NASA's commercial partner Orbital ATK is all set to launch its Cygnus cargo capsule to the International Space Station this evening. The spacecraft — filled with more than 7,500 pounds of food, water, and science experiments for the crew — is scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:05PM ET, according to NASA. Its ride into space is the Atlas V rocket, the premiere vehicle of the United Launch Alliance.
This is Orbital's second ISS resupply mission using the Atlas V. Orbital has its own rocket, the Antares, but that vehicle has been grounded ever since one exploded on a Virginia launch pad in October 2014. Orbital has been updating the Antares since then, and the company purchased two Atlas V launches from ULA in order to continue resupplying the ISS in the meantime. However the next launch of the Cygnus, scheduled for May 31st, will be on the newly updated Antares rocket, according to Orbital.
This is Orbital's second ISS resupply mission using the Atlas V
This launch will deliver some critical research and technology to the station. These include an experiment that will test how simulated Moon soil acts in space, as well as an instrument called Meteor that will figure out the chemical components of space rocks entering Earth's atmosphere from afar. Special adhesive strips called Gecko Grippers and a second 3D printer are also aboard the Cygnus.
The spacecraft will stay docked to the ISS for about two months, according to Orbital. When that stay is over, the capsule will be loaded up with trash and break free of the station. That's when another NASA experiment is set to begin; called Saffire, the space agency will ignite a huge fire for 15 to 20 minutes inside the Cygnus, in order to study how blazes spread in microgravity. The spacecraft will then remain in orbit for a week while NASA downloads data gathered about the experiment. After that, Cygnus will descend toward Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.
Currently, there is a 90 percent chance that weather will be favorable for launch. NASA's coverage of the mission is set to begin at 10PM ET. Here's what to expect during the launch, courtesy of Orbital: