First Antares-Cygnus Trip to ISS Scheduled for September 2013

First Antares-Cygnus Trip to ISS Scheduled for September 2013

NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation are currently planning the first test launch of Orbital’s Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) in September 2013.

The Antares rocket successfully completed its first test in April carrying a mockup of the Cygnus spacecraft.  The September launch will be the first of an actual Cygnus spacecraft, which is designed to take cargo to the ISS.   The rocket and spacecraft are being built as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) program.  Unlike Orbital’s COTS competitor, SpaceX, the Cygnus spacecraft is not capable of returning anything to Earth.  SpaceX’s Dragon is the only ISS cargo spacecraft that can return to Earth.  The others — Russia’s Progress, Europe’s ATV, Japan’s HTV and Cygnus– burn up during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere.

The target launch date is September 14 with Cygnus being berthed to the ISS on September 22.  Orbital stresses that the rocket and spacecraft will be ready to go in August, however.   Orbital uses the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility for Antares launches.  Wallops is committed to launching another NASA mission (the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Experiment Explorer – LADEE) in the September 6-10 time frame, however, so the range is not available in August.  Should the LADEE launch date slip, the Antares-Cygnus mission might occur sooner.

Cygnus will be loaded with 1,550 pounds of cargo for the ISS.  The launch window is open September 14-19.

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