Orbital ATK is getting back into launching spacecraft again, after being grounded for more than a year. The private spaceflight company has just sent up its Cygnus cargo capsule — filled with 7,000 pounds of food, water, and supplies — to the International Space Station. It's the first launch for Orbital since the company's Antares rocket exploded on the launchpad last October, so the pressure to succeed is particularly high. The launch has been delayed three time this week, and it was rescheduled for today, Sunday, December 6th, at 4:44PM ET.
On Friday, Orbital ATK and the United Launch Alliance made three separate attempts to launch the Cygnus spacecraft in a 30-minute window, but strong ground winds kept the Atlas V rocket grounded. Another 30-minute launch window was set for 5:10PM ET on Saturday, but expected high winds throughout the window led NASA to scrub the launch early. Inclement weather also forced the space agency to call off Thursday's originally planned launch.
The Cygnus launched atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. You can watch the progress live above on NASA TV.
What to Expect
Times reflect the initially scheduled launch, but the sequence of events remains the same for Sunday's planned launch.
- 4:30PM ET: NASA broadcast begins.
- 5:55PM ET: Scheduled lift-off of Atlas V rocket carrying Cygnus spacecraft.
- 5:59PM ET: Rocket's first stage separates and main engine ignites on the Atlas V's upper stage, Centaur.
- 6:16PM ET: Cygnus spacecraft separates from Centaur upper stage and remains in orbit.
- 6:43PM - 7:04PM ET: Controlled reentry of Centaur upper stage over ocean south of Australia.
- 5:30AM ET: NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren will use a robotic arm to capture the Cygnus and help it dock with the ISS.
Update, December 3rd, 4:15PM: This article was updated to include NASA's livestream.
Update, December 5th, 3:21PM: Added information on Saturday's scrubbed launch and plans for a Sunday liftoff.
Update, December 6th, 4:53PM: Launch success!
Correction: The date of the second launch was corrected to Friday, December 4th.
Dante D'Orazio contributed to this report.