For orbital ATK, the commercial spaceflight organization based out of Virginia, the stakes are indeed high, particularly after the catastrophic explosion it experienced from the last effort some two years ago. The rocket failed to survive even the initial few seconds and simply exploded.
The present mission has been nick named OA-5 and represents the 6th mission for cargo resupply to NASA as well as the 4th where Orbital will be using an Antares rocket.
During a news conference on 15 October, NASA and Orbital’s representatives have expressed great confidence stating that everything would be fine with OA-5.
The company spokesperson also stated that the Wallops launchpad has been rebuilt at a cost of $15 million consequent to the explosion in 2014 and it is now significantly better than ever before. He added further that the pre-launch tests were very clean and constituted two of the cleanest tests ever.
In spite of Antares and the Cygnus onboard getting all clean health signals, hours before the scheduled launch time on Sunday, a snag with one ground support cable compelled Orbital and NASA to push the launch by a day. In the past too, the launch date for Antares has given the slip several times due to varying reasons. The present schedule is also in conflict with the Soyuz spacecraft from Russia delivering 3 astronauts to the ISS on October 21. The Cygnus will therefore be loitering around in orbit till October 23, according to NASA officials.
Orbital has signed a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to ferry some 66,000 lbs of cargo to the ISS across 10 missions. Several science experiments hardware used for spacewalks, clothing and food for astronauts, and other supplies are included in the package.
The improved and new version of Antares 230 rocket has also been put to use for the first time in today’s launch.
This evening, the Antares engines behaved pretty well igniting in 3.6 seconds before liftoff and some 8 seconds to exit its support structure completely. Post deployment in orbit, the Cygnus detached from Antares and started unfolding its solar panels, consuming about 15 minutes. S.S. Alan Poindexter is the name given by orbital ATK to the Cygnus on this mission. According to NASA officials, Cygnus will arrive at its destination on 23 October.