Orbital ATK Antares rocket launched Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft successfully to International space station. The launch was conducted at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Virginia at around 4:44 a.m. on Mar 21. The rocket successfully placed the spacecraft into the orbit after approximately nine minutes of the launch. The Cygnus Cargo spacecraft was finally received on the international space station after three days of the launch on May 24.
The ATK’s cargo freighter was equipped with 3350 kilograms of supplies including vehicle hardware, crew supplies, computer resources, scientific payloads, Russian hardware and CubeSats which will be deployed on a later date into the orbit. The scientific payloads include the Cold Atom lab, wherein lasers are used to slow down the movement of atoms to the extent that they become motionless while cooling these atoms to far below temperatures which is otherwise not possible. NASA will further use the Cygnus to test the ability it has to boost the orbit of the station. The main thruster of the Cygnus will be performing a burn that will change the orbital velocity of the station by 0.06 m/s. The test is aimed to check whether Cygnus can be used somewhere down the line to reboost the NASA’s station and then eventually deorbit the station at the end of its life.
The Cygnus cargo spacecraft has also delivered equipment for the astronauts to be installed outside the station that is scheduled on June 14. The Cygnus made a debut use of new and improved communication system that allowed the station crew to maintain radio links with the freighter in flight. The same communication systems will be introduced in the Boeing as well as SpaceX crew vehicles for improved radio functions.
The launch of the Cygnus Cargo could have been possibly the last independent operation for Orbital ATK as an independent company as Northrop Grumman has announced a deal to acquire Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion in September last year. Northrop group is expecting to close the detail in the first half of the current year after the U.S Federal trade commission gives a regulatory approval for the same. The next launch for Orbital is chalked down in mid-June for the Pegasus rocket of NASA. The Orbital AK has so far conducted and concluded eight successful delivery missions and is one of the two main providers of resupply services of the NASA space station.