Virginia-based Orbital Sciences holds a $1.9 billion NASA contract to make eight unmanned supply runs to the International Space Station with its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo ferry. They launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.
The two-stage Antares launch vehicle burns liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene (RP-1). The rocket’s height overall is 131 feet (40 meters). Its liftoff weight is 530,000 pounds (240,000 kilograms). The Antares rocket was originally called Taurus 2. [Photos: Orbital’s Antares Rocket and Cygnus Capsule]
The Cygnus pressurized cargo module can carry up to 5,952 pounds (2,700 kg) of payload to the International Space Station.
At the rear of Cygnus is a service module containing avionics, power, communications and command and control hardware. On the outside of the service module are twin fixed-wing gallium arsenide solar arrays capable of putting out 3.5 kilowatts of electricity.
Future Cygnus spacecraft will be enhanced with a larger pressurized cargo module and lightweight solar panels.
The first Antares rocket launched on a successful test flight on April 21, 2013. The smooth flight set the stage for the first Cygnus test flight to the International Space Station in September 2013. [See photos from Orbital’s 1st Cygnus spacecraft flight]
The first Cygnus spacecraft launched on Sept. 18, 2013 and arrived on Sept. 29 after a one-week delay.