Rocket

NASA beefs up commercial efforts with Wednesday demo launch

A planned Wednesday demonstration launch of a cargo spacecraft could help double the number of companies that NASA has on tap to supply the International Space Station.

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is scheduled to launch its Cygnus spacecraft atop an Antares rocket between 10:50 a.m. and 11:05 a.m. EDT from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. The unmanned spacecraft, carrying 1,300 pounds of cargo, is expected to rendezvous with the space station at 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

Orbital Sciences is the second company to team with NASA to shuttle cargo to the space station.

RocketNASA
A test launch of the Antares rocket back in April.

In May, SpaceX became the first commercial company to launch a spacecraft that docked with the space station. The company launched its own test flight in 2012 and was approved to run regular resupply missions.

“A new era for U.S. & commercial space!” NASA tweeted in May after the SpaceX cargo ship was captured by a robotic arm on the space station.

If its mission is successful, Orbital Sciences will begin to fly regular supply missions to the space station. With NASA’s long-running space shuttle fleet officially retired, the space agency is dependent on a young commercial space industry to ferry supplies, and eventually astronauts, to the space station.

This week’s launch to the space station will be the first from Virginia. The Cygnus is loaded with 1,300 pounds of cargo, including food and clothing for the space station crew.

NASA noted on its website that during Cygnus’ flight to the orbiting station, several of the spacecraft’s systems and capabilities will be tested. After the space station flight control team verifies the test results, Cygnus will be cleared to approach the station.

Once the spacecraft rendezvous with the space station, an astronaut will use a robotic arm onboard the orbiter to grab hold of Cygnus and dock it with the station.

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