Orbital’s Antares rocket has launched its first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, lofting the Cygnus spacecraft on a mission to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. The launch of ORB-1/CRS-1 from Orbital’s Wallops Island base occurred at the opening of the launch window, at 1:07 pm Eastern (18:07 UTC).
ORB-1 – *CLICK HERE FOR LIVE COVERAGE*:
First Attempt: According to L2 sources late on Tuesday night, teams were monitoring a potential constraint of a “high Proton Flux Count” caused by a X1.2 solar flare launch. Early on Wednesday a scrub was called.
“Early this morning the Antares launch team decided to scrub today’s launch attempt due to an unusually high level of space radiation that exceeded by a considerable margin the constraints imposed on the mission to ensure the rocket’s electronic systems are not impacted by a harsh radiation environment,” noted Orbital on Wednesday.
“The solar flux activity that occurred late yesterday afternoon has had the result of increasing the level of radiation beyond what the Antares engineering team was monitoring earlier in the day. Overnight, Orbital engineers who are experts in the field ran numerous models to ensure that all possibilities to preserve the launch were examined.
“However, due to significantly elevated flux levels, the Antares team decided to postpone the launch to spend the day further examining the potential effects of the space radiation on the rocket’s avionics suite.”
The teams will work with space weather experts to monitor the space conditions before setting a new launch date. Currently, the launch has been moved to its next available slot, on Thursday. A positive decision for Thursday’s attempt – with a T-0 of 1:07pm Eastern – was made later on Wednesday.
“Upon a deeper examination of the current space weather environment, Orbital’s engineering team, in consultation with NASA, has determined that the risk to launch success is within acceptable limits established at the outset of the Antares program,” Orbital added.
The CRS Orb-1 mission builds on Orbital’s successful demonstration flight, Orb-D1, which was conducted last year. The first Cygnus mission, Orb-D1 was launched on 18 September and arrived at the ISS eleven days later following a series of on-orbit tests.
After remaining berthed for a little under a month, the demonstration flight ended with the spacecraft unberthing on 22 October and being deorbited to a destructive reentry over the Pacific the next day.
NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program is aimed at providing it with cargo access to the International Space Station without having to rely on its international partners.
Following-on from the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, which demonstrated vehicles capable of resupplying the station, CRS calls for twenty resupply missions using SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus.
In December 2008, before either spacecraft had flown, SpaceX was awarded twelve missions, while Orbital received a contract for eight.
CRS missions began in October 2012 when SpaceX launched its third Dragon spacecraft to the ISS, while a second Dragon mission was conducted last March. This is the first of seven CRS missions scheduled to launch in 2014, three of which are being flown by Orbital and four by SpaceX.
Orbital’s COTS demonstration mission was completed almost flawlessly, the only significant issue being an aborted rendezvous attempt on 21 September caused by a timekeeping discrepancy between the Cygnus and the space station.
A minor software problem it was quickly resolved by changing one line of code, however arrival at the ISS was delayed a week so that Soyuz TMA-25 could launch and dock on schedule.
The only other problem noted was with a fan in the pressurised compartment.
Orb-D1 delivered 1,100 kilograms (2,425 lb) of cargo to the station; Orb-1 will be carrying 1,466 kilograms (3,232 lb), out of a maximum of 2,000 kg (4,400 lb).
The spacecraft has been named the SS C. Gordon Fullerton after the STS-3 and 51-F astronaut who passed away in 2013 at the age of 78.
A Standard Cygnus, C. Gordon Fullerton consists of a Pressurized Cargo Module manufactured by Thales Alenia Space, and a service module derived from Orbital’s Star series of satellite busses.
A “Delta-Velocity” engine, produced by Japan’s IHI Aerospace, provides dual-mode propulsion – using hydrazine fuel in either a monopropellant configuration or oxidised by mixed nitrogen oxides.
Much of the cargo aboard the Cygnus is stowed in M-Bags; standard containers to house items for transfer. Three M-01, eleven M-02 and one M-03 bags were included in the initial load of cargo aboard the Cygnus, with an additional three M-02 bags and an M-03 being added during late loading.
Four of the M-02 bags contain Bulk Overwrap Bags, or BOBs, with rations for the crew. More BOBs are included in other transfer bags.
Other cargo includes spare parts, hygiene equipment, parts for the station’s life support system, equipment for conducting EVAs and scientific equipment.
Twenty three student experiments, being flown as part of NASA’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, are being carried. These range from studying the effect of microgravity on stem cells in the search for a cure for cancer to determining whether beer can be brewed in space.
Two of the late-load M-02 bags and the M-03 contain a commercial payload for NanoRacks, consisting of a CubeSat deployer and a collection of satellites to be dispensed into orbit from the station.
The NanoRacks CubeSat Deployers, or NRCSDs, are devices which will be used to deploy CubeSats from the airlock on the station’s Kibo module.
Thirty-three CubeSats are loaded aboard the Cygnus for deployment through this system, making the total number of spacecraft aboard the Antares up to 34, including the Cygnus itself.
This breaks the current record for the most payloads aboard a single rocket, currently set at 33 by a Dnepr launch last November.
Since none of the CubeSats will be deployed directly from the Antares, Orbital’s Minotaur I rocket still holds the record for most satellites deployed from a single rocket – twenty-nine – set the day before the Dnepr launch.
Planet Labs has its entire Flock-1 imaging constellation aboard the Cygnus. Consisting of twenty eight satellites, it is the most spacecraft from a single operator to have ever been launched together. Each Flock 1 satellite is a three-unit CubeSat, measuring ten centimetres (4 inches) along two axes and thirty (12 inches) along the third.
Four prototype satellites were launched during 2013 beginning with Dove 2 on a Soyuz in April, followed two days later by Dove 1 on the maiden flight of the Antares. Dove 3 and 4 were aboard November’s Dnepr launch, with Dove 3 deployed directly from the rocket and Dove 4 carried aboard Italy’s UniSat-5 spacecraft.
Planet Labs, which was founded in 2010 as Cosmogia Incorporated, will use the Flock-1 satellites to provide rapidly-updating commercial imagery to the company’s customers. The satellites will produce images of large swathes of the Earth at resolutions of up to three metres.
Five other CubeSats round out the NanoRacks payload. ArduSat-2, to be operated by American company NanoSatisfi Incorporated, is a two-unit satellite intended to demonstrate the use of off-the-shelf technology to reduce the cost of space missions.
The third ArduSat mission, following-on from ArduSat-X and ArduSat-1 which were deployed from the ISS last November after delivery on August’s HTV mission, ArduSat-2 contains a set of experiments which educational establishments can buy time on.
A key element of the program is the use of open-source technology and software, with the spacecraft based around an Arduino microcontroller board.
SkyCube, a one-unit CubeSat for San Francisco-based Southern Stars LLC, is an amateur radio satellite which will be used to broadcast pre-recorded messages on amateur frequencies and produce low-resolution images of the Earth.
Designed to operate for ninety days, at the end of its mission the spacecraft will demonstrate the use of an inflatable structure increase its rate of orbital decay.
A balloon with a diameter of 2 metres (7 feet) will be inflated, which is expected to make the spacecraft visible from Earth to the naked eye. Two weeks later the satellite should reenter the atmosphere.
The Universidad Alas Peruanas Satellite, UAPSAT, is a single-unit CubeSat for Peruvian university Universidad Alas Peruanas. A technology demonstration vehicle, it will return data regarding its status and environment by means of amateur radio broadcasts.
The mission’s primary objectives are to give students of the university experience in building and operating a satellite, rather than to conduct any specific research. It is Peru’s third satellite, following PUCPSat-1 launched last November, and the Pocket-PUCP subsatellite which was successfully deployed from PUCPSat on 6 December.
The CubeSat payload is completed by Lithuania’s first two satellites. Lituanica SAT-1, for Vilnius University and the Kaunas University of Technology, is a one-unit CubeSat with a mass of 1.33 kilograms (2.93 lb).
The satellite carries a small VGA camera and a voice repeater for amateur radio. LitSat-1, which will be operated by the Lithuanian Space Federation, also carries a camera and an amateur radio payload.
Cygnus missions are launched using Orbital’s Antares rocket.
The launch marked the first flight of the Antares 120, which featured an improved second stage over the Antares 110 configuration used for the last two launches.
Overall it was the third flight of the Antares, which debuted last April with a successful demonstration mission, orbiting a Cygnus Mass Simulator and four CubeSats. The second Antares launch occurred in September with the first Cygnus.
A two-stage rocket, the Antares consists of a first stage produced by Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Bureau and an Alliant Techsystems (ATK) Castor 30B second stage.
The first stage is derived from that of the Zenit rocket. First flown in 1985, the Zenit remains in service mostly making commercial launches for Sea Launch and Space International Services, as well as a handful of Russian Government missions.
Unlike the Zenit, which is powered by an RD-171 engine, the first stage of Antares is powered by a pair of Aerojet AJ-26 engines. These engines are refurbishments of NK-33 engines built in the 1960s for the Soviet N1 rocket.
Following the cancellation of the N1 programme a stock of unused engines were placed into storage, and are now being used to power both the Antares rocket and Russia’s Soyuz-2-1v which made its maiden flight at the end of last year.
The first stage burns RP-1 propellant oxidised by liquid oxygen. In contrast, the second stage is solid-fuelled, providing the final kick necessary to get the Cygnus into orbit.
The Castor 30B replaced the less powerful Castor 30A used for the first two Antares missions; although the 30B will itself be replaced after May’s CRS Orb-2 launch with an even more capable Castor 30XL.
Antares launched from Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia.
Originally constructed in the 1990s for the Conestoga rocket, which used the complex only once, Pad 0A was demolished and completely rebuilt for Antares.
The mission was the fourth to depart from it, including the 1995 Conestoga launch which failed to achieve orbit.
Pad 0A is one of two launch complexes at MARS; the other, Pad 0B, is used by solid-fuelled rockets such as Orbital’s Minotaur. Wallops Island is also home to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, which conducts sounding rocket launches. MARS operates very closely with the Wallops Flight Facility.
Once the countdown was complete, this launch began with ignition of the two AJ-26 engines at T-0.
Liftoff occurred 2.1 seconds later beginning a three-minute, 50.9-second burn that propelled the vehicle into space.
Six seconds after stage one burnout, the spent stage was jettisoned, falling away from the rocket to reenter the atmosphere.
Coasting towards its apogee, the Antares shed its payload fairing 88 seconds after staging, with the interstage that connected the first stage, second stage and fairing together falling away five seconds later. Ignition of the second stage occurred three seconds after interstage separation.
The second stage burned for two minutes and eight seconds, with spacecraft separation timed at two minutes after burnout; nine minutes and 54 seconds after the Antares lifted off.
The target orbit for the launch is one with a perigee of 210 kilometres, an apogee of 298 kilometres (131 by 185 statute miles, 113 by 161 nautical miles), inclined at 51.64 degrees to the equator.
Following separation the Cygnus successfully deployed its solar arrays and an on-orbit checkout will be conducted, before a series of five manoeuvres raise its orbit and bring it to within four kilometres (2.5 mi, 2.1 nmi) of the International Space Station.
Further thruster firings will then be made as the spacecraft executes an r-bar approach to a capture point within reach of the station’s Candarm2 Remote Manipulator System.
Following rendezvous, which is expected to occur on 12 January, the station’s crew will use Canadarm2 to grapple a Power Video Grapple Fixture (PVGF) mounted on the Cygnus. The RMS will then be used to manoeuvre the captured spacecraft to the nadir port of the Harmony module for berthing.
Canadarm2 will also be used to unberth and release Cygnus at the end of its mission. Orbital Sciences have stated the mission will last 46 days, with 43 spent at the ISS, however other schedules show Cygnus departing the space station at the end of January.
A 46-day mission would leave unberthing very close to the arrival of the next SpaceX CRS mission, which is expected to use the same port.
Following its departure from the space station, the Cygnus will be deorbited and will burn up when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere. By this stage its cargo will have been removed and replaced with equipment from the space station for disposal.
The mission was the second US launch of 2014 and the first for Orbital Sciences – although the OSC-built Thaicom 6 satellite was the payload for the first American launch of the year, successfully conducted on Monday by SpaceX, using a Falcon 9 v1.1 carrier rocket. It was the third orbital launch of 2013 overall.
The next US launch is currently scheduled for 24 January, when an Atlas V will deploy NASA’s TDRS-L communications satellite, while Orbital Sciences’ next orbital launch is targeting 1 May, with the next Cygnus mission, CRS Orb-2.
This will also be the next launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, however a series of suborbital sounding rocket launches from Wallops Island are scheduled to occur between now and then.
The next mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to begin in early February, with a Soyuz-U orbiting the Progress M-22M spacecraft on a resupply mission. The manifest for 2014 includes three Cygnus, four Dragons, four Progress, an Automated Transfer Vehicle, and H-II Transfer Vehicle and four manned Soyuz missions.
(Images: via L2’s Cygnus Section – Containing presentations, videos, a vast set of unreleased hi-res images, interactive high level updates and more, with additional images via Orbital and NASA).
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