View of the Launch Pad

The Antares rocket with Cygnus spacecraft aboard stands on its launch pad, July 13, 2014. Credit: NASA
The Antares rocket with Cygnus spacecraft aboard stands on its launch pad, July 13, 2014. Credit: NASA

The countdown is progressing smoothly today for the launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket, with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft on top. With roughly 2 hours, 12 minutes left in the countdown, weather remains 90 percent “go.”

Liftoff is scheduled for 12:52 p.m. EDT from the Mid-Atlantic Spaceport’s Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. There is a five minute window for launch.

Live coverage of the launch on NASA TV will begin at noon, with general footage of the mission airing at 11:30 a.m.

Cygnus is loaded with about 3,300 pounds of science investigations, food, supplies and hardware for the space station and its crew.

A launch this afternoon will result in Cygnus catching up to the space station on Wednesday, July 16. Cygnus will be grappled at approximately 6:39 a.m. by Commander Steve Swanson of NASA. He will be assisted in a backup position by Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency. Cygnus will be attached to the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony node and will remain in place approximately one month. It is scheduled depart the space station on August 15.

This is Orbital’s second contracted mission to the International Space Station under its Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.

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Launch Day Rundown

The control room at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility during a dress rehearsal for a launch in September 2013. Credit: NASA
The control room at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility during a dress rehearsal for a launch in September 2013. Credit: NASA

Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Cygnus spacecraft with cargo for the International Space Station is scheduled to launch aboard an Antares rocket on Sunday, July 13 at 12:52 p.m. EDT. Liftoff will be from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA Television coverage of the launch will begin at noon.

The countdown to the launch starts at T-minus 3 hours, 50 minutes, roughly 9 a.m., and features a number of “holds.” These planned pauses vary in length, but they all allow the team to target a precise launch window and provide a cushion of time for various tasks and procedures without affecting the overall schedule.

The launch window (that is, the time period on any given launch day in which liftoff must occur for the spacecraft to reach its target) on July 13 is about five minutes long.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwSCGP3R_dg[/embedyt]
This animation depicts an Antares launch and the flight and capture of a Cygnus capsule.

The liquid-fueled first stage of Antares ignites at T-minus zero, and the rocket lifts off about two seconds later.

“MECO,” or main engine cutoff, occurs about four minutes after that, at which point Antares will be about 63 miles high, traveling about 10,118 mph. The first stage separates a few seconds later. About 90 seconds later, the fairing (the protective covering around Cygnus at the top of the rocket) opens and separates.

The solid-fueled second stage ignites and burns for a bit longer than two minutes. Two minutes after that burn, the payload (that is, the Cygnus cargo spacecraft) separates from the second stage. At that point, Cygnus will be about 125 miles high, traveling at 16,835 mph.

Just over 10 minutes after launch, Cygnus will reach its preliminary orbit, deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of engine firings to reach the station.

› NASA’s Orbital website
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› Launch viewing maps from Orbital Sciences Corp.
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Results of Orb-2 Launch Readiness Review

At a Launch Readiness Review Saturday, managers for Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia, and NASA gave a “go” to proceed toward the Sunday, July 13, launch of the Orb-2 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Orbital is targeting a 12:52 p.m. EDT launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA Television coverage of the launch will begin at noon.

There is a 90-percent chance of favorable weather at the time of launch.

A pre-launch news briefing was held at 4:30 p.m.on Saturday, July 12, at the Wallops visitors center, to discuss the status of the mission.

› NASA’s Orbital website
› Latest Orb-2 TV launch coverage information
› Launch viewing maps from Orbital Sciences Corp.
› Latest Student Science Heads For Space
› Orbital Mission Delivers Delights to Station
› NASA Launches Smartphone Upgrade and CubeSat

Orb-2 Latest Forecast: Still 90% ‘Go’

The Weather Office at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia reports that the forecast remains 90-percent favorable for the Orb-2 Antares rocket launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Launch Pad 0A at Wallops. Launch is scheduled for July 13 at 12:52 p.m. EDT.

The main weather concern for the launch appears to be a very slight chance of convective clouds (cumulus) near the vehicle path.

High pressure begins to build off the Northeast coast this evening, while an upper-level trough starts to dig over the Great Lakes by Sunday morning. High pressure off the eastern seaboard will remain in control of the Wallops region on Sunday afternoon with dry and slightly breezy conditions, as an upper-level disturbance and cold front moves into the western portion of the Mid-Atlantic. The upper-level disturbance and cold front will move toward the Wallops region on Monday, with a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms by early afternoon Monday, and a better chance of showers and storms by Monday evening.

Should the launch slip to Monday, July 14, the current forecast reports 70-percent favorable weather. Weather concerns for a Monday launch are, at present, convective clouds, disturbed weather and wind.

› NASA’s Orbital website
› Latest Orb-2 TV launch coverage information
› Launch viewing maps from Orbital Sciences Corp.
› Latest Student Science Heads For Space
› Orbital Mission Delivers Delights to Station
› NASA Launches Smartphone Upgrade and CubeSat

Looking Back at Orb-1, Forward to Orb-2

A few days after launch, the Orb-2 mission’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft will arrive at the International Space Station with supplies for the crew, hardware and scientific experiments. This video shows the arrival of Orb-1’s Cygnus at the space station in January, as well as a portion of its unloading by the Expedition 37/38 astronaut crew.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3b-5qSXdVA[/embedyt]

Orb-2’s Cygnus is scheduled to launch aboard an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Launch Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Sunday, July 13 at 12:52 p.m. EDT. Its arrival at the station is scheduled for July 16.

After about a month, the crew will detach the vehicle (at that point filled with disposal cargo), use the station’s robotic arm to maneuver it away from the station and release it. At the end of its mission, Cygnus will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere over the South Pacific.

› NASA’s Orbital website
› Latest Orb-2 TV launch coverage information
› Launch viewing maps from Orbital Sciences Corp.
› Latest Student Science Heads For Space
› Orbital Mission Delivers Delights to Station
› NASA Launches Smartphone Upgrade and CubeSat

Space-Based View of Wallops

This view of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility along Virginia's Eastern Shore comes from the Landsat 8 satellite. Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory; image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey.
This view of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility along Virginia’s Eastern Shore comes from the Landsat 8 satellite. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory; image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey.

NASA’s Earth Observatory provided the above satellite view, as well as a write-up of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia:

The first research rocket launched from Wallops Island was Tiamat on July 4, 1945.
The first research rocket launched from Wallops Island was Tiamat on July 4, 1945.

More than 70 year ago, wild ponies roamed the marshes and beaches of Wallops Island, a barrier island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Today, the island is the site of a thriving spaceport that launches several commercial and government rockets each year.

Wallops has a long history with rockets. On July 4, 1945, NASA’s predecessor (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or “NACA”) launched the first rocket from Wallops, making the island one of the oldest launch sites in the world. Since then, more than 14,000 rockets have lifted off. While most involved modestly-sized meteorological and sounding rockets, the completion of Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in 2011 has made it possible to launch larger and more powerful rockets.

Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares is one such rocket. Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft with cargo for the International Space Station is scheduled to launch aboard an Antares rocket on Sunday, July 13 at 12:52 p.m. EDT.

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› NASA’s Earth Observatory: “Launching from Wallops Island”
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As Orb-2 Nears Launch, Orb-3 Prep Already Under Way

Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft with cargo for the International Space Station is scheduled to launch aboard an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Launch Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Sunday, July 13 at 12:52 p.m. EDT.

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft aboard, is seen during sunrise, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft aboard, is seen during sunrise, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

This launch, the Orb-2 mission, is the second of eight under Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. While Orb-2’s liftoff nears, Orb-3 preparations are already well under way. Tentatively scheduled for an October 2014 launch, Orb-3 will be another Cygnus flight aboard an Antares rocket.

The first and second stages of Orb-3’s Antares are inside Wallops’ Horizontal Integration Facility (“HIF” for short).

The Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: NASA
The Horizontal Integration Facility, or HIF, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA

The facility is 250 feet long, 150 wide and 60 feet high. Its bay provides dual horizontal processing with 70-and 50-ton bridge cranes. The HIF was built in about 16 months, with ribbon-cutting in March 2011. Orbital Sciences Corp. is the first customer to use the facility, which features adjacent laboratory and warehouse space.

This view inside the HIF shows Orb-2's Antares rocket (right) prior to roll out to the launch pad on July 10, 2014. The first (white) and second (black) stages of Orb-3's Antares are at the left side of the image. Credit: NASA Wallops
This view inside the HIF shows Orb-2’s Antares rocket (right) prior to roll out to the launch pad on July 10, 2014. The first (white) and second (black) stages of Orb-3’s Antares are at the left side of the image. Credit: NASA Wallops

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Orbital-2 Launch Viewing Maps

Depending on local conditions and other factors, Sunday’s launch of the Orbital-2 mission from Virginia may be partially visible from South Carolina to Massachusetts.

Map of U.S. East Coast showing first-sight viewing times of the Orbital-2 launch. Credit: Orbital
Map of U.S. East Coast showing first-sight viewing times of the Orbital-2 launch. Credit: Orbital

Launch is scheduled for July 13 at 12:52 p.m. EDT from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Launch Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, along Virginia’s eastern shore. An Antares rocket will loft a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with about 3,300 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station, including science experiments to expand the research capability of the Expedition 40 crew, crew provisions, spare parts and experiment hardware.

Simulated view of Orbital-2's launch path as seen from Battery Park in New York City. Credit: Orbital
Simulated view of Orbital-2’s launch path as seen from Battery Park in New York City. Credit: Orbital
Simulated view of Orbital-2's launch path as seen from Washington, D.C. Credit: Orbital
Simulated view of Orbital-2’s launch path as seen from Washington, D.C. Credit: Orbital
Simulated view of Orbital-2's launch path as seen from Richmond, Virginia. Credit: Orbital
Simulated view of Orbital-2’s launch path as seen from Richmond, Virginia. Credit: Orbital

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Orb-2 Science Briefing Highlights

The small Planet Labs satellites included in Cygnus' cargo are similar to those pictured here, part of a constellation launched into orbit earlier this year from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
The small Planet Labs satellites included in Cygnus’ cargo are similar to those pictured here, part of a constellation launched into orbit earlier this year from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
Artist concept of TechEdSAT-4. Credit: NASA
Artist concept of TechEdSAT-4. Credit: NASA
Photo of Smart SPHERES, a prototype free-flying space robot headed to the International Space Station aboard Orb-2's Cygnus. Credit: NASA
Photo of Smart SPHERES, a prototype free-flying space robot headed to the International Space Station aboard Orb-2’s Cygnus. Credit: NASA

Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft with cargo for the International Space Station is scheduled to launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Launch Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Sunday, July 13 at 12:52 p.m. EDT.

About half of the Cygnus’ 3,300-pound payload is food for the station’s crew, with a combination of science experiments, spare parts and experiment hardware making up the other half. A pre-launch briefing about the mission (known as Orb-2) was held at 4 p.m. on July 11 to discuss these science and technology components.

Among the research investigations are a flock of small satellites (known as CubeSats) that are designed to take images of Earth, developed by Planet Labs of San Francisco; and a satellite-related investigation called TechEdSat-4 built by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. TechEdSat-4 aims to develop technology that will eventually enable small samples to be returned to Earth from the space station. In addition, a host of student experiments are being flown in association with the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, an initiative of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education and NanoRacks.

Another small satellite headed to the space station is Smart SPHERES, a prototype free-flying space robot. NASA has been testing the Smart SPHERES on the space station since 2011. During this summer, astronauts will upgrade these existing space robots to use Google’s “Project Tango” smartphone, which features a custom 3-D sensor and multiple cameras. NASA will then use the Smart SPHERES to test free-flying 3-D mapping and navigation inside the space station. NASA is developing the Smart SPHERES to perform work on the space station that requires mobile sensing, such as environmental surveys to monitor levels of radiation, lighting and air quality. They also will be used to monitor inventory and conduct experiments.

Orbital 2 Cargo By-The-Numbers

Total weight of cargo: 3293 pounds / 1493.8 kilograms

  • Crew supplies: 1684 pounds / 764.2 kilograms
    • Crew care packages
    • Crew provisions
    • Food
  • Hardware: 783 pounds / 355.1 kilograms
    • Crew Health Care System hardware
    • Environment Control and Life Support equipment
    • Electrical Power System hardware
    • Extravehicular Robotics equipment
    • Flight Crew Equipment
    • PL Facility
    • Structural & Mechanical equipment
    • Internal Thermal Control System hardware
  • Science and research: 721 pounds / 327 kilograms
    • CubeSats and deployers
    • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Dynamic Surf Hardware
    • Human Research Program resupply
  • Computer supplies: 18 pounds / 8.1 kilograms
    • Command and Data Handling
    • Photo and TV equipment
  • Spacewalk tools: 87 pounds / 39.4 kilograms

› NASA’s Orbital website
› Launch viewing maps from Orbital Sciences Corp.
› Latest Student Science Heads For Space
› Orbital Mission Delivers Delights to Station
› NASA Launches Smartphone Upgrade and CubeSat

Pre-Launch Science Briefing

A media briefing previewing the science and technology cargo headed to the International Space Station aboard the Cygnus spacecraft (scheduled for launch Sunday at 12:52 p.m. EDT) will occur at 4 p.m. EDT today.

The briefing will be aired on NASA Television, and members of the public may ask questions on social media by using the #AskNASA hashtag.

› NASA’s Orbital website
› Latest TV launch coverage schedule
› Launch viewing maps from Orbital Sciences Corp.
› Latest Student Science Heads For Space
› Orbital Mission Delivers Delights to Station
› NASA Launches Smartphone Upgrade and CubeSat