A spacecraft on a resupply mission to the International Space Station has successfully lifted off from a launch pad on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The spacecraft, comprised of a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket and a Cygnus supply ship, launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia carrying nearly 8,200 pounds (3,700 kilograms) of cargo to the space station. It is the heaviest supply load ever launched toward the space station by a commercial U.S. logistics vehicle.
The Antares rocket was powered by two Russian-made RD-181 main engines with more than 860,000 pounds of thrust. After about three minutes, the first stage dropped away and the upper stage took over, propelling the Cygnus spacecraft into orbit. NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will capture the Cygnus cargo freighter as it approaches the space station using the station’s robotic arm.
The Cygnus spacecraft is named the S.S. Alan Bean in honor of the late Apollo and Skylab astronaut. The new spacecraft sports a number of upgrades over its predecessors, including a higher thrust setting on the first stage engines, a lightened rocket structure, and additional communications and telemetry equipment. It carries 8,168 pounds (3,705 kilograms) of supplies and experiments, including repair gear for a $2 billion particle physics experiment and a zero-g baking oven.
The mission is the first in Northrop Grumman’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA, following 11 resupply launches under a previous CRS contract. The Cygnus spacecraft will depart the space station in January with two decommissioned experiments to be disposed of. The two experiment packages will be mounted outside the spacecraft to burn up during re-entry.