Andy Bronshteyn/Staff Reporter
A crucial delivery to the International Space Station was successfully launched March 22, because of the successful cooperation of Orbital ATK and ULA.
At 11:05 p.m., the Atlas V 401 vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral, carrying the Cygnus space vehicle named the S.S. Rick Husband, on its way to an orbital rendezvous with the International Space Station.
The astronaut that the spacecraft is named after is Col. Rick Husband, USAF, former commander of the Columbia on STS-107, which was lost during re-entry 13 years ago on February 1st, 2003.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) produced the Atlas V 401 vehicle used to lift the Orbital ATK Cygnus space vehicle into orbit, where it would complete its mission to resupply the International Space Station. This mission is the 106th ULA launch and the 62nd launch of the Atlas V launch vehicle. This was also the 2nd ULA mission which supported the ISS with a cargo resupply.
The Atlas V 401 is a member of the Atlas V family of vehicles, which were first introduced in August of 2002. Since then, the Atlas V family has had a perfect record of success for all 62 of their launches. The Atlas program, which includes the Atlas V family and others, has logged over 600 launches since its creation in the 1950s.
The Atlas V used for this mission was produced modularly in multiple locations around the world. For example, the RD-180 Engine Fabrication took place at NPO Energomash in Khimki, Russia.
ULA confirmed the day afterward that there had been a “small hiccup” with the ascent. The main engines of the first stage cut off about five seconds prematurely, leaving behind a substantial amount of unused thrust. However, the margin of error was large enough that the second stage corrected the problem by burning for fifteen minutes instead of fourteen. The United Launch Alliance is currently investigating what happened so that they can fine-tune their next spacecraft.
On Saturday, the 26th, the Cygnus was captured by the ISS and successfully docked at 6:51 a.m. EDT (1051 GMT), when Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra operated the CANADARM2 to grab the Cygnus and connect it to the Earth-facing side of the station.
Orbital ATK produced the Cygnus space vehicle, which measures 20 feet in length and carried over 7400 lbs of cargo. On board, the Cygnus is a multitude of new experiments for the ISS crew to run, including; a planned and controlled fire to research the dynamics of fire in microgravity (SAFFIRE), a prototype for mechanical adhesion, a prototype for additive manufacturing. As well as those, there is an instrument called METEOR which analyzes the composition of meteors which enter Earth’s upper atmosphere. There are 1713 pounds of “Science Utilization” cargo in total.
The Crew Supplies section of the cargo took up over 2500 pounds of supplies, including food for both US and Russian astronauts, hygiene towels for the Russian crew, and printer ink and paper. The Vehicle Hardware section of the cargo took just under 2500 pounds; circuit cards, charcoal and bacteria filters, a water sampling kit, and assorted toiletries.
The cargo ship will spend the next 55 days at the station – through May 20th – where it will then be filled with trash for disposal. Cygnus will eventually detach from the station with about 5000 lbs of disposal cargo and spend about eight days in space after unberthing from the station before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. During those eight days, it will conduct the SAFFIRE experiment, and the data from it will be collected upon landing.
To learn more about the OA-6 mission, visit Orbital ATK’s feature story website, which has a dedicated section for the OA-6 mission. You can also visit www.spaceflightnow. com/tag/oa-6. To learn more about ULA and the Atlas V-401 used for the launch, visit http://www.ulalaunch.com/news-press.aspx?Category=News.