On Sunday, the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft arrived at the ISS following the launch on the Antares rocket last week. The spacecraft comes bearing gifts to the six astronauts onboard the spacecraft, including scientific investigations, food and supplies.
The Cygnus OA-5 mission began with the flight of the first re-engined Antares rocket, lifting off in spectacular fashion on Monday, October 17th at 19:40 EDT from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast. The Cyngus spacecraft was captured by the station’s robotic arm, controlled by Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, at 07:28 EDT on Sunday. Flight controllers then remotely controlled the arm to install Cygnus on the Unity module, where it will remain for around a month.
The mission gave NASA an opportunity to send up over 5,100 pounds of science investigations, food, supplies and hardware for the ISS and its six-person crew. Some of the investigations are:
This was the first launch of the Antares rocket since its catastrophic failure in October 2014, where the Orb-3 Cygnus spacecraft came to an abrupt end to its mission just seconds after launch. The incident was investigated and it was concluded that the AJ26 first stage engines were to blame for the anomaly. The Antares rocket is now powered by two RD-181 first stage engines that immaculately thrusted the rocket and spacecraft upwards last Monday.
The spacecraft is expected to spend five weeks attached to the space station, and will become the ‘trash can’ for astronauts onboard to throw away no longer needed supplies and gear. It will be undocked in November, and, following a few scientific experiments, will be commanded to perform a destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere.
The next launch of the Antares rocket is expected sometime in the first quarter of 2017, an event that is eagerly anticipated by all!
The Blue Origin in-flight escape test took place on Wednesday and was a resounding success, with both the crew capsule and booster expertly landing back on Earth. The test proved that the capsule is able to escape the booster in-flight in the case of an emergency, a key requirement towards sending tourists to space.
The flight, which took place over Blue Origin’s facilities in Texas was the fifth launch of the New Shepard booster. The reusable rocket is capable of reaching space on a suborbital trajectory, giving future passengers onboard the experience of weightlessness and some incredible views. Using a hover landing approach, the booster is capable of landing back on Earth for future reuse.
There were concerns prior to launch that the force of an escaping capsule would cause the New Shepard booster to be knocked off trajectory, tumbling back to Earth in a fiery explosion. However, no such explosion occurred. Instead, after capsule separation, the booster remained upright, allowing for a successful flight to apogee and then back down to Earth for landing.
Blue Origin was founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in September 2000. Although initially very quiet about their progress, in the last couple of years the company has begun showing off their progress. The New Shepard rocket first launched in April 2015, and achieved its first soft landing later that year in November. The first manned test flights are currently planned to take place in 2017, with space tourism flights potentially beginning as soon as 2018.