NASA Postpones Cygnus Launch

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NASA postponed its launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus spacecraft on Friday due to inclement weather. This was the second time that the launch has been rescheduled. Potential spectators will not have to wait long to get another chance at seeing the craft blast off, as the launch was rescheduled for Sunday at 12:52 p.m. EDT.

Storms hung over NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Friday, but meteorologists have predicted that Sunday will be have a 90 percent probability of favorable conditions at the Virginia location. Depending on the weather, the launch could be visible to millions of spectators along the portion of the East Coast stretching from Massachusetts to South Carolina.

The Cygnus spacecraft will provide approximately 3,000 pounds worth of supplies to the crew on the International Space Station. In addition to provisions, it will be carrying replacement parts and other items for use in the crew’s science experiments. On its return trip, Cygnus will bring back equipment used in concluded experiments.

Although NASA postponed the Cygnus launch, the spacecraft will still ferry a litany of scientific equipment including a group of nanosatellites and deployers, several experiments by student scientists, and prototypes of a small cubesat that may one day travel to Mars. Once deployed, the Planet Labs satellites will begin taking pictures of the planet. According to Planet Labs co-founder Robbie Schingler, they will form the biggest constellation of imaging satellites in orbit. Among other things, the student experiments will investigate oxidation in space, microencapsulation, corrosion inhibitors and plant growth in zero-gravity environments.

Orbital Sciences Corporation and NASA have agreed on a $1.9 billion contract for eight Cygnus cargo-supply missions to the International Space Station, with the postponed launch being the second in the series. The first mission occurred on January 9. The craft carried 2,800 pounds of cargo to the ISS, and brought back 3,250 pounds of waste.

The company is one of only two private firms that NASA has approved for providing cargo in space. California-based company SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, is the other name on that list.

NASA has gone through a bit of bad luck in recent history. Its Subtec-6 rocket was postponed three times before finally launching. The reason for the last postponement, which happened on June 30, was due to boats in the hazard zone. Having solved that issue, the rocket finally blasted off on July 2. However, just 19 seconds after leaving the ground, the rocket crashed in a hazard zone in the Atlantic Ocean.

The mission aimed to test an inexpensive system for releasing “vapor tracers” clouds that are used for measuring wind patterns. NASA looks to use the system for tracking winds in the ionosphere. Engineers also hoped to use the mission to test a mini-deployment actuator for cubesat spacecraft. A crowdfunded initiative founded by a 20-year-old Duke University student is working on sending a digital time capsule to Mars through the use of similar cubesat technology.

In spite of these setbacks and the initial postponement of the Cygnus launch, NASA engineers believe that the spacecraft will successfully make it into space on Sunday. Spectators across the region are hoping that their rosy prediction proves to be the case.

By Yitzchak Besser

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