Technology and meteorology finally cooperated on Sunday as an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.
The Antares rocket lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, at 12:52 pm EDT (1652 GMT) after a smooth countdown. Although the rocket disappeared into the clouds around a minute after launch as seen from viewing sites near the pad, the rocket continued its ascent to orbit without incident, placing Cygnus into low Earth orbit about ten minutes after liftoff.
The Cygnus, named by Orbital “SS Janice Voss” after the late astronaut, contains a payload of 1,664 kilograms of cargo to the station (NASA lists a total mass of 1,493.8 kilograms; it does not count cargo packaging, which Orbital does.) It is scheduled to be grappled by the station’s robotic arm Wednesday at 6:39 am EDT (1039 GMT).
“Things went really well,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, during a post-launch press conference Sunday afternoon. “It’s great to see this team come together.”
Orbital executive vice president Frank Culbertson said they worked some minor issues during the countdown, but otherwise it everything went smoothly. The Cygnus spacecraft is in orbit and functioning well, having already performed one post-launch burn. “All the systems on the spacecraft are operating nominally,” he said. “We’ve very excited about the fact that we’re in orbit and heading to the station.”