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Antares rocket set to launch Space Station cargo Monday

May 20, 2018
  • Image Credit: RocketLaunch.Live

Orbital ATK plans to launch their Cygnus spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station Monday, May 21, 2018 for the OA-9 mission under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract. The Antares rocket will loft the craft through potentially cloudy skies before sunrise from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

Despite a recent trend of cloudy and rainy weather in the area, Antares was rolled out to the launch pad Thursday evening. On Friday, crews raised Antares from horizontal to vertical position in preparation for launch.

Liftoff is scheduled to occur Monday morning at 4:39 local time. Nine minutes after liftoff, Cygnus will separate from Antares' Castor-30XL upper stage and continue on its way to the ISS. Upon arrival at the Space Station, Cygnus will be captured with the robotic Canadarm by NASA Astronauts Scott Tingle and Ricky Arnold, who are currently serving on Expedition 55 on the ISS. The spacecraft will be berthed to the Unity module's nadir location before cargo is unloaded by the astronauts.

Following its stay at the ISS, the Cygnus spacecraft will be released then deploy six Cubesats after raising its orbit to slightly higher than the ISS. After Cubesat deployment, Cygnus will desctructively reenter Earth's atmosphere in late July.

  • Image Credit: NASA

Launch of Antares will be visible along the Eastern seaboard from South Carolina to Rhode Island. Despite the very early launch time and possible inclement weather, an estimated ten thousand tourists are expected to descend on the area to view the launch at the NASA Wallops Visitors Center and other local viewing locations. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) typically only hosts around 2 orbital launches each year. The OA-9 mission is the first of two flights of Antares expected in 2018, with the second (OA-10) currently targeted for November.

  • Image Credit: NASA

Orbital ATK is one of four launch providers currently launching ISS cargo missions, with the others being US company SpaceX, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos). With resupply missions occuring every couple of months, cargo vehicles routinely bring crew supplies, science experiments and hardware for the ISS. For the OA-9 mission, Cygnus will carry over 7,386 lbs of cargo, including 1788 lbs of crew supplies and 2251 lbs of science investigations.

Orbital ATK has elected to name the craft for this mission in honor of Orbital ATK employee J.R. Thompson, "a distinguished leader in the aerospace industry and a member of our Orbital ATK family".

After this flight, Orbital ATK has two flights remaining on their current CRS contract with NASA. However, they have contracted with NASA for an additional six cargo deliveries with Cygnus under the CRS-2 contract. Interestingly, for a past Cygnus mission NASA requested Orbital ATK fly Cygnus with another launch provider, United Launch Alliance. The OA-7 mission flew on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Although it is still unclear which launch vehicle will be used for the upcoming CRS-2 missions, Orbital ATK is currently procuring hardware for Antares to fly Cygnus for OA-12 through OA-15.

Launch of the OA-9 mission is currently scheduled to occur within a 5 minute window starting at 4:39 AM EDT / 08:39 UTC. Orbital ATK plans to target the start of the window for liftoff.

Be sure to follow along with all of the latest information about this launch on RocketLaunch.Live.