Orbital ATK, the commercial spaceflight company, successfully launched an Antares rocket, carrying the International Space Station-bound Cygnus cargo spacecraft on November 12. The 139-foot (42.5-meter) Antares rocket was launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. Just about 9 minutes after the launch, Cygnus was deployed in low-Earth orbit, where it is scheduled to spend the next two days following the International Space Station (ISS).
Initially, the ATK rocket was scheduled to take off on November 11; however, it was cancelled at the last moment, as a small, personal airplane illegally entered the restricted airspace near the launch site.
Cygnus, which is carrying 7,400 pounds of cargo, including new science and technology investigations for the Expedition 53 astronauts, is expected to reach the ISS on Tuesday morning (November 14) at 5:40 a.m. EST. This 46-hour trip is going to be the shortest for any Cygnus cargo mission as of yet, said Frank DeMauro, Frank DeMauro, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK's Advanced Programs Division, during the post-launch briefing.
Expedition 53 astronauts Paolo Nespoli of ESA and Randy Bresnik of NASA will make use of the space station's robotic arm to grapple Cygnus. The spacecraft will remain at the space station until December 4 and after that, it will deploy several CubeSats before its fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, as it will dispose of several tons of trash, reported NASA. Also, SpaceX is planning to launch another cargo resupply mission to the ISS on its Falcon 9 rocket on the same day of December 4.
According to the Orbital ATK officials, the Cygnus cargo ship is also carrying some care packages from the astronauts' family members. The crew will also receive a special "cool box" filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Some traditional Thanksgiving food items and Christmas gifts are on their way to the ISS aboard Cygnus, said Dan Hartman, the International Space Station's deputy program manager, during a post-launch briefing.
"It was great to put a rumble in the air here and to get Cygnus off the ground and on its way to the International Space Station. It was just a miraculous launch and a flawless countdown," said Hartman.