Orbital ATK has notched another launch success in a cargo mission to the International Space Station, again using a United Launch Alliance rocket.
The Dulles, Va.-based space company similarly hired a ULA Atlas V for its December mission to the ISS.
The latest liftoff of an unmanned Orbital Cygnus cargo craft came at 11:06 p.m. EDT on March 22 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. First-stage separation came just a few minutes later.
“It looks like a good separation,” launch commentator Marty Malinowski advised as live video images streamed on NASA TV.
The launch marked a fifth mission for Orbital ATK under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
Orbital aims to return to the use of its own Antares rockets for such missions with a launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., sometime this summer. That will be the first Antares-Cygnus cargo launch since a high-profile rocket explosion during a cargo mission on Oct. 28, 2014.
The latest ULA-launched Cygnus reached full separation from the Atlas V roughly 21 minutes after liftoff. The spacecraft — carrying almost 7,500 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware — is scheduled to reach the orbiting laboratory March 26 and remain there until May.
Once it departs the space station, NASA scientists plan to use the Cygnus for a fire-safety experiment. Equipment and materials for the experiment will be left on the craft after other cargo is unloaded.
The experiment will study the spread of large-scale fire in microgravity, beginning four hours after the Cygnus undocks. Some cotton and fiberglass material will be burned in the first of a planned series of similar experiments over three ISS missions.
During the experiment, images and data will be transmitted to Orbital facilities in Dulles and then relayed to scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
Ultimately, the Cygnus will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate, in the process disposing of several tons of ISS garbage that will be loaded onto the craft prior to its departure from the station.
The mission’s Cygnus spacecraft has been christened the S.S. Rick Husband to honor the late U.S. Air Force colonel who was commander of the space shuttle Columbia, which was tragically lost during re-entry Feb. 1, 2003.
The ISS currently boasts a full six-man multinational crew, following the March 18 arrival of three new crewmembers. Those include U.S astronaut Jeff Williams.