Cargo ship heads to space station with supplies and ‘treats’ for crew

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket carrying a cargo ship loaded with 8,200 pounds of equipment and supplies bound for the International Space Station blasted off from Virginia’s Eastern Shore early Monday, beginning a two-day rendezvous.

Delayed by a day due to a fire alarm that forced the company to briefly evacuate its control center, the Antares 230+ rocket’s two Russian-made RD-181 engines ignited at 5:32 a.m. EST, pushing the rocket away from the Mid-Atlantic Regional spaceport on NASA’s Wallops Flight.

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, using a first stage built in Ukraine and powered by two Russian-made rocket engines, soars off Wallops Island, Virginia, beginning a space station cargo flight. Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace are developing a new, all-American rocket that will replace Antares after a final flight next March. / Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now

Arcing away to the southeast, the rocket accelerated smoothly as its Ukrainian-built first stage consumed propellant and lost weight, climbing directly to the level of the space station’s orbit. Nine minutes after liftoff, the Cygnus cargo ship was released to fly on its own.

“It was a spectacular launch,” said Jeff Arendt, director of space station engineering and systems integration. “We are delighted that Cygnus is on its way to the ISS.”

One of the cargo ship’s two solar arrays apparently failed to deploy as planned hours after launch, but NASA did not provide details. Even so, Northrop Grumman said the ship will still have enough power to make its rendezvous with the space station.

If all goes well, the freighter will catch up with the lab complex early Wednesday, pull up to about 30 feet and hold position while Nicole Mann, who operates the lab’s robotic arm, locks onto a hook attachment.

At that point, flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will take over weapons operations, pulling Cygnus for docking in the station’s Earth-facing Unity port.

On the cargo ship: 3,608 pounds of crew supplies, 1,873 pounds of research equipment, 2,375 pounds of space station hardware, and 317 pounds of computer components and spacewalk equipment, including material needed for upcoming excursions to upgrade the lab’s solar power system.

The manifest also includes some “very worthy treats for the crew,” Arendt said.

“They’ll have their usual menu, but also some special requests like peanut butter, olives, several cheeses and even pumpkin spice cappuccino,” he said. “And the team have loaded up some fresh fruit as well – apples, blueberries, oranges – and some ice cream in the freezers.”

The launch marked the next-to-last Antares 230+ flight as Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace develop a new missile in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the imposition of US sanctions and the subsequent end of RD-181 deliveries for use in the First construction stage of Ukraine.

The first stages used for Monday’s launch and another Antares flight, planned for next March, were already in place when material deliveries were interrupted after the Russian invasion.

In transitioning to a new rocket, Northrop Grumman plans to launch three Cygnus flights using SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets before debuting the all-American Antares 330 in late 2024.

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