NASA Cargo Shipper Launches Capsule to Space Station
An Antares rocket blasts off from its seaside launch pad on Wallops Island, Va.
On Jan. 9, Orbital Sciences launched its Antares rocket, boosting the company's unmanned Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Two and a half days later on Sunday, the spacecraft, loaded with supplies and experiments, caught up with the orbiting outpost where Expedition 38 astronauts grappled the spacecraft and berthed it in a flawless operation. Here's what the astronauts and cosmonauts on board the space station saw.READ MORE: Belated Christmas: Orbital Rocket Launches ISS Cargo
As the Cygnus cargo ship increased its orbit toward the space station, Expedition 38 crew members had a golden opportunity to photograph the mission. The vehicle was named "C. Gordon Fullerton" after the space shuttle NASA astronaut who sadly died in 2013.
Shown here, the Cygnus spacecraft flies above an ocean dotted with fluffy clouds. Orbital Sciences isn't the only commercial space company to be contracted to resupply the space station. Orbital is working in tandem with Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, under a NASA contract.
As the Cygnus spacecraft gets closer, space station astronauts control the Canadarm2 robotic arm to begin berthing procedures. "Cygnus" is Latinized Greek for "Swan" and a constellation in Northern Hemisphere skies.
Canadarm2 inches closer to Cygnus as the space station passes over the southwestern Alps.
As the space station orbits into the shadow of Earth, the grappled Cygnus spacecraft is carefully guided toward the space station's Harmony module where berthing will be completed.
A Cygnus cargo ship began a long-delayed, three-day journey to the International Space Station on Sunday following a successful launch aboard Orbital Sciences Corp’s fourth Antares rocket.
The 13-story rocket blasted off at 12:52 p.m. EDT from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast.
“It’s a very exciting day for us,” said Orbital Sciences vice president Frank Culbertson, a former astronaut who spent four months aboard the space station in 2001.
“I think we found the secret to getting people’s attention here on the eastern shore of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, and that’s to launch on a Sunday in July,” Culbertson quipped. “There’s a lot of traffic out there right now.”
“It took a lot of effort for people to pull this off. We worked a lot of problems up to the last couple of months that had to be resolved. Even today, as we were working through the countdown, small things came up and people had to figure them out,” he said.
The last-minute issues included sailboats encroaching in an area blocked off so that the rocket’s first stage could fall back into the water without posing a risk to mariners.
“The Coast Guard went out to try to turn them around – one of them didn’t want to turn around. I don’t think they believed them,” Culbertson said.
With the range clear, Orbital Sciences proceeded to launch its Antares rocket on its second operational mission for NASA. The booster previously made two test flights, including a practice run to the space station last September.
The Cygnus capsule is due to reach the space station early Wednesday. Astronauts aboard the outpost will use the station’s robotic arm to snare the capsule from orbit and bolt it to a docking port on the Harmony connecting module.
The capsule carries more than 3,600 pounds of food, supplies, experiments and research equipment, including 28 Earth-imaging CubeSats for San Francisco-based Planet Labs. The small satellites will be deployed by a specially made CubeSat launcher set up in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.
Once Cygnus is unpacked, it will be filled with trash and equipment no longer needed on the station. After about a month, Cygnus will be released back into space and re-enter the atmosphere for incineration.
Orbital Sciences is one of two companies hired by NASA after the space shuttles were retired to fly cargo to the station. The other company, SpaceX, made its third paid delivery in April. NASA is paying the companies a combined $3.5 billion for the station resupply missions.