Three's a charm as Cygnus CRS-4 mission lifts off
It was third time lucky today as the unmanned Orbital Sciences/ATK Cygnus CRS-4 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Following two previous delays due to bad weather, the privately owned and operated Cygnus spacecraft "S.S. Deke Slayton II" set off atop an Atlas V rocket at 4:44 pm EST to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS).
According to a NASA spokesman, today's launch was "exceptionally smooth" with winds of only 20 knots (23 mph, 37 km/h) during the 30-minute launch window. The entire launch to spacecraft separation took 21 minutes and the Cygnus is now in an orbit at an altitude of 124 mi (200 km) and an inclination of 51.6º. At about 5:45 pm, the spacecraft deployed its solar panels as mission control carried out system checks.
The Cygnus will now carry out a series of maneuvers to boost it into an intercept orbit with the ISS, which it will rendezvous with on Wednesday, December 9. After going through a series of safety checks, it will make its final approach before being grappled by one of the station's robotic arms and guided to a docking berth on the Unity module. It will then be unloaded and remain docked for about two months before being filled with rubbish and released to burn up in the atmosphere over the southern Pacific Ocean.
Today's launch is the first for the enhanced Cygnus, which carries 53 percent more cargo weight. It's loaded with about 7,700 lb (3,500 kg) of food, clothing, crew supplies, spare parts, equipment, and science experiments for the ISS as part of Orbital Sciences' Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.