NASA Tracking Facility Survives Hurricane, Ready To Track Orbital Cargo Launch

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WASHINGTON — NASA’s radar tracking facility in Cooper’s Island, Bermuda, escaped damage from Hurricane Gonzalo and will be ready to support Orbital Sciences Corp.’s scheduled Oct. 27 cargo launch to the international space station from Wallops Island, Virginia, the company said Oct. 22.

“Following an inspection of the tracking station in Bermuda used for Antares launches after Hurricane Gonzalo, Orbital and NASA together have established October 27 as the launch date for the upcoming Orb-3 Commercial Resupply Services,” the Dulles, Virginia, company wrote in a post on its website.

Hurricane Gonzalo struck Bermuda Oct. 17, but crews from NASA Wallops had already battened down the agency’s Cooper’s Island radar tracking station ahead of the storm. On Oct. 21, Wallops personnel flew out to investigate the damage and, ultimately, deemed the facility fit to support the upcoming launch.

Orbital’s Antares rocket and Cygnus space freighter are now slated to lift off at 6:45 p.m. Eastern time from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a state-operated facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. Rendezvous with the international space station is scheduled for Nov. 2, Orbital said.

Orbital is one of two companies on the hook to launch 20,000 kilograms of cargo to station through 2017 under Commercial Resupply Services contracts awarded in 2008. Commercial Resupply Services flights began in 2012, with the first paid run by NASA’s other contractor, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Orbital flew its first paid mission to ISS last year. The Oct. 27 mission will be the third of eight Orbital owes NASA under its $1.9 billion delivery pact. SpaceX is still in the middle of its fourth paid cargo run, which is taking a little longer than expected.

The Hawthorne, California, company’s Dragon capsule, which launched Sept. 21, is still berthed with station and not expected to return until Oct. 25, NASA said in an Oct. 20 press release. In the press kit for the mission, SpaceX said Dragon would leave ISS in “mid-October.” SpaceX owes NASA a dozen flights under a $1.6 billion contract.

The traffic jam at station has forced Orbital to delay the launch of its Antares rocket and expendable Cygnus space freighter by about a week. Earlier in October, Orbital thought the mission might launch as soon as Oct. 20.