United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK have launched an Atlas V-Cygnus spacecraft loaded with 7,600 pounds of cargo set for delivery to the International Space Station.
Orbital’s Cygnus cargo craft was launched into orbit by ULA’s Atlas V rocket that lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:11 a.m. EDT April 18. The Cygnus, which is carrying scientific materials, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory, is expected to reach the ISS by April 22.
The new materials will be used in experiments including antibody research related to chemotherapy drugs, tests of plant physiology and food growth, and a test involving magnetized cells.
Cygnus also is carrying 38 miniature satellites, or CubeSats, to be deployed in coming months. The craft will remain at the station until July, when it will undock loaded with trash to be incinerated during a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Orbital holds contracts for ISS cargo shuttles through 2024, along with SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp.
As for astronaut shuttles, NASA has awarded future such missions to Boeing and SpaceX. But it recently acknowledged the U.S. contractors aren’t able to begin crew shuttles until 2019 at the earliest and extended its contractual reliance upon Russian astronaut shuttles.
The latest Atlas V-Cygnus launch had been set for March 19 until a “booster hydraulic issue” was discovered during prelaunch testing on March 10, forcing at least one component to be replaced. Then additional hydraulic issues arose, with all of the snags causing a total of four launch postponements.