Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Orbital Capsule Soars Into Space for First Time Since 2014

  • Spacecraft is carrying more than 7,000 pounds of supplies
  • Cargo mission for Space Station had been delayed by weather

An Orbital ATK Inc. capsule blasted into space, resuming U.S.-based cargo missions to the International Space Station after two recent failures.

The Cygnus spacecraft lifted off at 4:44 p.m. Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, laden with more than 7,000 pounds (3,200 kilograms) of scientific experiments, miniature satellites, air filters, jet packs and other goods. The capsule will remain attached to the station before returning in January to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere packed with trash from the orbiting lab.

The successful liftoff restarted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s effort to commercialize resupply missions to the ISS after the two failures. An Orbital rocket exploded seconds into a mission in October of last year. Then in June a Falcon 9 rocket launched by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. blew up en route to the orbiting lab. The two companies have split a $3.6 billion NASA flight contract and are competing with Sierra Nevada Corp. for a new, $3.5 billion deal that is expected to be awarded in January.

“NASA would like to go with the current two suppliers. They’ve been relatively successful to this point,” Marco Caceres, director of space studies with consulting firm Teal Group, said before the launch. “Because of the political situation, NASA feels more comfortable, I think, having two American companies backing each other up.”

Delayed Mission

Sunday’s liftoff was originally set for last Thursday but had been delayed several times due to poor weather and wind conditions.

The unmanned launch was the third successful liftoff conducted by Orbital under its 2008 pact with NASA, while SpaceX has completed six. Each operator has had one failed launch.

Orbital this time used an Atlas V rocket -- powered by Russian-made RD-180 engines -- made by a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. Last year’s failed launch relied on Orbital’s original Antares rocket. The company is attempting to retrofit the Antares to be ready by the middle of next year.

The mission is the first of a Cygnus spacecraft with capacity increased by 25 percent to allow the delivery of more cargo. It includes a set of Microsoft Corp. HoloLens augmented-reality goggles to assist astronauts aboard the space station. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the ISS in about three days.

The NASA contract generated $306 million in revenue for Orbital for the first three quarters of this year, accounting for 9 percent of total sales, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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