[Satnews] Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE: OA) announces it is in final preparations for the company’s next enhanced Cygnus™ spacecraft cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). This will be Orbital ATK’s fifth operational mission (OA-6) to the ISS for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, and the first Cygnus to conduct scientific experiments onboard the spacecraft. For the second time, Orbital ATK will launch Cygnus atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, carrying approximately 7,900 pounds (3,600 kilograms) of cargo to astronauts aboard the ISS and small satellites that will be deployed directly from Cygnus.
Pending completion of final vehicle testing and acceptable local weather conditions, the launch is scheduled for Tuesday, March 22, at 11:05 p.m. (EDT) from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Cygnus will be launched into a targeted orbit of 144 miles above the Earth, inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator. Following in-orbit activation and testing after launch, the spacecraft will rendezvous and berth with the ISS on March 26 at approximately 6 a.m. EDT. Live coverage of the launch and ISS berthing will be available on NASA Television .
Orbital ATK names each of its Cygnus spacecraft in honor of astronauts and individuals who contributed to the United States’ commercial space program. The company named the OA-6 Cygnus the “S.S. Rick Husband,” honoring Husband’s spirit for exploration and marking the first Orbital ATK mission to be named after an astronaut who participated in building the ISS. Husband was also the commander of Space Shuttle Columbia’s final mission, whose crew and vehicle were lost in February 2003.
“We will further demonstrate the flexibility of the Cygnus spacecraft during the OA-6 mission,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “The S.S. Rick Husband will launch aboard an Atlas V rocket, once again exhibiting Cygnus’ compatibility with various launch vehicles. Once we fulfill our cargo resupply objectives, we will conduct science experiments onboard the spacecraft and deploy CubeSats during the mission; both of which are “firsts” for Cygnus.”
In addition to delivering vital food, clothing, crew supplies, spare parts and equipment to the ISS, Cygnus will conduct three ISS payload mission objectives as part of its flight program. Upon departure from the ISS, Cygnus will be placed into a specific orbit to utilize a CubeSat deployer provided by NanoRacks. Once deployed, the five CubeSats will begin their own autonomous missions. Another onboard trial that will occur after Cygnus leaves the ISS is the Spacecraft Fire Experiment-I (Saffire-I) payload. Saffire-I will be the first space experiment to intentionally light a large-scale fire that will grow and advance until it burns itself out.
“All previous combustion experiments in microgravity have been relatively small and controlled to ensure safety of the attending crew,” Culbertson said. “By conducting the Saffire-I experiment on the unmanned Cygnus after it departs the ISS, we eliminate this concern. Additionally, because Cygnus provides a controlled and human-rated environment virtually identical to that of the ISS, it is the ideal platform for such a test. Data gathered from this experiment will deepen our understanding of fire growth in microgravity and safeguard future missions.”
The final experiment to take place aboard the S.S. Rick Husband will be the Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR). Prior to departure from the ISS, the crew will install the REBR experiment into Cygnus as they pack the spacecraft with disposal cargo. This experiment will measure and record the dynamics of Cygnus’ breakup during its safe destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
Orbital ATK has two additional CRS missions scheduled in 2016 to support NASA’s ISS cargo and payload mission needs. Following an Antares launch vehicle full-power hot-fire test in spring, flight operations for Cygnus and Antares will resume mid-year from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia.
Under the CRS contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 59,000 pounds (26,800 kilograms) of cargo to the ISS over 10 missions through 2018. Beginning in 2019, Orbital ATK will carry out a minimum of six initial cargo missions under NASA’s recently awarded CRS-2 contract. The partnership is cultivating a robust American commercial space industry, freeing NASA to focus on developing the next-generation rocket and spacecraft that will enable humans to conduct deep space exploration missions.