Over the last 20 years, many unmanned cargo capsules have been launched to the International Space Station in low-earth orbit, but this may be the first “express” launch, using Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket.
When the NG-11 Cygnus cargo spacecraft (pictured at right) lifted off yesterday afternoon, from NASA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the Virginia coast, it contained materials that were included as part of Northrup Grumman’s new “late load” time-critical service that allows crews to add goods within 24 hours of the planned launch, similar to the time-critical services often offered by air carriers – only with much less flexibility, given the complexity of every launch sequence.
“This launch marks a new innovative capability for Antares and Cygnus, which enables a 24-hour late load of critical cargo,” said Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager of flight systems for Northrop Grumman. “We are proud to partner with NASA to provide more commercial capabilities supporting their missions. Congratulations to the entire team on an excellent launch.”
The late-load capability provides NASA the opportunity to launch time-sensitive research experiments. For this launch, the 11th to go to the ISS for the Antares medium-class rocket, crews were able to increase the vital cargo carried aboard Cygnus to approximately 3,450 kilograms, a record-high shipment for the Antares-class rocket.
Check out this NASA video of the launch to see just how fast cargo can really move:
On this mission, the NG-11 spacecraft is named the “S.S. Roger Chaffee,” in honor of the NASA astronaut who was selected to fly on the first manned mission of the Apollo program in 1967, but died in a tragic capsule fire with fellow crewmates, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Ed White II, during a simulation of the Apollo 1 launch.
“In the spirit of [Lt. Commander] Chaffee’s role to advance the U.S. space program, we’re also proud to demonstrate a number of innovative capabilities for our Cygnus spacecraft during this mission, including our ability to load cargo close to launch and our planned long-duration flight,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of North Grumman’s space systems division.
Following an approximate nine-minute ascent atop the Antares booster, the S.S. Roger Chaffee was successfully deployed into orbit and extended its power-generating solar arrays. As the spacecraft slowly rises higher in orbit, it is scheduled to dock with the ISS tomorrow and will remain attached to the space station for about two months before departing with about 3,500 kilograms of disposal cargo, which will be incinerated on re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.
At the completion of the NG-11 mission (see official patch at left), Northrop Grumman will have delivered approximately 30,000 kilograms of cargo to the ISS under its current contract with NASA. Beginning this fall, Northrop Grumman is scheduled to carry out a minimum of six more cargo missions under another NASA resupply contract.