Thursday, August 13, 2015

ULA's Atlas V Rocket to Launch Second Orbital ATK Cygnus Spacecraft to the ISS

Orbital Science's Cygnus spacecraft approaching the International Space Station in July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA

United Launch Alliance (ULA) will launch a second Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under a contract with Orbital ATK to support NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. The first ULA Atlas launch of a Cygnus cargo mission, OA-4, is set to lift off in early December 2015. “We look forward to working with our outstanding mission partners on this second cargo mission,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “Our reliable Atlas V offers the performance needed for our customer’s Cygnus spacecraft to carry the maximum cargo load to service the space station – 3,500 kg of pressurized cargo.” 
The second cargo mission is scheduled to launch in 2016 aboard an Atlas V 401 configuration vehicle from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. 

“Our team and our partners are devoting maximum efforts to ensuring the success of NASA’s ISS commercial cargo program,” said David W. Thompson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orbital ATK. “We are committed to meeting all CRS mission requirements, and we are prepared to continue to supply the Space Station.”

Three main CRS program efforts are simultaneously underway, including preparing the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft for the OA-4 mission; upgrading the Antares rocket by integrating and testing the new RD-181 main engines with the modified first stage core structure; and working with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) to complete repairs to the Pad 0A launch complex at Wallops Island to support the resumption of CRS missions from Wallops Island in early 2016.

“For the OA-4 mission, launching aboard the more powerful Atlas V allows us to better support NASA’s ISS cargo needs with a full load of about 3,500 kg of pressurized cargo, consisting of essential supplies, equipment and science experiments,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. The company also recently contracted with ULA for a second Atlas V rocket that will be used to launch an additional CRS mission in 2016 in order to provide NASA with the maximum cargo load Cygnus can carry. 

“In 2016, we will carry out at least three more CRS missions: two (or possibly three) will be launched by Antares rockets, the first of which is on a path to be ready to launch early in the year, and one more will be launched aboard Atlas V to support NASA’s need for additional cargo,” Culbertson added. “We have not finalized the exact sequence of these missions yet, but the plan capitalizes on the flexibility of Cygnus to launch on either vehicle and provides better schedule assurance for our customer.” 

The Cygnus spacecraft to be used for upcoming CRS missions features an extended pressurized cargo module (PCM) that allows it to deliver larger volumes of cargo to the station than in previous missions. The spacecraft will also use the latest in lightweight space-qualified power system technology with the addition of the company’s Ultraflex solar arrays.

The PCM for the OA-4 mission arrived at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) earlier this week where it will be integrated with the Cygnus spacecraft’s service module, which will arrive in early October. The service module, which houses the spacecraft’s avionics, electrical, propulsion and communications systems, is currently completing final testing at the company’s Dulles, Virginia satellite manufacturing facility. Final assembly, cargo loading and fueling of the Cygnus spacecraft will take place at KSC prior to its integration with the Atlas V rocket for an early December launch. 

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