Orbital ATK’s Atlas V rocket finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday afternoon carrying an International Space Station-bound Cygnus cargo spacecraft after three previous setbacks.
High winds and rain pushed the launch back three times since its planned takeoff on Thursday. The weather didn’t let up during launch windows on Thursday and Friday, and managers only saw a 20 percent chance of solid conditions on Saturday. They then decided to halt the countdown before fueling the United Launch Alliance rocket, lying in wait of better weather, USA Today reported.
Orbital ATK’s Cygnus craft is packed with more than 7,000 pounds of spare parts, food and science experiments for six astronauts and the International Space Station. This is Orbital ATK’s fourth mission of 10 under a more than $2 billion NASA resupply contract.
The Cygnus is returning to flight after its previous mission aboard Orbital ATK’s Antares rocked failed just seconds after it lifted off in October 2014.
“We are very proud to be back in this position of getting ready to launch supplies to the International Space Station again,” said Frank Culbertson, president of the Space Systems Group at Orbital ATK, which developed the Antares and Cygnus, on Wednesday. “It’s been a challenge to get back to this point.”
The cylindrical, silver Cygnus–named in honor of Mercury Seven astronaut Deke Slayton–will berth in roughly two-and-a-half days at the International Space Station, which is still dealing with a string of resupply failures that started with the Antares failure. A SpaceX Dragon capsule landed in the ocean after a Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated and a Russian Progress ship was lost months afterward as well.
Since then, supplies have arrived at the space station, but none of those came from the U.S., according to USA Today. The food currently has enough food to last them through April, which is less than NASA likes to keep there.
“We’re not where we’d really like to be relative to our consumables, but it’s not a critical situation at all,” Kirk Shireman, manager of NASA’s space station program.
The food really isn’t the most pressing issue; it’s spare parts that have been missing since the last shuttle mission in 2011. So Cygnus will deliver.
It looks like Cygnus will also deliver some holiday fun and cheer for the six-person station crew.
“I’m guessing that Santa’s sleigh is somewhere inside the Cygnus,” Culbertson said. “They’re probably excited about their stockings coming up, too.”