Orbital Sciences about to make first space station run

Sep 17, 2013 by Marcia Dunn
The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with its Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard, is seen at sunrise Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad-0A at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, in Wallops Island, Va. NASA's commercial space partner, Orbital Sciences Corporation, is targeting a Sept. 18 launch for its demonstration cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/NASA, Bill Ingalls)

A Virginia company is all set to make its first-ever supply run to the International Space Station.

On the eve of its premiere rendezvous mission, Orbital Sciences Corp. said everything looked good for Wednesday's launch from Virginia's Eastern Shore.

An unmanned Antares rocket was scheduled to blast off from NASA's Wallops Island Facility at 10:50 a.m. EDT, carrying 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of food, clothes and other items as part of a test flight. A Sunday delivery is planned.

A launch demo of the rocket in April went well.

If this latest mission succeeds, Orbital Sciences will start launching more Cygnus under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA. The commercial effort began more than five years ago.

The California-based SpaceX already is shipping goods from Cape Canaveral, Florida, under a separate $1.6 billion contract. Its first trip was in May last year.

Formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk of PayPal fame has the only unmanned vessel capable of returning items to Earth. The SpaceX Dragon parachutes into the Pacific off the Southern California coast.

Kurt Eberly, right, Orbital's Antares Deputy Program Manager explains the AJ 26-62 aerojet to a group of media representatives at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. The jet will be part of the next Antares launch vehicle now being constucted at Wallops Island, Va. NASA hopes to launch a completed Antares rocket, which will send cargo to the International Space Station, on Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/Eastern Shore News, Jay Diem)

The smaller Cygnus capsule will be filled with space station trash following its monthlong visit and burn up upon descent. That's the same fate as the Russian, European and Japanese supply ships.

Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket is being readied by workers on the launchpad at the NASA Wallops Island test flight facility in Wallops Island, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. The unmanned Antares rocket is scheduled to blast off Wednesday morning and will carry 1,300 pounds of food, clothes and other items to the Internaional Space Station as part of this test flight. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

NASA is looking to private U.S. industry to keep the space station stocked in the post-shuttle era. It's also putting seed money into SpaceX and other companies for development of a manned capsule. That's still years away, so NASA will continue to buy rides for its astronauts on Russian rockets. One American will be aboard the Soyuz capsule due to take off next week from Kazakhstan, along with two Russians. The trio will double the station population to its normal six.

Wallops was in the spotlight earlier this month. On Sept. 6, NASA launched a , named LADEE, to the moon. It's still en route. Orbital Sciences provided the Minotaur V rocket used in the moonshot, which was widely seen in the night sky along the East Coast. Wednesday's daytime launch won't be nearly as visible.

In a photo provided by NASA, the Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with its Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard, is seen at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, in Wallops Island, Va. NASA's commercial space partner, Orbital Sciences Corporation, is targeting a Sept. 18 launch for its demonstration cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Bill Ingalls)

Frank Culbertson, the company's executive vice president and a former space shuttle commander, said Tuesday that the excitement level is high.

Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket is being readied on the launchpad at the NASA Wallops Island test flight facility in Wallops Island, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. The unmanned Antares rocket is scheduled to blast off Wednesday morning and will carry 1,300 pounds of food, clothes and other items to the space station as part of this test flight. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

"This is one of the most exciting things that is happening in the middle of a very exciting month for Orbital, for NASA and for space programs around the world," Culbertson said at a news conference, referring to all the various launches and re-entries.

Explore further: Chocolate coming on next space station delivery (Update)

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Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2013
What most people don't know is that Orbital Sciences has been in the business since 1982 and done spaceflights since 1990 when the cold war was practically over. They've mostly been shooting small satellites into orbit with rockets launched from airplanes.

The problem with private space flight is that there isn't really any reason to send people in space. It costs a lot of money and accomplishes very little that couldn't be done otherwise, and the government has already done it like ten dozen times so there isn't really anything new to it.
tigger
1 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2013
SpaceX does it better
GSwift7
not rated yet Sep 18, 2013
The problem with private space flight is that there isn't really any reason to send people in space. It costs a lot of money and accomplishes very little that couldn't be done otherwise


That is parly true, but rather than saying "the problem", I would say "one aspect".

I can think of several other problems with privatization, patents being one of them. For example, there's no way ULA is going to share knowledge with SpaceX or Orbital.

The flip side of that is competition, which will drive innovation faster than NASA ever could.

I disagree about human spaceflight being hampered by privatization though. The customer will drive that, and since NASA is their customer, NASA will hire the private companies to deliver manned missions. The Dragon is supposedly capable of manned missions beyond Earth orbit. Manned missions should become cheaper as a result of this, resulting in more of them in the long run.
GSwift7
not rated yet Sep 18, 2013
SpaceX does it better


Orbital is like the Jetblue of the space industry. They are quick, simple, affordable and reliable. They are limited to small simple missions though.

SpaceX doesn't really do the same thing that Orbital does, so there's not really any way to compare the two. You would never use SpaceX in a situation where Orbital is an option, since Orbital is cheaper. Dragon has more capability than anything else flying right now, so it can do things nobody else can do, but it is big and more costly than Orbital. Dragon has Soyuz beat all the way though. Bigger, better and cheaper.

Once SpaceX has the Falcon Heavy working and dragon crew certified, I would bet we will see a manned lunar mission very quickly. Musk has said he wants to do it, and he has a rep for doing what he says.
Eikka
not rated yet Sep 18, 2013
but rather than saying "the problem", I would say "one aspect".


Well, it is a problem if your intention is to get people off this planet and living in space.

There's no profit in sending people up there beacause we don't really need to be there yet, if at all.

The customer will drive that, and since NASA is their customer, NASA will hire the private companies to deliver manned missions.


As they've always done. The only difference this time is that NASA doesn't buy the rocket in the deal. As such, it's hardly a privatized market, or a market at all because there's only one customer and that customer is the government.