Atlas V rocket poised for Space Station cargo run today

Rodiano Bonacci
Aprile 20, 2017

"The more research we can carry, the more they can do their job and the more they can show the utility of the International Space Station". This time, it's private spaceflight company Orbital ATK that's in charge of the resupply run. Orbital has its own rocket, the Antares, which is also capable of sending the Cygnus to the station. The Antares was grounded for two years after that while the vehicle's engines were replaced; the Atlas V served as a stopgap in the meantime so that Orbital could continue to resupply the station as part of its contractual obligations to NASA. The NGL vehicles will operate from both east and west coast launch facilities and will share common propulsion, structures and avionics systems with other company programs, including its smaller space launch vehicles as well as missile defense interceptors, target vehicles and strategic missile systems.

"We are carrying more this time than we have in the past and that's a good step forward for us and for the crew", Frank Culbertson, president of Orbital ATK's Space Systems Group, told reporters during a pre-launch news conference. But despite that mission's success, in November, NASA asked Orbital to return to the Atlas V for this launch since the rocket can get more weight into orbit.

Besides supplies, the capsule contains a banner showing Glenn in his orange space shuttle launch suit - it's the first thing the station astronauts will see when they open the craft - as well as memorabilia for his family.

The new experiments will cover studies on cancer-fighting drugs, crystal growth and atmospheric reentry. Its cargo includes a greenhouse that the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration is testing to grow food for astronauts on long missions.

The capsule also carries 38 shoebox-sized satellites and a high school student's science project that will test how telomeres, which are structures at the ends of chromosomes, are affected by microgravity. These will be deployed in the next several months. The launch is scheduled for August 3 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The Cygnus is slated to stay at the station until July, when it'll be loaded up with trash, detach, and hang out in orbit again.

Prior to re-entry, a third and final experiment will be conducted inside the spacecraft to study how fire burns in space. The launch is scheduled for Tuesday morning and for the first time, NASA cameras will provide live 360-degree video of the rocket heading toward space.

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