Antares launch a success for Orbital, Planet Labs, and others

Antares Cygnus launch

An Antares rocket lifts off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia, on January 9, 2014. The rocket placed a Cygnus cargo spacecraft into orbit on the first of eight such missions Orbital is under contract to perform for NASA. (credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

On Thursday afternoon, Orbital Sciences Corporation successfully launched its Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus spacecraft, placing the Cygnus into orbit ten minutes after its 1:07 pm EST (1807 GMT) liftoff from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia. Cygnus, on a mission designated Orb-1 by NASA, will berth with the International Space Station at around 6 am EST (1100 GMT) Sunday.

The mission is a significant success for Orbital, as it performs the third consecutive success launch, in as many attempts, of the Antares rocket in less than nine months. The mission is also the first of eight currently cargo missions to the ISS under its current contract with NASA. (And, with the announcement this week of the administration’s intent to extend the station’s life to at least 2024, there will be the opportunity for additional missions under an extension of the current contract or a recompeted one.) “Our team has put in a lot of hard work to get to the point of performing regular ISS cargo delivery trips for NASA,” Orbital president and CEO David Thompson said in a statement. “It’s an exciting day for all of us and I’m looking forward to completing this and our future CRS missions safely and successfully for our NASA customer.”

Orbital is not the only company celebrating the launch. Included in the Cygnus’s payload are 28 satellites for Planet Labs, the San Francisco-based company that is developing a constellation of smallsats to provide Earth imagery. Those satellites will be deployed from an airlock on the station, likely a few weeks after Cygnus arrives, based on company comments made when the launch was scheduled for December (the launch was delayed so astronauts could repair a coolant loop on the station.) The launch also carried some other cubesats, including one from Peru.

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