Orbital Sciences Corporation successfully launched their Cygnus resupply vessel up to the International Space Station today, after having to abort the attempt yesterday due to solar activity.
The launch took place as scheduled, at 1:07 p.m. ET today, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on NASA's Wallops Island facility. Just seconds after the scheduled time, Orbital's Antares launch vehicle lifted off from the platform, carrying the Cygnus spacecraft into orbit, and roughly 20 minutes later, the spacecraft had reached space and reported that it had deployed its solar panels. Cygnus will orbit the planet for the next few days, and is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station on Sunday, January 12th.
This mission is the third launch of Orbital Science's Antares rocket, and the second delivery to the ISS for their Cygnus spacecraft. The Antares made its first successful launch into orbit back in April, and Orbital followed that up with another in September, which was the very first delivery the company made to the orbiting space station. Although both launches went well, Cygnus did suffer a minor problem with its navigation system while on route to docking, and was forced to delay its rendezvous by a few days.
Orbital Sciences has suffer more than its fair share of delays, it seems, mostly through no fault of their own. The glitch in September was apparently caused by a difference in GPS data formatting between Cygnus and the ISS. However, this latest cargo delivery was originally scheduled for the week before Christmas, but had to be postponed due to the issues with the cooling system on the International Space Station.
The launch was originally rescheduled for Tuesday January 7th, but was then delayed because of he extreme cold sweeping through North America from the polar vortex. A delay until Wednesday at 1:32 p.m. Eastern Time was then scheduled, but noone could have foreseen at the time that exactly one day before the launch — down to the minute — the sun was going to blast out its first X-class solar flare of 2014, along with an immense coronal mass ejection aimed more or less directly at Earth. While the Cygnus spacecraft is designed to handle space radiation, there were some concerns that the Antares rocket could be affected, so the launch team decided to delay again.
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What Orbital Sciences is doing is an amazing achievement, though. It wasn't too long ago that these kinds of launches were only made by government organizations, using government rockets and government spacecraft. With private companies like Orbital, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, this will open up space to far more people than would have access to it in the past.
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