A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship successfully blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday. It was the first resupply mission by Orbital ATK since its Antares rocket exploded seconds after the liftoff in October 2014. The latest resupply mission was scheduled for last Thursday, but it was delayed three times due to poor weather and wind conditions.
Cygnus carrying 3,500 kg of supplies
The Atlas 5 rocket lifted off at 4:44 p.m. EST on Sunday. The Cygnus capsule detached from the Atlas 5 booster about 21 minutes after the liftoff. The cargo ship will reach the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, Dec.10. NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren will capture the cargo ship using the space station’s robotic arm and attach it to an Earth-facing port. The capsule loaded with trash from the orbiting lab will return in January to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Cygnus capsule is carrying nearly 7,700 pounds of food, clothing, air filters, spacewalk equipment and other supplies. Astronauts will also receive Microsoft HoloLens augmented-reality goggles. The latest resupply mission has reopened NASA’s supply lines to the ISS. In June, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch had also failed, shutting down both supply lines to the space station.
Orbital ATK turns to Atlas 5 to resume resupply
The US space agency maintains six months of essential food and supplies at the International Space Station, which has now declined to a four-month cushion. Orbital ATK expects its own rocket Antares to return to flight in May next year. So, the Dulles-based bought two Atlas 5 rocket rides from ULA to resume supply missions under its $1.9 billion contract with NASA. Atlas 5 was built by ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It is powered by Russian-made RD-180 engines.
NASA’s second supply line is expected to open later this month when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket returns to flight. Both SpaceX and Orbital ATK hope to win follow-on resupply contracts from NASA in January. Boeing has already been eliminated from the competition, so the only major challenger to them is Sierra Nevada Corp.