Private space company Orbital ATK is launching its Antares rocket with a Cygnus spacecraft at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It is headed to the International Space Station, where it will drop off more than 3 tons NASA cargo to the International Space Station. The Antares rocket is scheduled to lift off from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
The supply ship is scheduled to dock on Thursday, May 24th. The lab’s robot arm will capture the spacecraft and pull it in for berthing. It will be docked at the central Unity module’s Earth-facing port. The astronauts then will unload the cargo ship and re-pack it with no-longer-needed equipment and trash.
In addition to supplies like clothing and food, the craft will contain scientific equipment for a number of science experiments and demonstrations. One piece of equipment that the rocket will carry is the Cold Atom Laboratory. The lab will use magnetic fields and lasers to attempt to cool atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. There will be another experiment to test a technique for separating liquids and one for learning more about how concrete settles without gravity.
If all goes well, the Cygnus will be unberthed and depart the station seven weeks from now in mid-July. As it departs, it will release six tiny CubeSats satellites. These satellites will be used for a wide variety of research, including studying precipitation in Earth’s atmosphere and researching the growing amount of radio frequency interference around Earth.
The mission is Orbital ATK’s ninth flight for NASA. The company’s last mission to the space station took place last November. The company is scheduled to launch another mission this fall. Orbital ATK currently has an 11-flight contract with NASA that is expected to cost about $262.6 million per flight. The company also holds a follow-on contract for at least six resupply missions at an unspecified cost.