Antares launches Cygnus cargo spacecraft to ISS

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Updated 7 a.m. Eastern.

WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station Nov. 17 after two days of weather delays.

The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, at 4:01 a.m. Eastern. It placed the Cygnus spacecraft into orbit nine minutes later.

The launch of the spacecraft was scheduled for Nov. 15 but delayed two consecutive days by weather conditions at the launch site. With the Cygnus now in orbit, it is set to arrive at and berth with the ISS early Nov. 19, one day after the docking of a Progress cargo spacecraft launched by Russia Nov. 16.

“The spacecraft is extremely healthy and it’s ready to begin its trek to the ISS,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president of the advanced programs division at Northrop Grumman, during a post-launch briefing.

The Cygnus spacecraft, called S.S. John Young by the company after the late astronaut, is carrying 3,350 kilograms of cargo for the station. That includes approximately 1,140 kilograms of crew supplies, 1,040 kilograms of science payloads, 940 kilograms of vehicle hardware, 115 kilograms of computer resources and 31 kilograms of spacewalk equipment. The spacecraft is also carrying 77 kilograms of unpressured cargo in the form of a cubesat deployer from NanoRacks that will be used after the Cygnus departs the station.

While NASA officials said that they did not adjust the science payload on the mission as a result of last month’s Soyuz MS-10 launch abort, there were changes to other cargo on the spacecraft. Joel Montalbano, NASA deputy manager for the ISS program, said at a pre-launch briefing Nov. 14 that medical hardware that was to be transported to the station on the Soyuz will instead go on the Cygnus, along with some spacesuit hardware and life support equipment.

“We were able to work with our Northrop Grumman team” on getting that extra hardware on the Cygnus, he said, calling them “extremely flexible” by allowing NASA to include that hardware after the usual deadlines for adding cargo to such missions.

Montalbano emphasized that, even with three people on the station instead the five that had been planned for this point in the mission, there have been few changes in day-to-day operations on the station. “The crewmembers on board have picked it up and they’ve been really working hard and picking up the things that had to get done,” he said. “Any science or research that was time-critical is being done, and we’re reprioritizing other activities.”

“So, without missing a beat we continue to work on the International Space Station and are moving forward,” he said.

The Cygnus is scheduled to remain on the ISS until February. Until then the station will also see the arrival of the Soyuz MS-11 crewed spacecraft, scheduled for launch Dec. 3, and a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission slated for launch no earlier than Dec. 4. The Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft currently at the station will depart Dec. 20, returning three ISS crewmembers to Earth. Montalbano said the uncrewed test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon commercial crew spacecraft is currently scheduled for launch in early January.