Orbital Sciences Corp’s stock bounced back up following its successful NASA mission, after taking a tumble in the wake of a technical delay. By docking their new Cygnus spacecraft with the International Space Station Saturday morning, the private space technology company paved the way for their $1.9 billion NASA contract through 2016, and stock prices rose accordingly.
Stock in Orbital Sciences Corp (NYSE: ORB), had reached a high point on September 18, closing at $21.36 a share, after a steady month-long climb that correlated with increase earnings, but lost many of those gains after a technical snafu left its latest spacecraft floundering. The Cygnus cargo ship, ORB’s newest and most important project, rejected the navigation data from the International Space Station (ISS), causing it to miss its window last Sunday.
Launched successfully on the same day ORB’s stock soared to its highest price, Cygnus was to take 1,500 lbs. of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), remain docked to the station for 30 days, and then take another 1,750 lbs. of space junk away. The company’s Antares rocket carried the cargo craft safely to orbit from the recently improved Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport near ORB’s headquarters in Wallops Island, Virginia. However, a software problem caused the bus-sized, cylindrical spacecraft to reject the radio data transmission from the ISS.
This mishap prevented Cygnus from docking during last weekend’s window, forcing ISS crewmembers to take a whole day off. Various operations, including the arrival of new cosmonauts from a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, delayed the second attempt until Saturday.
Success at this first mission for NASA was crucial for Orbital Sciences Corp, based in Dulles, VA, and not just for getting its stock back up. They face stiff competition from another private space technology firm, SpaceX. That California-based company was the first private company to send a cargo mission to the ISS, and they have an existing contract with NASA to continue. SpaceX has already mounted two successful supply missions as well as two demonstration missions. On Saturday the same day that Cygnus successfully docked, SpaceX made its first successful test flight from the West Coast, launching its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
In order to clear the way for their own NASA missions, ORB’s Cygnus was required to both dock and depart successfully. Before Cygnus could dock on Saturday, it had to pass a number of tests. “The vehicle first demonstrated its position and control ability, or its ability to orient itself in space;” NASA said in a statement. “Second, the vehicle turned off its engines and operated while in free drift; third, Cygnus conducted a demonstration abort maneuver.”
For its final demonstration, Cygnus had to point a tracking laser at a particular reflector. Fortunately for ORB, it completed this task as well. ISS crewmembers were then able to grapple the cargo craft with a robotic arm, allowing it finally dock with the ISS.
The delayed, but triumphant, docking paralleled the company’s financial rally. After the successful of the company’s mission for NASA, stock in Orbital Sciences Corp went back up to close at $21.38 a share.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing