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Antares lofts Cygnus on 13th ISS resupply flight

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A Northrop Grumman Antares 230+ lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia on Saturday after upper level winds called off a Friday attempt.  The rocket carried the automated Cygnus spacecraft on its 13th contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Its original launch date was scrubbed due to a ground system issue and then had to wait for acceptable weather.

Launching from Wallops Pad 0A at 3:43 PM EST (20:43 PM UTC), the Cygnus NG-13 spacecraft was carried into orbit, ahead of an approximately two-day rendezvous with the ISS, where it will then be berthed to the ISS to resupply the three-person crew of Expedition 62.

The spacecraft is loaded with over 3,400kg of cargo, consisting of consumables and scientific experiments to be carried out on the ISS.

Included in the scientific hardware is a small microscope, which will act as a technology demonstrator for a new type of electron microscope, an experiment which will test the relationship between phages and their bacterial hosts in microgravity and space conditions and an experiment that will help us gain a better understanding of the bone mass loss astronauts undergo on orbit.

Also included in the scientific payload is an experiment that will observe fire growth and spread in microgravity. This experiment is unique because instead of being performed aboard the ISS, it will be performed remotely in the Cygnus during the spacecraft’s post station mission, which will last a couple of weeks.

On an interesting note, the launch occurs only hours before the launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter space probe into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

According to Northrop Grumman’s Antares Program Manager, Kurt Eberly, this will not cause any issue though, as there are no shared range assets between Wallops and Cape Canaveral for these two launches.  This means there will not be any conflict and the rockets will be able to safely launch with only about 5 and a half hours between them.

This flight is Northrop Grumman’s second flight contracted under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract with NASA. It will mark the second flight of the Antares 230+ rocket, which made its debut flight on November’s NG-12 flight, the first Cygnus contracted under CRS2.

The Antares 230+ is an upgraded and optimized version of the older Antares 230 rocket which was used for five of the eleven Cygnus flights contracted under the first CRS contract.

The Antares 230+ has numerous upgrades to it which set it apart from its predecessor, this includes structural changes that allow for Cygnus to carry larger and heavier payloads to the ISS.

Like Antares 230, Antares 230+ still utilizes the Castor 30XL upper stage, which will burn during the last stage of the flight to get the Cygnus into its proper orbit to set it up for rendezvous with the ISS.

Since the Castor 30XL stage uses solid fuel, it can not be throttled or cut off at all times like a liquid fuel engine.  At first glance, this may appear to mean the Antares team have less choice when inserting the spacecraft into its proper orbit, as the engine is not throttlable

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