Congratulations to New Commercial Cargo Carrier Contender Climbing into the Cosmos
Congratulations go out this morning to Orbital Sciences and their launch of the Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus pressurized cargo carrier on their first trip up to the International Space Station. The rocket blasted off at 10:58 AM Eastern Daylight Time from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. The Cygnus spacecraft will rendezvous with ISS on Sunday, September 22nd and deliver its 589kg (1300 pounds) of cargo. Like Spacex's first mission, this mission is considered a demonstration resupply mission, which I assume means the craft isn't carrying the crown jewels (or something equally precious and irreplaceable) up to the station. Orbital Sciences now joins SpaceX as the second commercial cargo transporter up to ISS for NASA. Both companies have contracts to supply the ISS with a multitude of cargo missions (12 for Spacex and 8 for Orbital Sciences) over the next few years. The Cygnus mission is very similar to the Progress and the JAXA HTV (transfer vehicle) in that it is designed to rendezvous with ISS to deliver it's cargo, and then be sent back down to a fiery re-entry into the South Pacific with a load of ISS trash. This makes for a relatively inexpensive spacecraft, since it isn't meant to survive re-entry. In business it's always a good idea to have multiple suppliers for your critical parts or services. So this is a positive step towards NASA being able to depend on commercial space transport services for their ISS needs.
Here is a link to a snazzy graphic from Space.com which explains the Antares/Cygnus delivery system.