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United Launch Alliance launches Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral

48 Atlas V, Cygnus launches ISS supplies

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A project that began with a rocket’s explosion in Virginia nearly a year-and-a-half ago concluded with Tuesday night's launch of a Cygnus supply ship from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station.

The rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 11:05 p.m Tuesday. United Launch Alliance said the spacecraft successfully separated from the Centaur upper stage at its initial orbit, where it will rendezvous with the ISS.

The unmanned Cygnus mission is the second of two flying from Florida’s Space Coast on Atlas V rockets while Orbital ATK redesigns its Antares launcher, which failed seconds after an October 2014 liftoff from Wallops Island.

Weighing in at more than 16,000 pounds — almost half of which is food, supplies and experiments bound for the ISS — the Cygnus is the heaviest payload boosted by United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.

"ULA is honored to be a part of the team that delivered more than 7,700 pounds of cargo to the astronauts aboard the ISS and CubeSats to be deployed after Cygnus separates from the ISS," said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president, Human Launch Services. "Congratulations to our mission partners at Orbital ATK and NASA on another successful launch that will help advance our scientific knowledge on Earth and in space, and inspire the next generation of space explorers."

Labeled “OA-6,” the mission is the first of several ISS resupply runs scheduled over the next few weeks, to be followed by a Russian Progress freighter and SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

Each of those vehicles suffered failures between late 2014 and last summer, straining station supplies.

But NASA says the outpost’s stores of “consumables” like food and water are essentially back to normal.

The upcoming mission includes an interesting batch of science investigations, including:

  • An experiment that will light a fire inside the Cygnus after it departs the station roughly two months from now.
  • Gecko Grippers will test how well five adhesive pads stick to station walls.
  • An improved 3-D printer for building parts in space.

Orbital ATK expects its Antares rocket to return to flight this summer from Virginia’s Eastern Shore, equipped with new main engines.

But it’s possible the Cygnus could launch again from Florida. Under NASA’s next round of ISS resupply contracts, starting in 2019, the space agency could choose Cygnus missions launched by either the Antares from Virginia or Atlas V from Cape Canaveral.

ULA said its next launch is the MUOS-5 satellite for the U.S. Navy, which is scheduled for May 5 from Cape Canaveral.