Orbital Sciences has reset the launch of their next unmanned Cygnus resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to early June, under guidance from NASA, after the long-postponed SpaceX Dragon cargo carrier successfully lifted off last week on April 18 and berthed at the orbiting outpost days ago.
Since both the Cygnus and Dragon vehicles dock at the same Earth-facing port on the stations Harmony node, one ship must leave before the other can arrive.
This flight was originally scheduled for an afternoon liftoff an early as May 6, but was postponed due to the continuing launch delays for the SpaceX CRS-3 mission from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Further complicating the launch situation and limiting the available days for spaceship dockings are the normal, upcoming station crew rotations in Soyuz capsules in May and the “solar beta cutouts” in early June.
Therefore accounting for these restrictions, the earliest available launch opportunity for Cygnus on the Orbital-2 (Orb-2) mission is now no earlier than (NET) June 9.
Notably, a June 9 liftoff of the two-stage Antares rocket carrying Cygnus—if it occurs—would result in the first-ever nighttime launch of the booster from the beachside pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility along Virginia’s eastern shore (at about 2 a.m.).
The maiden nighttime blastoff of Antares is certain to put on a spectacular sky show for tens of millions of U.S. East Coast residents—much as the launch of NASA’s LADEE lunar probe did last Fall in September 2013—weather permitting of course.
While awaiting the SpaceX launch, Orbital and NASA have already completed numerous Antares/Cygnus prelaunch processing operations.
About two-thirds of Cygnus’ approximately 1650 kg of planned NASA cargo has already been loaded by the team. This marks a substantial increase over the 1260 kg lofted on the Orb-1 mission in January 2014.
The remaining science and logistics late stow cargo, some of which is fragile and time sensitive, will be loaded shortly before the vessel is encapsulated inside the Antares payload fairing at Wallops Horizontal Integration Facility.
In addition to NASA science experiments, spare parts, food, water, and clothing, a competed series of student science experiments sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) is also flying aboard.
Further Cygnus processing is ongoing in anticipation of a June launch.
The integrated spacecraft, comprising the pressurized and service modules, were combined and are being fueled and readied for mounting on the ATK-built solid-fueled upper stage.
Also, the Flight Readiness Certification Review (FRCR) was completed on April 15 to insure that the spacecraft and rocket are ready when called upon.
The Orbital-2 Cygnus spaceship is conducting the second of eight operational cargo logistics flights scheduled under Orbital Sciences’ multi-year $1.9 Billion Commercial Resupply Services contract (CRS) with NASA that runs through 2016.
The purpose of the unmanned Cygnus spaceship—and the SpaceX Dragon—is to restore America’s cargo-to-orbit capability that was terminated following the forced 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.
The Orb-2 launch follows a trio of successful Antares launches: two in 2013, including the initial test launch in April and the 1st demonstration launch to the ISS in September, and the Orb-1 launch at the start of this year on Jan. 9.
Cygnus would reach the station after a carefully choreographed series of thruster engine burns over about 2.5 days to raise its orbit.
Astronauts will then grapple Cygnus with the stations Canadian built robotic arm and attach to the vacant port on the Harmony node.
It is scheduled to remain berthed at the ISS for about 40 days of unloading and reloading.
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.
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