Orbital Sciences Corporation Sunday launched its Antares rocket at 05:00 p.m. EDT from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The test flight was the first launch from the pad at Wallops and was the first flight of Antares, which delivered the equivalent mass of a spacecraft, a so-called mass simulated payload, into Earth’s orbit.
“Today’s successful test marks another significant milestone in NASA’s plan to rely on American companies to launch supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, bringing this important work back to the United States where it belongs,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Congratulations to Orbital Sciences and the NASA team that worked alongside them for the picture-perfect launch of the Antares rocket. In addition to providing further evidence that our strategic space exploration plan is moving forward, this test also inaugurates America’s newest spaceport capable of launching to the space station, opening up additional opportunities for commercial and government users.
“President Obama has presented a budget for next year that ensures the United States will remain the world leader in space exploration, and a critical part of this budget is the funding needed to advance NASA’s commercial space initiative. In order to stop outsourcing American space launches, we need to have the President’s budget enacted. It’s a budget that’s good for our economy, good for the U.S. Space program — and good for American taxpayers.”
The test of the Antares launch system began with the rocket’s rollout and placement on the launch pad April 6, and culminated with the separation of the mass simulator payload from the rocket.
The completed flight paves the way for a demonstration mission by Orbital to resupply the space station later this year. Antares will launch experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory carried aboard the company’s new Cygnus cargo spacecraft through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.
“Today’s successful test flight of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket from the spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, demonstrates an additional private space-launch capability for the United States and lays the groundwork for the first Antares cargo mission to the International Space Station later this year,” said John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The growing potential of America’s commercial space industry and NASA’s use of public-private partnerships are central to President Obama’s strategy to ensure U.S. leadership in space exploration while pushing the bounds of scientific discovery and innovation in the 21st century. With NASA focusing on the challenging and exciting task of sending humans deeper into space than ever before, private companies will be crucial in taking the baton for American cargo and crew launches into low-Earth orbit.
“I congratulate Orbital Sciences and the NASA teams at Wallops, and look forward to more groundbreaking missions in the months and years ahead.”
Orbital is building and testing its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. After successful completion of a COTS demonstration mission to the station, Orbital will begin conducting eight planned cargo resupply flights to the orbiting laboratory through NASA’s $1.9 billion CRS contract with the company.
NASA initiatives, such as COTS, are helping to develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program also is working with commercial space partners to develop capabilities to launch U.S. astronauts from American soil in the next few years.
Although Orbital had to reschedule three times, they got their test launch off.
Let’s hope they solved their fairing separation issues before the main Cygnus missions start.
Today SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is set to splash-down at 11:44 am EDT after a successful mission to the International Space Station.
Whether you love or hate Elon Musk ( or love or hate Barack Obama for that matter ) one cannot dispute that this was an important flight for the American aerospace industry and important for NASA.
The engine burn to begin Dragon’s descent is due to begin in about 90 minutes, aiming the capsule for a splashdown point about 560 miles west of Baja California, where three recovery boats contracted by SpaceX are on station to receive the capsule.
Dragon’s de-orbit burn is set for 10:51 a.m. EDT (1451 GMT), setting up the spacecraft to plunge back into Earth’s atmosphere at 17,000 mph, flying from northwest to southeast over the North Pacific before deploying drogue parachutes and main chutes.
Dragon will also jettison its trunk, an unpressurized section which houses the craft’s solar panels, at 11:09 a.m. EDT (1509 GMT). The trunk will burn up in the atmosphere.
The craft’s Draco thrusters will periodically fire during re-entry to refine Dragon’s trajectory to reach the desired landing zone in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
The capsule’s drogue stabilization parachutes will deploy at an altitude of 45,000 feet at 11:35 a.m. EDT (1535 GMT). Three 116-foot main parachutes will unfurl 10,000 feet above the water at 11:36 a.m. EDT (1536 GMT).
Dragon is designed to splash down at a vertical speed of about 11 mph. SpaceX says the craft can safely land even it one of its main parachutes fails.
American Marine is providing the vessels for the recovery. A 185-foot barge with a crane will lift the capsule aboard its deck for the voyage back to port. An 80-foot crew ship and two 25-foot inflatable recovery boats are also in the flotilla.
About a dozen SpaceX engineers and a four-person dive team will assist with Dragon’s recovery from the sea.
Once the Dragon spacecraft is aboard the primary barge, the fleet will sail for the Port of Los Angeles, where crews will access a limited amount of the capsule’s more than 1,300 pounds of cargo returning from the space station.
The early access is a demonstration by SpaceX for NASA in preparation for future flights, which may carry sensitive biological samples or experiments requiring quick examination.
SpaceX will transport Dragon to its test site in McGregor, Texas, for post-flight processing and to offload the rest of its cargo.
After many delays and much political trepidation, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was launched on top of it’s Falcon 9 rocket for NASA’s COTS 2+ test flight to the ISS.
The launch occurred at 3:44:38 a.m. in spectacular fashion and of course was instantly politicized and speechified:
The second demonstration mission for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program is under way as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lifted off Tuesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3:44 a.m. EDT.
“I want to congratulate SpaceX for its successful launch and salute the NASA team that worked alongside them to make it happen,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start. Under President Obama’s leadership, the nation is embarking upon an ambitious exploration program that will take us farther into space than we have ever traveled before, while helping create good-paying jobs right here in the United States of America.”
The Dragon capsule will conduct a series of checkout procedures to test and prove its systems, including the capability to rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station. On Thursday, May 24, Dragon will perform a flyby of the space station at a distance of approximately 1.5 miles to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach. Live NASA TV coverage beginning at 2:30 a.m.
Following analysis of the flyby by NASA and SpaceX managers, the Dragon capsule will be cleared to rendezvous and berth with the space station on Friday, May 25, marking the first time a commercial company has attempted this feat. The Expedition 31 crew on board the station will use the orbiting complex’s robotic arm to capture Dragon and install it on the bottom side of the Harmony node. NASA TV will provide live coverage beginning at 2 a.m.
“This flight is an important milestone as NASA and SpaceX develop the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to carry the critically important experiments, payloads and supplies to our remarkable laboratory in space,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration Operations Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.
SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, which will perform its own test flight later this year, have been working under NASA’s COTS program, which provides investments to stimulate the commercial space industry in America. Once the companies have successfully completed their test flights, they will begin delivering regular cargo shipments to the station.
“NASA is working with private industry in an unprecedented way, cultivating innovation on the path toward maintaining America’s leadership in space exploration,” said Philip McAlister, director for NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development.
In parallel to COTS, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is helping spur innovation and development of new spacecraft and launch vehicles from the commercial industry to develop safe, reliable and cost-effective capabilities to transport astronauts to low Earth orbit and the space station.
NASA also is developing the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system.
I got up at 3:20 a.m. just to watch the launch again ( I got up this past Saturday early also, much to my wife’s dismay) and I wasn’t disappointed.
Any launch is a good launch using this dangerous mainstream technology. Hopefully in a couple of decades there will be a way to build “beanstalks” so the costs of lifting cargo and people to Earth orbit come down to the realm of ordinary working folks.