Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Space station supply craft Cygnus prepares for December launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American commercial supply ship designed to ferry supplies to the International Space Station is proceeding toward a December launch from America's Space Coast one year following it's last ill fated mission.

Loaded with 7,700 pounds of fresh supplies and equipment, the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to lift-off a top an Atlas V rocket on Dec. 3 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This fourth operational Cygnus will occur 13 months after its Antares rocket exploded 15 seconds after launch from a Wallops, Virginia.

The fiery explosion just above the Wallops launch pad caused major damage to the pad area and nearby buildings. An independent investigation board determined an engine failure caused the rocket to fall back toward the pad. Range Safety then sent a self destruct signal which exploded the rocket.

Heiney noted the fully loaded Cygnus craft will be tucked inside its clam shell payload faring in a few days and transported on November 20 to the Florida launch site. The fairing will then be stacked high a top a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at Complex 41.

"(Orbital ATK) had to move their spacecraft, equipment, people and overall operations to this new location in an extremely short time," Space Station Launch Support Project Manager Randy Gordon said. "It was good having them in the Space Station Processing Facility,” he added. “They have a lean workforce, but they worked hard and stayed on schedule."

The nighttime launch on Dec. 3 is targeted for 5:55 p.m. EST, 28 minutes after sunset, and the opening of a planned thirty minute launch window. The launch will mark ULA's first mission in support of space station maintenance and support, and the 60th flight of an Atlas 5.

"This will be Orbital ATK’s fourth commercial resupply flight to the station," said NASA spokesperson Ana Heiney on Tuesday. "(It) will carry more than 7,000 pounds of supplies, equipment and research to keep the station stocked and capable of serving as a platform for studies off the Earth."

Orbital ATK is working toward launching Antares again from Wallops beginning in June 2016. The flight will also mark the fifth mission of a Cygnus craft.

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