News Column

Antares to launch from Wallops on second mission to ISS

July 11, 2014

By Tamara Dietrich, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)



July 11--Update: On Friday, Orbital Sciences announced the Antares launch is postponed until 12:52 p.m. Sunday.

The long wait may be over.

After a string of postponements, the Antares rocket finally rolled out to the launch pad at Wallops Island for its scheduled 1:14 p.m. Saturday launch from Virginia to the International Space Station.

And if all goes well, rocket-maker Orbital Sciences Corp. will make its second commercial resupply run for NASA from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on the Eastern Shore.

Orbital's first mission, Orb-1, launched in January. But company spokesman Barron "Barry" Beneski said that initial success doesn't make Orb-2 any easier.

"This is not any less of a nail-biter than any of the missions," Beneski said. "There's an old phrase: You're only as good as the mission you're working on. Just because we've done it before doesn't make this any less difficult. And it's an unforgiving business."

Orbital, based in Dulles, has a $1.9 billionNASA contract to make eight resupply missions to the ISS. All those missions are expected to fly from MARS.

The Antares is the biggest rocket to fly out of Wallops, and its launch will be visible along the mid-Atlantic Seaboard, weather permitting. Hampton Roads will have a front-row seat.

The booster will loft a Cygnus spacecraft carrying 3,653 pounds of payload for station astronauts, from basic crew supplies to hardware and science experiments. The last of the cargo was added Wednesday.

According to NASA, the payload includes small prototype robots equipped with smartphones, called Smart SPHERES, and a free-flying cubesat spacecraft called the TechEdSat-4.

NASA says it has been testing the Smart SPHERES -- for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites -- since 2011. Station astronauts will upgrade the robots with Google's Project Tango smartphone to conduct free-flying 3-D mapping and navigation aboard the station. The devices will eventually be used to monitor levels of radiation, lighting and air quality.

A cubesat is a small satellite, typically a 4-inch cube, built at low cost using off-the-shelf commercial technologies. The TechEdSat-4 is a three-unit cubesat measuring 12-by-4-by-4 inches and is set to be the first NASA satellite to launch into space from the ISS from the Nanoracks CubeSat Deployer.

Once the cubesat launches, NASA says it will demonstrate two new technologies: a satellite-to-satellite communications system that will offer information on the spacecraft's health, and a passive exo-braking device that could eventually be used to return small samples from the space station to Earth and land nanosatellite missions on Mars.

The Orb-2 mission was rescheduled multiple times since May for a range of reasons, from bad weather to a delayed launch for a SpaceX resupply mission that bumped Orbital's timetable to a malfunction in an Antares-type first-stage rocket motor during routine testing.

Beneski said the results of an investigation into that malfunction haven't been released, but the investigation and subsequent inspections of the Antares rocket motors "give us confidence that these engines are good to go."

If the launch proceeds Saturday, Beneski said, the Cygnus should berth with the space station on July 15. It will remain at the station for about 40 days, then return with about 3,000 pounds of space station trash to burn up in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

Dietrich can be reached by phone at 757-247-7892.

Want to watch?

The Antares rocket is set to launch from Wallops Island at 1:14 p.m. Saturday, and should be visible throughout Hampton Roads, weather permitting.

The public can also view the liftoff from the NASA Visitor Center on Route 175 on Wallops Island, or from Chincoteague Island or the public beach at Assateague Island.

NASA TV also plans to stream the launch live at nasa.gov/nasatv.

For updates on the launch or viewing sites, call the Wallops Public Information Line at 757-824-2050.

___

(c)2014 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

Visit the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) at www.dailypress.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Daily Press (Newport News, VA)


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