Join Donate

Jason DavisSeptember 16, 2013

Cygnus ready to spread its wings, fly to ISS

The International Space Station is preparing to welcome a Cygnus resupply vessel to the commercial spaceflight party.

ORB-D1 Mission Patch

Orbital Sciences Corporation

ORB-D1 Mission Patch
Because it's not a real mission without a patch.

On Wednesday morning, Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket is slated to lift off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast. It will be the second flight of Antares, which successfully sailed a test payload into orbit last April. Cygnus is carrying carrying 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of food, clothing and other cargo for its maiden voyage—a demonstration mission to prove its capabilities.

Wednesday's launch window is a relatively short fifteen minutes, from 10:50 to 11:05 a.m. EDT (14:50 to 15:05 UTC). Although the launch was delayed from Tuesday to Wednesday due to bad weather and a flaky data cable, Cygnus is still expected to arrive at the station on Sunday, Sept. 22, with capture scheduled for 7:17 a.m. Like SpaceX’s Dragon, Cygnus will be berthed to the station's Harmony node using Canadarm. NASA says the vehicle is expected to be installed around 9 a.m.

Here is your Antares ascent timeline: 

Event  Altitude (kilometers)  Elapsed time (mm:ss)
Stage one ignition  0  00:00
Liftoff  0  00:02
Main Engine Cutoff (MECO)  107  03:53
Stage one separation  113  03:58
Fairing separation  182  05:20
Interstage separation  184  05:25
Stage 2 ignition  187  05:29
Stage 2 burnout / orbit insertion  250  08:02
Cygnus separation  249  10:02

Antares ORB-D1 Ready for Launch

Orbital Sciences Corporation

Antares ORB-D1 Ready for Launch
Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply spacecraft stand on the launchpad prior to their Sept. 18 launch to the International Space Station.

Cygnus will be controlled from Orbital's Mission Control Center in Dulles, Va. The spacecraft's initial orbit will be 245 x 300 kilometers. Over the next few days, Cygnus will conduct a series of orbit-raising thruster burns to position itself four kilometers beneath the station. In between those burns, it will perform its first three demonstration tasks: Absolute GPS (Demo 1), Free drift (Demo 2a) and abort (Demo 2b).

When Cygnus arrives at the four kilometer point, joint operations between Orbital and NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston begin. Here are the joint operations events:

Event Description Range
Demo 3 Relative GPS navigation demonstration 4 km
Demo 4 Onboard targeting demonstration 4 km
Thruster burn Close on station 4 km to 1.4 km
Demo 5 Autonomous maneuver demonstration 4 km to 1.4 km
Thruster burn Close on station 4 km to 1.4 km
Demo 6 Hardware Command Panel (HCP) checkout 1.4 km
Thruster burns Intercept R-bar, hold autonomously at 250 m 1.4 km to 250 m
Demo 7 LIDAR navigation demonstration 250 m
Thruster burn Close on station 250 m to 230 m
Demo 8 HCP retreat demonstration 230 m
Thruster burn Retreat from station 230 m to 250 m
Thruster burn Close on station 250 m to 230 m
Demo 9 HCP hold demonstration 230 m 
Thruster burn Close on station 250 m to 30 m
Enter Keep-Out Sphere Close on station 200 m
Demo 10 LIDAR JEM-A reflector tracking demonstration 200 m to 30m
Hold for final approach Hold for final approach 30 m 
Thruster burn Final approach 30 m to 12 m
Hold for capture Hold for capture 12 m
Capture Capture with Canadarm by Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano 12 m

Cygnus ISS Approach Profile

Orbital Sciences Corporation

Cygnus ISS Approach Profile
As Cygnus approaches the station, it will conduct a series of demonstration maneuvers designed to prove various spacecraft capabilities.

Read more: International Space Station, Commercial spaceflight

You are here:
Jason Davis thumbnail
Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Jason Davis

Comments & Sharing
Bill Nye and people
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

The Planetary Fund

Help advance robotic and human space exploration, defend our planet, and search for life.


"We're changing the world. Are you in?"
- CEO Bill Nye

Sign Up for Email Updates