Wednesday afternoon the Cygnus spacecraft and its return payload of space station "trash" was expected to make reentry into the earth's atmosphere, breaking up and burning up somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
The Dulles-based Orbital Sciences Corp.'s commercial spacecraft performed "flawlessly" from its initial launch from Virginia on September 18, to its being unlatched from the huge robotic arm on the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday.
The Cygnus ferried 1,300 pounds of food, clothing, tools and student science experiments to the ISS aboard an Antares rocket. The launch on Sept. 18 took place in Virginia, at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, or MARS, on Wallop's Island.
NASA will spend the next several weeks examining the entire demonstration, from the first launch through Cygnus's reentry and destruction. If everything checks out, Orbital Sciences Corp. will get the balance of its $288 million Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract, opening the way for the company to develop, build and ultimately fly cargo spacecraft.
With NASA's approval of the demonstration, it opens the way for Orbital to fulfill A $1.9 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract, and become only the second company hired to do so. California-based SpaceX began missions last year out of Florida.
Orbital's contract calls for eight resupply missions to launch out of MARS on Wallop's Island. The first mission could come as early as December of 2013.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and other state leaders have worked hard to make the MARS facility a major hub for the commercial space industry, and this contract for Orbital Sciences Corp. is not only a "feather in the cap" for the company, but for Virginia's new chapter in the "space coast" as well.