Orbital Sciences Corp. (ORB)’s Antares rocket successfully lifted off today, carrying a capsule of supplies to dock with the International Space Station three days from now.
The launch occurred as scheduled from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore. It came after a delay of more than a month due to the test failure of a rocket engine for a later Antares flight, and after two one-day postponements due to severe weather.
This is Orbital’s second of eight cargo flights under a $1.9 billion NASA contract. Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, also has a NASA contract to ferry supplies to the space station, an orbiting research laboratory that conducts experiments in physics, meteorology and biology, among other fields.
NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011. The agency now relies on Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital and closely held SpaceX to ferry supplies to the space station and the Russians to carry U.S. astronauts there. Six astronauts are currently at the station, including two Americans.
Separately, four companies, including Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, are developing spacecraft to bring U.S. astronauts to the space station, eliminating the need to rely on the Russians for transportation.
Orbital’s Cygnus capsule will carry almost 3,300 pounds (1494 kilograms) of supplies, including experiments, food and spare parts. Its cargo includes nanosatellites to take pictures of the Earth. The capsule is scheduled to dock with the space station on July 16.
It is expected to spend about a month tethered to the space station, and will carry about 3,000 pounds of trash on its return to Earth. The capsule is designed to burn up in the atmosphere along with its load of garbage.
Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital is counting on the success of the Antares, a mid-sized rocket, to power its growth in the estimated $7 billion market for midsized payloads. The company closed at $29.23 in New York on July 11. The stock has risen 60 percent in the last 12 months.
Orbital in April announced plans to combine with Arlington, Virginia-based Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK)’s aerospace and defense businesses. The merger is scheduled to take place by the end of the year.
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