Orbital ATK has launched an Antares rocket for the first time in almost two years, sending a Cygnus cargo craft toward the International Space Station on behalf of NASA.
The Dulles, Va.-based company has had to rely on Russian-made Soyuz crafts for its ISS cargo shuttling ever since Orbital’s Antares exploded soon after launch Oct. 28, 2014. Major upgrades to the rocket were necessary, and a launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility had to be rebuilt.
Liftoff came at 7:40 p.m. EDT Oct. 17 in the dramatic return-to-flight mission for Antares.
The Cygnus, which is loaded with more than 5,000 pounds in crew gear and scientific-research equipment, is expected to reach the ISS on Oct. 23.
The launch had been postponed repeatedly during the previous week, first due to turbulent weather conditions and then an additional day because of malfunctioning ground cable.
Orbital ATK was formed in 2015 via the merger of Orbital Sciences Corp. and Alliant Techsystems Inc.
The unmanned Orbital launch followed by roughly one day the launch in China of a Long March 2F rocket and Shenzhou 11 spacecraft with a two-person crew aboard. Liftoff in the sixth-ever manned mission for China came at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 17 local time.