Orbital Science Corporation's Cygnus spacecraft has just made a successful delivery, albeit almost a month late, to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday. Yesterday morning, the space station's crew successfully captured the Cygnus using a robotic arm and then proceeded to dock the craft to the space station.
For Orbital Sciences, this is a milestone achievement as the company has a $1.9 billion contract to launch 40,000 pounds of equipment to the ISS by 2016 by way of its Antares rockets and Cygnus space capsules. This mission is the first official launch in the NASA contract.
Speaking on the mission, NASA officials said that "the cargo is comprised of vital science experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and other hardware . . . one newly arrived investigation will study the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight. Another will examine how different fuel samples burn in microgravity, which could inform future design for spacecraft materials."
The mission was originally set for a mid-December launch, but Orbital Sciences and NASA decided to delay the flight to January when a cooling system failed on the ISS. That issue aside, cold weather at the Wallops, Va launch site and then a series of strong solar flares further delayed the mission to its January 9 successful launch date.
The good news: once aloft, the mission went flawlessly.
In a statement on the mission, Orbital Sciences President and CEO David Thompson released a statement that said, in part, "our first mission under the [Commercial Resupply Services] contract with NASA was flawlessly executed by our Antares and Cygnus operations team, from the picture-perfect launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility to the rendezvous, capture and berthing at the space station this morning.”
In addition to the science experiments, there were Christmas presents as well as fresh fruit (a rarity in space) aboard the Cygnus capsule.
With this launch, it's official: there are 2 successful players in the private space race: SpaceX and now Orbital Sciences, both of which have NASA contracts to deliver goods to the ISS.
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