By Irene Klotz
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va., Sept 18 An unmanned Antares
rocket, developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. was poised
for launch from Virginia on Wednesday to send a new cargo
capsule to the International Space Station.
Liftoff from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops
Island was scheduled for 10:50 a.m. (1450 GMT). Meteorologists
expected a 75 percent chance the weather would be suitable for
The Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule were developed in
partnership with NASA, which committed $288 million to the
The U.S. space agency, which retired its space shuttles in
2011, also contributed $396 million to a similar effort by
privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to
develop its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship.
"The Orbital investment far exceeds the NASA investment,"
Orbital Sciences executive vice president Frank Culbertson told
reporters at a prelaunch press conference on Tuesday.
Culbertson declined to be more specific about how much the
company has spent to develop Antares and Cygnus.
"We're hoping for a long series of cargo resupply missions
to recoup some of that (investment)," Culbertson added.
So far, NASA has committed to eight Cygnus cargo runs under
a contract worth $1.9 billion. SpaceX has a 12-flight, $1.6
billion contract, with 10 flights still remaining.
Orbital Sciences expects to quickly transition from this
week's trial run to the space station into its first operational
mission for NASA in December.
A successful flight not only may boost its chances for
additional NASA work, but also could attract commercial and
scientific customers for both Antares and Cygnus.
"We have a lot interest from people who are waiting to make
sure we do, in fact, succeed with this before they place a firm
order," Culbertson said.
Cygnus capsules are not designed to return to Earth, but
since they can stay in orbit for extended periods of time,
Orbital Sciences envisions secondary missions after the capsules
depart the station, as well as dedicated flights for customers
Antares, a two-stage, medium-lift rocket, made a successful
debut test flight in April.
For Wednesday's flight, Antares is expected to place a
Cygnus capsule, loaded with about 1,543 pounds (700 kg) of food,
clothing and other supplies, into orbit.
Over the next four days, the capsule will demonstrate its
ability to maneuver in space and communicate with the station.
If all goes as planned, Cygnus would fly itself to the
station on Sunday so astronauts can use a robotic crane to pluck
the capsule from orbit and attach it to a berthing port.
The capsule is expected to remain docked at the station
until Oct. 22. About two days later, it would fire braking
rockets to leave orbit and fall back into Earth's atmosphere,
burning up in the process.