A freighter heads to the space station with supplies and “treats” for the crew

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket carrying a cargo ship loaded with 8,200 pounds of equipment and supplies bound for the International Space Station lifted off from the east coast of Virginia early Monday, kicking off a rendezvous two days.

A day late due to a fire alarm that forced the company to briefly evacuate its control center, the Antares 230+ rocket’s two Russian-made RD-181 engines ignited at 5:32 a.m. EST, pushing the rocket away from the mid-Atlantic. Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, using a Ukrainian-built first stage and powered by two Russian-made rocket engines, rockets away from Wallops Island, Virginia, kicking off a cargo flight from the space station.  Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace are developing a new all-American rocket to replace the Antares after a final flight next March.  / Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, using a Ukrainian-built first stage and powered by two Russian-made rocket engines, rockets away from Wallops Island, Virginia, kicking off a cargo flight from the space station. Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace are developing a new all-American rocket to replace the Antares after a final flight next March. / Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now

Heading away to the southeast, the rocket accelerated smoothly as its Ukrainian-built first stage consumed propellant and lost weight, climbing directly into the plane of the space station’s orbit. Nine minutes after takeoff, the Cygnus freighter was released to fly on its own.

“It was a spectacular launch,” said Jeff Arend, the space station’s engineering and systems integration manager. “We are happy that Cygnus is en route to the ISS.”

If all goes well, the freighter will catch up with the space station early Wednesday, stopping about 30 feet away and holding in position while Nicole Mann, using the lab’s robotic arm, locks onto a grappling hook.

At that time, flight controllers at Johnson Space Center in Houston will take over arm operations, pulling the Cygnus for docking at the station’s Unity core module Earth-facing port.

Aboard the freighter: 3,608 pounds of crew supplies, 1,873 pounds of research equipment, 2,375 pounds of space station hardware, and 317 pounds of computer components and spacewalking equipment, including the equipment needed for future excursions to upgrade the laboratory’s solar energy system.

The manifesto also includes “well-deserved treats for the crew,” Arend said.

“They will have their usual menu, but also special requests like peanut butter, olives, several cheeses and even pumpkin spice cappuccino,” he said. “And the team also loaded fresh fruit – apples, blueberries, oranges – and ice cream into the freezers.”

The launch marked the penultimate Antares 230+ flight as Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace develop a new rocket in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, imposition of US sanctions and subsequent shutdown deliveries of RD-181 for use in the Ukrainian-built First Stage.

The first stages used for Monday’s launch and another Antares flight, scheduled for next March, were already underway when hardware deliveries were halted following the Russian invasion.

In the transition to a new rocket, Northrop Grumman plans to launch three Cygnus flights using SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets before the all-American debut of the Antares 330 in late 2024.

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