U.S. cargo ship blasts off for space station with supplies, experiments

An Atlas V rocket boosted an Orbital ATK cargo ship into orbit this morning (April 18), setting the stage for the spacecraft's belated but welcome arrival at the International Space Station on Saturday.

Cygnus will remain at the space station until July, following which it will commence its destructive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean and dispose 1,500kg of trash from the ISS.

NASA also has resupply mission contracts with SpaceX and with Sierra Nevada Corporation. The mission, named in honor of American spaceflight legend John Glenn, is sending some 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms) of cargo, crew supplies and experiments toward the International Space Station.

Diller has served as a launch commentator on NASA Television for the launch countdown of both expendable launch vehicles and the space shuttle, including STS-135, the final space shuttle mission with the launch of Atlantis. Data from this experiment will be downloaded via telemetry to researchers on the ground. In addition, a NanoRacks deployer will release four cubesats used for weather monitoring and global ship tracking. Plus, it was to carry the Reentry Data Collection flight recorder to provide data about the conditions a spacecraft encounters during atmospheric reentry.

The spacecraft is also carrying 38 small satellites called Cube Sats, which will be deployed later on.

The Cygnus system consists of a common service module and pressurized cargo module. Orbital ATK manufactured the arrays and composite structures at its Goleta and San Diego, California, facilities, and the propellant tanks for the Cygnus spacecraft at its Commerce, California, site.

Passing through 10,000 miles per hour, the first stage engine shut down as planned four minutes and 15 seconds after liftoff and the spent stage fell away. The launch marked the fourth for ULA this year, keeping the company among the frontrunners in a field that has seen more competition this year. NASA later bought three additional flights and Orbital won a second contract for at least six more missions through 2024.

  • Carolyn Briggs