More than four years after winning a contract, alongside SpaceX, to resupply the International Space Station, Orbital Sciences has finally docked its Cygnus capsule with the space outpost. The achievement makes it the second private outfit to have run a resupply mission to the station, with Elon Musk beating them to the goal last October.
Achieving the rendezvous with the International Space Station did not go without a hitch, however. As a data format bug delayed the planned September 22nd docking until a software fix was applied. The unmanned Cygnus spacecraft was berthed to the ISS at 8:45 a.m. EDT after successfully demonstrating the final manoeuvres for NASA as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. The spacecraft, which is roughly the size of a commercial delivery truck, had to demonstrate that it can autonomously approach the station from below and complete a series of scheduled approaches and retreats. Eventually it came to a rest 10 meters from the station and then astronaut Luca Parmitano manoeuvred the robotic arm to bring it the rest of the way into the ISS. Then the craft’s bounteous hatch was opened to reach 1,300 pounds worth of supplies by the six man crew of the ISS. The cargo includes clothing, food and student experiments. In 30 days’ time, the cargo vessel will detach and head for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean back here on earth.
Having successfully performed the final demonstration mission, Orbital Sciences is expected to fly the first of its eight contracted NASA cargo missions (worth $1.9 billion) in December. In parallel news the SpaceX Company was initially expected to make the flight, but the development of recent upgrades to its rocket pushed the California company’s schedule into 2014. SpaceX completed its demonstration flights for NASA last year, and has already completed two of its 12 contracted cargo flights to the ISS (worth $1.6 billion).
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