Fly By Night: Atlas V Awaiting Cargo Launch to ISS

Atlas V Awaiting Launch Credit: NASA

Atlas V Awaiting Launch
Credit: NASA

NASA, United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK are all counting down to tonight’s scheduled launch of the OA-6 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The ULA Atlas V 401 is scheduled to lift off from Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 PM EDT, at the beginning of a 30 minute launch window. This will be second flight of the enhanced Cygnus cargo ship, the 62nd launch of the Atlas V and ULA’s 106th launch overall. This ship carries the name SS Rick Husband in honor of the Commander of Space Shuttle Columbia’s tragic final flight. STS-107.

The overall Cygnus launch mass is 7,492 kg, of which 828 kg is propellant mass and 3,513 kg is cargo, including (via NASA):

  • Gecko Gripper, testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos’ feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn’t wear off

  • Strata-1, designed to evaluate how soil on small, airless bodies such as asteroids behaves in microgravity.

  • Meteor, an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. The instrument is being re-flown following its loss on earlier supply missions.

  • Saffire, which will set a large fire inside the Cygnus in an unprecedented study to see how large fires behave in space. The research is vital to selecting systems and designing procedures future crews of long-duration missions can use for fighting fires.

As is now regularly the case, the flight to ISS is only the first stage in the launch campaign for a number of cubesats which will be used to carry out research, commercial and educational missions. Of the more than two dozen on tonight’s launch, some will be carried on board and dispersed through the Japanese Kibo module, while others will be launched from a NanoRacks deployer on Cygnus which will be activated after it departs the Station.

This is the last scheduled use of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for Orbital ATK  cargo missions to ISS. It will return to the Station in at least two new roles however; first as the launch vehicle for Boeing’s Starliner Commercial Crew vehicle, and then as the booster for Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser space plane as part of the CRS-2 contract. Further Cygnus missions for Orbital ATK are also an option for the company under its own CRS-2 contract, and could be used sooner than that in the event of a problem with newly re-powered Antares booster which is expected to make its debut in June.

 

Detailed Manifest

  • Crew supplies: 2,511 pounds (1,139 kg)
    • Crew care packages
    • 169 Bulk Overwrap Bags of food
    • 6 Bulk Overwrap Bags of U.S. food for Russian crew
    • Hygiene towels for Russian crew
    • Printer ink and paper
  • Vehicle Hardware: 2,443 pounds (1,108 kg)
    • Multiplexer-demultiplexer circuit cards
    • Charcoal, brine and bacteria filters for ECLESS
    • Water sampling kit
    • Toilet inserts, urine receptacle with hose, toilet paper
  • Science and research: 1,713 pounds (777 kg)
    • CubeSat
    • Human Research Program resupply
    • METEOR
  • Computer resources: 216 pounds (98 kg)
    • New ZBook laptop and printer
    • 160GB hard drive for IBM ThinkPad
    • Canon XH camcorder, Ghost camera, Nikon cameras, 50mm lens, USB card reader
    • Assorted cables
  • EVA (Spacewalk) gear: 346 pounds (157 kg)
    • Legs, boots, arms and Hard Upper Torso for spacesuit
    • Socket caddy assembly
    • METOX canisters for carbon dioxide removal
    • Contamination detection kit

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