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Jason DavisSeptember 18, 2013

Antares and Cygnus blast off to International Space Station

Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket soared into partly cloudy Virginia skies this morning, carrying the first operational Cygnus resupply spacecraft into orbit. Liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility occurred at 10:58 a.m. (14:58 UTC), with Cygnus separating about ten minutes later. NASA and Orbital reported that the spacecraft’s propulsion system had initialized and its solar arrays had been deployed at 11:24.

NASA TV

Liftoff of Antares
Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket blasts off from Pad-0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Va. Perched atop Antares is the Cygnus resupply spacecraft, which is carrying 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo to the International Space Station.

Cygnus will spend the next few days raising its orbit and conducting demonstration tasks, which include tests of its GPS and ability to free drift and abort. It is expected to arrive at the International Space Station on Sunday, with capture scheduled for 7:17 a.m. Orbital will be the second private company to visit the ISS under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, following three successful trips by SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

To see the full timeline of Sunday's capture and berthing events, check out my launch preview article.

Antares away

NASA / Bill Ingalls

Antares away
Two AJ-26 engines power an Antares rocket off Pad 0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Sept. 18. The launch marks Antares' second successful flight.
Antares Main Engine Cutoff

Orbital Sciences Corporation / NASA TV

Antares Main Engine Cutoff
Antares' first stage drifts away following Main Engine Cutoff (MECO) during its Sept. 18 Cygnus demonstration flight. The vehicle coasts for about two and a half minutes following MECO, at which point the second stage engine ignites.
All signs point to commercial spaceflight

NASA / Bill Ingalls

All signs point to commercial spaceflight
Road signs direct visitors to the International Space Station and beyond at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A. Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket sits in the background, ready to launch its first operational Cygnus spacecraft.

Read more: International Space Station, commercial spaceflight

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Jason Davis

Journalist and Digital Editor for The Planetary Society
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