about 6:02 a.m. EST Sunday. Under the control of Expedition 38 crewmen Mike Hopkins, Koichi Wakata, and Rick Mastracchio, it will be berthed onto the “nadir” port of the Harmony node.
Like September’s ORB-D mission, which was named for former Orbital executive G. David Low, the flight of ORB-1 pays tribute to another shining light in the company’s fortunes. Cygnus bears the name “Spaceship C. Gordon Fullerton” to honor the former shuttle astronaut and research pilot who died last year.
AmericaSpace photographers Mike Killian and Alan Walters set up a total of six cameras (four still cameras and two video cameras) around launch pad-0A to document the milestone launch. The following gallery of images, as well as the above video, is possible thanks to the teamwork and cooperation from our friends at Zero-G News and Wired4Space, who supplied some of the gear for us to produce the content. A big thanks to Zero-G’s Matt Travis, Wired4Space’s Jeff Seibert and Mike Barrett, and our Wallops photographer Dave Parrish for their help in producing the imagery for our viewers.
– This feature was authored by AmericaSpace writers Ben Evans and Mike Killian.
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