September 18, 2021

NASA’s Antares rocket has launched the heaviest Cygnus cargo ship yet to the International Space Station

2 min read

The Cygnus cargo spacecraft, constructed by Northrop Grumman, launched from Virginia on Tuesday night (August 10), carrying critical supplies for space explorers on International Space Station (ISS).

The uncrewed Cygnus NG-16 spaceship, atop the two-stage Antares rocket, lifted off from Pad 0A at Wallops Flight Facility of NASA on the Wallops Island, Virginia at exactly 6:01 p.m. EDT (2201 GMT), the conclusion of the allotted five-minute window.

As the 139-foot-tall (43-meter) Antares rocket blasted out from its launch pad in Virginia this evening, the sky was clear. Today’s launch attempt was nearly interrupted by a potential wayward boat as well as a Helium valve issue, but the crew was able to deal with the issues and it turned out to be a spectacular launch.

“And we have Antares lift-off for the NG-16 flight,” NASA’s launch director announced during a live telecast of the launch from the mission center at Wallops. “The S.S. Ellison Onizuka is already on its route to International Space Station to convey over 8,200 pounds of cargo,” Courtney Beasley, NASA public affairs officer said from Mission Control situated in Houston.

The spacecraft is carrying about 4 tons of scientific supplies and equipment for Expedition 65 space-explorers onboard the International Space Station. It also contains new hardware and other items for the station’s enhanced solar arrays.

The mission, dubbed NG-16, is the Northrop Grumman’s 15th functional resupply delivery to space station since the year 2014, and the Antares’ fifth flight in the more powerful 230+ version. Because of this arrangement, payloads can be placed onto the spaceship later than usual, allowing for additional science.

During a prelaunch media conference, vice president and the general manager in charge of the tactical space, Frank DeMauro at the Northrop Grumman, remarked, “I’m definitely looking forward to the sweet 16 mission [on Tuesday]” (August 9). “As we continue our mission in human space exploration, Northrop Grumman is pleased to support NASA and our business partners.”

The first stage of the rocket is propelled by 2 Russian-created RD-181 engines that provide 864,000 pounds of the thrust at lift-off and are fuelled with rocket-grade kerosene. Just over 3 minutes into the flight, the first stage detached from the rocket’s upper stage.

The payload fairing was discarded shortly after, leaving the Cygnus uncovered to space. The Cygnus was placed in its preliminary orbit, powered by a solid-fuel upper stage, and was ready to begin its mission to the space station. The cargo ship will chase down the orbital outpost for two days before docking with the station using a robotic arm.

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