cygnus launch
January 10, 2014

Private Company Launches First Resupply Mission To ISS

[ Watch the Video: U.S. Cargo Ship Launches to ISS on First Resupply Mission ]

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Orbital Sciences Corporation launched its Cygnus cargo spacecraft from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 1:07 p.m. EST on Thursday for the craft’s first-ever resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Over the weekend, Cygnus will conduct maneuvers to position it for rendezvous with the station on Sunday. When the vehicle is about 30 feet from the complex, ISS crew members will use the station’s robotic arm to grab Cygnus. The cargo ship will then be guided to its docking port on the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony node.

The craft is delivering nearly 2,800 pounds of supplies to the space station, including several science experiments. One experiment, called Ants in Space, will allow students in grades kindergarten through 12 to observe videos of “ant-ronauts” moving through foraging and nesting areas while living on the space station. The students will also be able to conduct parallel ant observations in their classrooms as part of an integrated curriculum. The program is designed to inspire students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Orbital mission is also expected to deliver the SPHERES-Slosh study, which uses the station’s free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES). The station researchers are expected to determine how liquids splash around inside containers in microgravity and how external forces impact the contents of those containers. The experiments are supposed to replicate how rocket fuels move about the insides of tanks while thrusters are pushing a craft through space. The study of liquid motion in microgravity can inform strategies for liquid-fueled rockets that are used to take satellites and other spacecraft into orbit.

Another study being brought to the ISS via the Orbital mission involves drug-resistant bacteria, a rising concern to public health experts. The Antibiotic Effectiveness in Space study aims to determine gene expression patterns and alteration using E. coli. This study builds on previous research aboard the ISS involving drug-resistant bacteria, such as the National Laboratory Pathfinder Vaccine Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus study.

The Cygnus resupply ship will stay at the station until the middle of February when it will be undocked from the ISS for a planned burn-up over the Pacific Ocean. After the departure of Cygnus, Space Exploration Technologies’ SpaceX-3 mission will bring additional supplies aboard the Dragon spacecraft. These back-to-back missions by private companies will, in essence, mark a new era in space-based science.

The January 8 launch date for Cygnus aboard an Antares rocket was scrubbed due to the increased threat of radiation from a solar flare that occurred on January 7. Before that, NASA made the call to delay the Dec 18 scheduled liftoff due to issues with a coolant pump on the ISS.

After comprehensive examination of the space weather environment, Orbital and NASA agreed that the risk to launch success for Thursday was within acceptable limits. NASA said astronauts aboard the space station took time off on Thursday in the expectation of having a busy weekend ahead on them.