Monday, December 7, 2015

Cygnus Spacecraft Successfully Launched on Cargo Delivery Mission to Space Station

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-4 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41. Credit: ULA

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-4 Cygnus resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 6 at 4:44 p.m. EST. The mission, flown for Orbital ATK under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, marks the first time the Cygnus has flown on an Atlas V rocket. This was ULA’s 12th launch in 2015. At just over 8 tons, Cygnus is the heaviest payload to launch atop an Atlas V rocket.

“Congratulations to the team on today’s successful launch! Partnering with Orbital ATK to launch the Cygnus resupply vehicle to the ISS for NASA, a first for ULA, marks a great achievement for the team, and has provided a critical service to the nation and to the crew on the ISS,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “This mission is delivering more than 7,000 pounds of cargo including supplies for the crew and critical materials supporting science and research investigations.” 

“This launch marks the completion of the critical first step of our go-forward plan for the CRS-1 contract to meet our commitments to NASA,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space System Group. “Everything looks great in this early stage of the mission. I congratulate the combined NASA, ULA and Orbital ATK team for its hard work to get us to this point, and I look forward to completing another safe and successful flight to the ISS in several days.”

The Cygnus spacecraft will be grappled at approximately 6:10 a.m. on Wednesday, December 9. NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, using the space station's Canadarm2 robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. Scott Kelly of NASA will support Lindgren in a backup position.

The mission is Orbital ATK's fourth cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. This is the first flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft to the station. The cargo freighter now features a greater payload capacity, new UltraFlex solar arrays and new fuel tanks. Cygnus’ pressurized cargo module has been extended and increases the spacecraft’s interior volume capacity by 25 percent, allowing more cargo to be delivered with each mission.

Science payloads will support science and research investigations that will occur during the space station’s Expeditions 45 and 46, including experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science -- research that impacts life on Earth. Investigations will offer a new life science facility that will support studies on cell cultures, bacteria and other microorganisms, a microsatellite deployer and the first microsatellite that will be deployed from the space station, and experiments that will study the behavior of gases and liquids and clarify the thermo-physical properties of molten steel and evaluations of flame-resistant textiles.

Cygnus will remain attached to the station for approximately 50 days before departing with roughly 5,050 pounds (2,300 kilograms) of disposable cargo for a safe, destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean.

The Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) and Service Module (SM) are mated at Kennedy Space Center after the initial cargo bound for the space station was loaded into the PCM. Credit: NASA
The Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) and Service Module (SM) are mated at Kennedy Space Center after the initial cargo bound for the space station was loaded into the PCM. Credit: NASA

“NASA is delighted at the continued progress made possible by our investment in commercial space,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. “As we celebrate Orbital ATK’s success with its fourth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station, we look forward to the next milestones of our other commercial partners, including commercial crew launches from American soil in the near future. All these missions are critical to our journey to Mars – a journey we have already begun.”

Cygnus is a low-risk design incorporating elements drawn from Orbital ATK and its partners’ existing, flight-proven spacecraft technologies. Cygnus consists of a common Service Module (SM) and a Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM). The SM is assembled and tested at Orbital ATK’s Dulles, Virginia, satellite manufacturing facility and incorporates systems from Orbital ATK’s flight-proven LEOStar™ and GEOStar™ satellite product lines. The PCM is based on the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), developed and built by Thales Alenia Space of Italy.

"In the 12 months since this launch was ordered, the ULA and Orbital ATK teams worked very closely together to integrate the Cygnus with the Atlas launch system, including development of a new structural adapter and also a mission design that includes a 30-minute launch window for this ISS rendezvous mission, ” said Sponnick.

This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine. 

ULA's next launch is the GPS IIF-12 satellite for the U.S. Air Force, scheduled for Feb. 3, 2016, from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. 

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