SpaceX, Blue Origin and Orbital ATK Make for Busy Week in Commercial Space

Cygnus Departing Credit: NASA TV

Cygnus Departing
Credit: NASA TV


It is a busy week for commercial space.

Orbital ATK 

An Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo vessel departed the International Space Station at 9:30 AM EDT this morning, heading for its usual path of destruction high over the Pacific Ocean, but not before it performs a unique fire in space experiment, as well as releases a mini fleet of cubesats.

About Sapphire-1, courtesy of NASA:

“The Spacecraft Fire Experiment (Saffire) is a three-part experiment that will be conducted over the course of three flights of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus vehicle to investigate large-scale flame spread and material flammability limits in long duration microgravity.

The Saffire-I experiment enclosure is approximately half a meter wide by 1 meter deep by 1.3 meter long and consists of a flow duct and avionics bay. Inside the flow duct is the sample to be burned which is a cotton-fiberglass material blend 0.4 m wide by 1 meter long. When commanded by Orbital ATK and Saffire ground controllers operating from Dulles, VA, it will be ignited by a hot wire. Previous to this experiment, the largest fire experiment that has been conducted in space is about the size of an index card.

After the experiment has been ignited, the Cygnus will continue to orbit Earth for up to eight days as it transmits high-resolution imagery and data from the Saffire experiment. Following complete data transmission, the Cygnus spacecraft will complete its destructive entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Following the Saffire-I experiment, the Cygnus, which is named the S.S. Rick Husband, will deploy five cubesats from the vessel, in another manifestation of the increasing flexibility of the ISS program as a means of launching the tiny spacecraft, a use for which it was never envisioned, but is becoming increasingly popular.


After a successful test fire of the Falcon-9 first stage on Sunday, SpaceX is preparing for the launch of two Boeing al-electric satellites to GTO tomorrow. The mission, which will feature another barge landing attempt, is scheduled for 10:29 AM EDT.  The weather appears to favorable, with an 80% chance of “go” conditions.

Blue Origin

The week will end with a bang, literally, as Blue Origin plans to launch its New Shepard vehicle on a suborbital test flight from West Texas,  on what will be its fourth flight overall. As previously noted, this launch will feature an intentional failed deployment of one of the crew capsule’s four parachutes in order to test its response to such an event in flight conditions.

Friday’s liftoff will also feature something new, a webcast:

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