Rocket launch reignites space sta­tion de­liv­er­ies in Vir­ginia

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND | NATION - By Marcia Dunn

One of NASA’s main de­liv­ery com­pa­nies launched its first space sta­tion ship­ment from Vir­ginia in two years Mon­day night, light­ing up the East Coast.

It was the first flight of Or­bital ATK’s un­manned Antares rocket since a launch ex­plo­sion on Oct. 28, 2014, that wrecked the pad and de­stroyed ev­ery­thing on the space sta­tion sup­ply run.

For the long-awaited come­back, the pad un­der­went a $15 mil­lion restora­tion, and the Antares got new Rus­sian en­gines to re­place the vin­tage ones from a half-cen­tury ear­lier. As the Antares streaked through the night sky from NASA’s Wal­lops Flight Fa­cil­ity, it ap­peared as though all the work had paid off. Launch con­trollers ap­plauded when the sup­ply ship reached or­bit and vic­tory was de­clared.

The launch pro­vided a show for sky gaz­ers along much of the East Coast, weather per­mit­ting, from Charleston, S.C., to Boston.

Get­ting a lift from the Antares was Or­bital ATK’s Cygnus cap­sule, loaded with more than 5,000 pounds of food, equip­ment and re­search ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing some ex­per­i­ments to study flames in space and the ro­botic toy ball, Sphero, part of an ed­u­ca­tional ef­fort.

The Cygnus — named af­ter the swan con­stel­la­tion — will have to or­bit un­til Sun­day be­fore de­liv­er­ing the goods.

That’s be­cause three as­tro­nauts are await­ing launch from Kaza­khstan on Wed­nes­day, which would get them to the space sta­tion on Fri­day. NASA wants the new crew to set­tle in be­fore the Cygnus pulls up.

This will be the sixth Cygnus to ar­rive at the or­bit­ing out­post since 2013. While the Antares was be­ing re­designed, Or­bital ATK made good on two de­liv­er­ies us­ing an­other com­pany’s rock­ets fly­ing from Cape Canaveral.

NASA’s other com­mer­cial ship­per, SpaceX, has made nine sta­tion de­liv­er­ies since 2012, but is cur­rently grounded, pend­ing an investigation into last month’s launch pad ex­plo­sion at Cape Canaveral.

Given the risk­i­ness of space flight, Or­bital ATK of­fi­cials ex­pressed ner­vous­ness be­fore t he launch, but said they had full con­fi­dence in the fi­nal prod­uct.

NASA has been re­ly­ing on Or­bital ATK and SpaceX to keep the space sta­tion stocked ever since the shut­tles re­tired in 2011.

Next up will be com­mer­cial flights for the sta­tion crews, as the space agency works on get­ting as­tro­nauts to Mars in the 2030s.

SpaceX and Boe­ing are build­ing cap­sules to carry U.S. as­tro­nauts to the 250mile-high sta­tion; those launches are ex­pected in the next cou­ple of years. Un­til then, NASA will keep fly­ing its as­tro­nauts on Rus­sia’s Soyuz space­craft.

The space sta­tion is cur­rently home to an Amer­i­can, a Rus­sian and a third as­tro­naut from Ja­pan. They will be joined by an Amer­i­can and two Rus­sians.

Or­bital ATK weathered brief hur­ri­cane de­lays over the past 11⁄2 weeks, then a bad cable at the pad Sun­day bumped the launch by a day.


The Or­bital ATK Antares rocket lifts off from the the NASA Wal­lops Is­land flight fa­cil­ity Mon­day night.

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