The Orbital ATK enhanced Cygnus spacecraft photographed in orbit from the International Space Station.
The ninth Cygnus cargo spacecraft destined for the OA-8 mission to the International Space Station was launched into orbit on the morning of November 17th. This is the first time the Antares has flown in more than a year after the last launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops Island, Virginia last October. The last Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo mission was flown on an Atlas V this past April due to the increased payload offered by the more powerful launch vehicle. Orbital ATK returned to its own in house Antares 230 rocket which continues to fly successfully after the redesign and upgrades it received following the October 2014 incident which resulted in the total loss of the vehicle and its payload along with significant damage to the pad and support structures. The Antares 230 is powered by a two RD-181 engines on the first stage and a Castor 30XL second stage. This is also the fifth flight of the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and this ship is named Eugene Cernan after the famous Apollo Astronaut who was the last man to have walked on the Moon. The Cygnus spacecraft will join the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and its cargo variant Progress currently docked to the ISS. Unlike those two spacecraft which are certified for automated docking the Cygnus will approach the ISS slowly until it’s within reach of the Canadarm2 which will attach to the Cygnus spacecraft and berth it to the ISS were it will stay for 30 days. The enhanced variant of the Cygnus spacecraft adds circular and more efficient solar arrays along with an increase in payload capacity to 7,100lbs from the 4,400lbs on original standard Cygnus. After its mission is complete the Cygnus spacecraft will be filled with waste and discarded items and then undock from the ISS. The spacecraft will then deorbit and burn up in the upper atmosphere upon reentry. The current Cygnus spacecraft is not designed to be recoverable and is not equipped with a heat shield, however a proposed future variant will replace the pressurized cargo truck with a return capsule allowing for Cygnus to return experiments from the ISS back to Earth safely. The next Antares launch to the ISS from pad 0A at the Wallops Island spaceflight facility is scheduled
for May 1st, 2018.