Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the Orbital Sciences Cygnus launch. Video source: NASA.
NASA's commercial cargo fleet doubled today as Orbital Sciences launched its Cygnus vehicle atop its Antares booster from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
As of this writing, the mission has been virtually flawless. According to SpaceFlightNow.com, Cygnus has completed a seven-minute firing of its main thruster which “sets up the spacecraft for the first of 10 demonstration maneuvers this evening, in which the Cygnus will prove its ability to transition to free drift and abort an approach to the International Space Station.”
The demonstration flight comes sixteen months after SpaceX launched its Dragon demo, but that doesn't mean Orbital took longer.
SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler were awarded the initial commercial cargo contracts in August 2006. SpaceX met its milestones, but Rocketplane Kistler did not so their NASA contract was terminated in October 2007. Orbital Sciences replaced Rocketplane Kistler in February 2008 — eighteen months after SpaceX won its contract. Problems with the Commonwealth of Virginia building the spaceport for Orbital also deserve some blame.
Click the arrow to watch the post-launch press briefing. Video source: NASA.
Florida Today “Privately Run Spacecraft En Route to ISS Docking”
Florida Today editorial “Giant Leap for Smarter Government”
Los Angeles Times “Watch Orbital Sciences Launch Capsule to International Space Station ”
NASASpaceFlight.com “Orbital’s Antares Launches Cygnus on Debut Mission to ISS”
This is what I think will be the iconic photo for today's historic launch. Image source: NASA.