More than four years after winning a contract (along with Space X) to resupply the International Space Station, Orbital Sciences has finally docked its Cygnus capsule with the space outpost. The achievement makes it the second private outfit to have run a resupply mission to the station, with Musk and Co. beating them to the punch last October. Achieving the rendezvous with the ISS didn't go without a hitch, however: a data format bug delayed the planned September 22nd berthing until a software fix was applied. Once Monday morning rolls around, the craft's hatch will be opened to reach 1,300 pounds worth of supplies, which include clothing, food and student experiments. In 30 days' time, the cargo vessel will detach and head for a destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean.
[Image credit: NASA, Instagram]
NASA Partner Orbital Sciences Completes First Flight to Space Station as Astronauts Capture Cygnus Spacecraft
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) used a robotic arm to capture and attach a Cygnus cargo resupply spacecraft Sunday, marking several spaceflight firsts for NASA and its partner, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.
The station's Expedition 37 crew reported the spacecraft -- loaded with about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo -- berthed at 8:44 a.m. EDT, following an 11-day journey to the orbiting laboratory.
Orbital's Cygnus was launched on the company's Antares rocket on Sept. 18 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This was the first flight of a spacecraft to the space station from the state.
The maiden flight of Cygnus included a number of systems tests prior to rendezvous with the station. The cargo includes student experiments, food and clothing, which will be unloaded by the station crew following hatch opening Monday.
Future Cygnus flights will ensure a robust national capability to deliver critical science research to orbit, significantly increasing NASA's ability to conduct new science investigations to the only laboratory in microgravity.
After a series of tests designed to demonstrate Cygnus' ability to navigate, maneuver, lock on to the station and abort its approach, NASA cleared the spacecraft to approach the station Sunday morning. European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg captured Cygnus with the station's robotic arm, then attached the capsule on the bottom of the station's Harmony node, completing installation by bolting the Cygnus to Harmony.
The capsule will remain attached to Harmony until a planned unberthing on Oct. 22 sends the spacecraft toward a destructive re-entry in Earth's atmosphere.
Cygnus had been scheduled for a rendezvous with the space station on Sept. 22. Due to a data format mismatch, the first rendezvous attempt was postponed. Orbital updated and tested a software patch to fix the issue. Cygnus' arrival also was postponed pending the Sept. 25 arrival of the Expedition 37 crew. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA and Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) arrived at the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft Wednesday.
Orbital built and tested its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program. The successful completion of this COTS demonstration mission will pave the way for Orbital to conduct eight planned cargo resupply flights to the space station through NASA's $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with the company.
Rendezvous and Berthing Operations of Company's First Cargo Logistics Spacecraft Proceeded Smoothly
Cargo Unloading to Begin Tomorrow with 30-Day Stay at Station Planned
(Dulles, VA 29 September 2013) – Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), one of the world's leading space technology companies, today announced that its Cygnus™ cargo logistics spacecraft successfully completed its rendezvous and approach maneuvers with the International Space Station (ISS) and was grappled and berthed with the station by the Expedition 37 astronaut crew earlier this morning. After Cygnus was launched into orbit by Orbital's Antares rocket on Wednesday, September 18 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, it completed an extensive series of in-orbit tests and orbit-raising maneuvers demonstrating its readiness to operate in close proximity to the ISS. Final approach to the station began at about 3:00 a.m. (EDT) this morning, culminating with the station's robotic arm grappling the spacecraft at 7:00 a.m. when it was about 10 meters away. Cygnus was then guided to its berthing port on the nadir side of the ISS' Harmony module where its installation was completed just before 8:45 a.m.
"This entire COTS demonstration mission has been executed in textbook fashion by the joint NASA and Orbital teams, from Antares' launch 10 days ago to Cygnus' berthing at the station this morning," said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital's President and Chief Executive Officer. "A tremendous amount of hard work has gone into this five-year effort from our launch vehicle and spacecraft teams, and we are all exceptionally proud of their accomplishments. We look forward to moving ahead with regularly scheduled ISS cargo delivery missions for NASA as early as the end of the year."
Orbital and NASA cooperatively developed the Cygnus cargo spacecraft under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that started in 2008. For the COTS demonstration mission, Cygnus carried a relatively light load of cargo to the ISS. The ISS crew will start unpacking the 700 kg of cargo and supplies tomorrow, which includes food, clothing and experimental equipment. In early October, they will begin filling the cargo module with up to 800 kg of disposal cargo prior to its departure. For future missions, Cygnus has a total cargo up-mass capacity of 2,000 kg in its standard configuration, expanding to 2,700 kg in its enhanced design for later missions. This first Cygnus will remain at the ISS for 30 days before departing for a destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean in late October.