NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Sets US Space Endurance Record, Speaks to President Trump

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson set the endurance record for time in space by a U.S, astronaut today, Monday, April 24, during her current stint of living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS) along with her multinational crew of five astronauts and cosmonauts. Furthermore Whitson received a long distance phone call of exuberant congratulations […]

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First Cygnus Cargo Ship from Virginia in Two Years Docks at Space Station

After a two year gap, the first Cygnus cargo freight train from Virginia bound for the International Space Station (ISS) arrived earlier this morning – restoring this critical supply route to full operation today, Sunday, Oct. 23. The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft packed with over 2.5 tons of supplies was berthed to an Earth-facing […]

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Antares Return to Flight Set for Magnificent Monday Night Launch – Watch Live

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – The ‘Return to Flight’ blastoff of Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares rocket will have to wait one more day to come to fruition with a magnificent Monday night launch – after a technical scrub was called this afternoon, Oct. 16, at NASA’s Virginia launch base due to a faulty cable.

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Next Cygnus Cargo Freighter Named in Honor of Columbia’s Last Commander Rick Husband

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being prepared for the upcoming Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the commander of the STS-107 mission. On that flight, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22.  Credit: Ken Kremer/

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The next Cygnus cargo resupply ship targeted to blastoff for the International Space Station (ISS) on March 22, has been named the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rick Husband, the late commander of Space Shuttle Columbia, which was tragically lost with its crew of seven NASA astronauts during re-entry on its final flight on Feb. 1, 2003.

The ‘S.S. Rick Husband’ was announced as the Cygnus delivery vessels name by former astronaut Dan Tani, now senior director of Missions and Cargo Operations for Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia, during a media briefing in the clean room processing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Rick was a very accomplished astronaut, and a devoted husband and father,” said Tani.

The commercial Cygnus cargo freighter was built by Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, Virginia.

Christened the S.S. Rick Husband, the spacecraft is a tribute to NASA astronaut Col. Rick Husband, of U.S. Air Force, who served as commander of Columbia’s STS-107 mission. The mission and all aboard were lost as Columbia disintegrated due to the effects of reentry heating into the Earth’s atmosphere high over Texas.

“We are proud to unveil the name of our #OA6 #Cygnus spacecraft—the S.S. Rick Husband, in honor of the late astronaut,” added Orbital ATK in a statement.

This flight is known as OA-6 and is being launched as under terms of the firm’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. It also counts as the Orbital ATK’s fifth cargo delivery mission to the space station.

Final processing of the cargo ship was completed as bunny suited media including myself observed technicians putting the finishing touches on the vehicle inside Kennedy’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF). Technicians had already finished fueling the vehicle with hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

Liftoff of the commercial resupply services mission to the orbiting outpost is now targeted for Tuesday, March 22, during a 30-minute launch window that opens at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft, also known as Commercial Resupply Services-6 (CRS-6), will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from the seaside Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.

OA-6 is loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware to the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

When the ISS Expedition 47 crew members open the hatch, they will be greeted with a sign noting the spacecraft was named ‘SS Rick Husband’ in honor of the STS-107 mission commander.

Overall, Orbital will deliver approximately 28,700 kilograms of cargo to the ISS under the life of the CRS contract, which extends to 2018.

STS-107 was Husband’s second flight to space.

OA-6 is the first Cygnus to named after an astronaut who actually participated in building the ISS – during his first flight as shuttle pilot on the STS-96 mission in 1999.

The prior Cygnus cargo spacecraft was named the S.S. Deke Slayton during the OA-4 mission. It successfully launched to the ISS in December 2015 – read my on site articles here.

Orbital ATK has named each Cygnus after a deceased NASA astronaut, several of whom later worked for the company.

OA-6 is only the second Cygnus to be launch atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, following the OA-4 mission last December.

The CRS-6/OA-6 flight is also the second flight of the enhanced Cygnus variant, that is over 1 meter longer and sports 50% more volume capability.

Thus it is capable of carrying a much heavier payload of some 3500 kg (7700 lbs) vs. a maximum of 2300 kg (5070 lbs) for the standard version.

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Dream Chaser Spaceplane Gets ‘GO’ as NASA Awards Trio of Space Station Cargo Contracts

SNC's Dream Chaser Spacecraft a

A shuttle will soar again from American soil before this decade is out, following NASA’s announcement today (Jan 14) that an unmanned version of the Dream Chaser spaceplane was among the trio of US awardees winning commercial contracts to ship essential cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) starting in 2019.

In addition to the Dream Chaser mini-shuttle built by Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada, NASA decided to retain both of the current ISS commercial cargo vehicle providers, namely the Cygnus from Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia and the cargo Dragon from SpaceX of Hawthorne, California.

Thus with today’s announcement, NASA decided to plus up the number of ISS commercial cargo providers from two to three for the critical task of ensuring the regular delivery of critical science, crew supplies, provisions, spare parts and assorted gear to the multinational crews living and working aboard the orbiting outpost.

By adding a new third provider, NASA simultaneously gains the benefit of additional capability and flexibility and also spreads out the risk.

Unlike the Cygnus and Dragon which land via parachutes, the reusable Dream Chaser is capable of low-g reentry and runway landings. This is very beneficial for sensitive scientific experiments and allows much quicker access by researchers to time critical cargo. Dream Chaser will be capable of delivering 5,500 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS.

Each of the three aerospace firms “is guaranteed a minimum of six cargo resupply missions through 2024,” said Sam Scimemi, ISS Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in announcing the three awards at today’s media briefing.

These new awards secure continuing ISS resupply through its currently approved operational period to 2024 by all the partners except ESA – which is still evaluating its options.

The award to Sierra Nevada amounts to a huge reversal of fortune for the Dream Chaser spaceplane – which lost out in its prior bid in 2014 to win a commercial crew program (CCP) contract to fly a manned version of Dream Chaser from NASA.

The Boeing Starliner CST-100 and SpaceX crew Dragon ultimately were awarded the CCP contracts in September 2014 to fly astronauts to the ISS. The first crewed launches are expected in 2017.

Both SpaceX and Orbital ATK suffered catastrophic launch failures during ISS resupply missions, in June 2015 and October 2014 respectively, from which both firms are still in the process of fully recovering from.

The new contracts were awarded as part of NASA’s long awaited second round of Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contracts to obtain regular and reliable cargo delivery services to the space station from 2019 through 2024. Other covered services include the disposal of unneeded cargo, and the return of research samples and other cargo from the station back to NASA and researchers.

The first round of CRS awards to SpaceX and Orbital ATK was made in late 2008. The goal was to replace the critical cargo delivery services formerly provided by NASA’s trio of manned space shuttle orbiters, that were subsequently retired in 2011. Shuttle flights ended before either of the private cargo freighters were ready to liftoff.

Both SpaceX and Orbital ATK have been flying their commercial Dragon and Cygnus resupply ships to the ISS. The first cargo flight by occurred in 2012 under the initial CRS contract.

“So far over 35,000 pounds of cargo has been delivered to the ISS,” said Scimemi.

“Commercial resupply a new way of doing business. We are learning. But it has not been easy. Both original providers had launch failures.”

The new contracts also include funding ISS integration, flight support equipment, special tasks and studies, and NASA requirement changes.

“Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work ‘with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,’ that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station — or that we’d be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers. But that is exactly what is happening,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

“Today’s announcement is a big deal that will move the president’s vision further into the future.”

The new awards start today as NASA negotiates the specifics of which company will fly what cargo and when for example.

“The second generation of commercial cargo services to low-Earth orbit begins today,” said Kirk Shireman, ISS Program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“By engaging American companies for cargo transportation, we can focus our attention on using this one-of-a-kind laboratory in the sky to continue advancing scientific knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.”

The next currently scheduled American ISS commercial cargo flights are slated to take place in the next two months or so.

“The next Orbital ATK mission named OA-6 will launch on March 10 from Cape Canaveral,” Scimemi told Universe Today.

“SpaceX will announce the date of their next mission named CRS-8 soon.”

Other current cargo providers to the ISS include the Russian Progress and Japanese HTV vessels.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Orbital ATK Integration of Upgraded Antares Kicks Into High Gear For 2016 ‘Return to Flight’

Orbital ATK Antares rocket hardware fills the Horizontal Integration Facility from end-to-end at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility for upcoming ‘Return to Flight’ missions in 2016 from Virginia launch base. Credit: Ken Kremer/

Assembly and testing of a significantly upgraded version of Orbital ATK’s commercially developed Antares rocket has kicked into high gear and is on target for rebirth – as the clock ticks down towards its ‘Return to Flight’ by approximately mid-2016 from a launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia, company managers told Universe Today during a recent up close media visit to see the actual flight hardware.

Mission integration operations are in full swing right now as technicians were actively processing Antares hardware during my visit to Orbital ATK’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in December.

“We are working on integrating, processing and testing the Antares rocket hardware,” Mike Pinkston, Vice President and General Manager Orbital ATK’s Antares program, told Universe Today in exclusive interviews at NASA Wallops and the Kennedy Space Center.

The cavernous Wallops Island HIF facility was filled from end-to-end with a pair of first stage cores, newly upgraded RD-181 first stage engines, a second stage, interstages, payload fairings and other key components slated to launch on the first two Antares missions in the spring and fall of 2016.

“We are planning to resume Antares launches in late May or June 2016,” said Pinkston.

The currently planned spring 2016 blastoff will be the first for the private Antares rocket since its catastrophic launch failure on Oct. 28, 2014, just seconds after liftoff from Wallops. It was carrying Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo freighter on the critical Orb-3 resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch mishap was traced to a failure in the AJ26 first stage engine turbopump.

The revamped Antares 230 launch vehicle has been upgraded with a pair of modern new first stage engines, the Russian-built RD-181 fueled by LOX/kerosene. They replace the refurbished 40 year old AJ26 engines originally known as the NK-33 that were originally built during the Soviet era.

“Using the RD-181s will result in a 25 percent greater payload to orbit,” Pinkston told Universe Today.

But before any launch, the fully integrated Antares first stage still has to pass a hot fire test with the RD-181 engines at launch pad OA on Wallops Island.

“The hot fire stage is scheduled for early March 2016,” Pinkston told me. “It will be a full duration 30 second test at full thrust. The test uses the core for the OA-7 launch later in the year.”

“The hot fire test will run through all the operating points and execute all sequences.”

A similar 30 second hot fire test was conducted in advance of the first Antares launch to test out all rocket and launch pad systems.

The first Antares booster to launch will be named the OA-5 mission and will use the other core stage currently being processed inside the HIF, he explained.

During our media visit, the first set of RD-181 engines was seen already attached to the base of the first stage core, which is built in Ukraine.

A second set of RD-181 flight engines has also arrived for processing in the HIF.

Orbital ATK quickly decided to replace the AJ-26 with the RD-181 soon after the Orb-3 accident, said Pinkston. Evaluations had already been in place to replace the AJ26 prior to the accident.

What changes were made to accommodate the RD-181 vs the AJ26 engines?

“For the RD-181 engines there are new thrust adapters, new avionics to control the engine actuators, and new propellant feed lines,” Pinkston told me.

“There are also some small changes to the first stage core itself.”

“The RD-181 engines are basically a drop in replacement engine. Its similar in size to the AJ-26. But has a better thrust profile.”

Earlier this month, the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter already accomplished its return to flight mission when it was launched to the ISS on the OA-4 mission (also known as CRS-4) using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for the first time.

OA-4 successfully lifted off on Dec. 6, 2015 with over 7000 pounds of cargo from Cap-e Canaveral, Florida – as outlined in my on site reports. It berthed at the ISS on Dec. 9.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Cygnus Docks at Station for Christmas Delivery to Successfully Resume American Resupply Chain

The commercial Cygnus cargo spaceship, loaded with over three tons of critically needed supplies and research experiments, successfully rendezvoused and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Dec. 9) after blazing to orbit on Sunday, Dec. 6, and thereby successfully resumed the American resupply chain to orbit – just in time for Christmas […]

One Year after Antares Failure, Orbital ATK Revamps Rocket for 2016 ‘Return to Flight’

One year after the catastrophic launch failure of Orbital ATK’s private Antares rocket seconds after liftoff with the Cygnus cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS), the firm is well on the way towards revamping the booster with modern new engines and implementing a ‘Return or Flight’ by approximately mid-2016, company officials told […]

Orbital ATK on the Rebound With Antares Return to Flight in 2016

Orbital ATK is on the rebound with return to flight of their Antares rocket slated in early 2016 following the catastrophic launch failure that doomed the last Antares in October 2014 on a resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS). Engineers are making “excellent progress” assembling a modified version of Antares that […]

Falcon 9 Failure Investigation Focuses on Data not Debris as SpaceX Seeks Root Cause

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX and NASA are diligently working to “identify the root cause” of the June 28 in flight failure of the firms Falcon 9 rocket, as the accident investigation team focuses on “flight data” rather than recovered debris as the best avenue for determining exactly what went wrong, a SpaceX spokesperson […]