Cygnus Launch Marks Second Commercial Craft To Fly To The Space Station
September 18, 2013

Cygnus Launch Marks Second Commercial Craft To Fly To The Space Station

[ Watch the Video: Cygnus Lifts Off! ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft is now on its way to becoming the second commercial spacecraft to ever dock with the International Space Station (ISS), rivaling SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

NASA launched Cygnus aboard Orbital's Antares rocket at the space agency's newest launch pad, Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad-0A at Wallops Flight Facility. The spacecraft's successful launch on Wednesday marks the second time a company has been given the go-ahead to attempt a scheduled rendezvous with the Space Station.

"We have #Cygnus separation! Look out ISS, here we come," Orbital Sciences wrote on its Twitter page. "#Antares provides #Cygnus a great ride to orbit. Now it's Cygnus' turn to take the stage. Activations are imminent. #COTSDemo."

NASA said on its Twitter page that "all remains nominal" after launch, and continued to describe a successful flight as Cygnus separated from Antares.

Cygnus is expected to reach the orbiting laboratory on early Sunday morning, at which time controllers aboard the ISS will use a robotic arm to capture the spacecraft and bring it into the space station. NASA says that installation of the craft will begin around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday.

The Orbital cargo craft is delivering about 1,300 pounds of cargo to crew members aboard the Space Station, which includes food and clothing. NASA believes that if all goes according to plan, future Cygnus flights will significantly increase the space agency's ability to deliver new science investigations to the laboratory.

Cygnus will not be given the official go-ahead to dock until the ISS flight control team has verified the results of several test objectives. The spacecraft will be undergoing tests and maneuvers throughout its journey to the ISS until it ultimately arrives beneath the outpost.

After successful completion of this demonstration mission to the station, Orbital will begin conducting eight planned cargo resupply flights to the orbiting lab through NASA's $1.9 billion contract with the company.

[ Watch the Video: Cygnus To Launch Pad Time Lapse ]

The original launch time for Cygnus was delayed by 24 hours due to poor weather that delayed the roll-out of Antares to the launch pad. NASA also said the delay was due to a technical issue identified during a combined systems test held Friday night involving communications between ground equipment and the rocket's flight computer.

Orbital's Cygnus vessel is now on its way to making history, and widening the already open avenue of a commercial role in resupplying the ISS.