After delays caused by a stray plane flying near the launchpad at Nasa's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Orbital ATK, the company handling the launch, was able to successfully launch its Antares rocket towards the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, 12 November at 7.19am EST. The supplies will reach the ISS by 14 November.
The Antares rocket lifted the Cygnus spacecraft, carrying 3.3 tonnes of material for researchers at the ISS. This included 14 cubesats to study high speed optical transmission of data called the Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) project.
One of the cubesats is planet Earth's "first space nation" called Asgardia-1. It is a file server that will float in orbit and is touted to be the beginnings of a space state. Citizens need only sign up online and agree to its constitution. About the size of a loaf of bread, it contains the country's flag, the constitution, as well as the complete database of all its citizens, now around 100,000, reports Cnet.
The cargo also includes Thanksgiving dinner for the six astronauts stationed aboard the ISS. Frozen fruit bars, ice cream, and pizza are also part of the payload.
Along with scientific equipment, the ISS lab will also receive samples of E.coli for their E. coli AntiMicrobial Satellite (EcAMSat) experiment. The mission is to investigate the effects and resistance of E.coli to antibiotics in space. E.coli is known to cause painful urinary tract infections in humans and researchers hope to understand what dosage of antibiotics is needed in space, given that the human immune response is weak in space's microgravity, notes Nasa.
Sunday's launch was reportedly delayed by five minutes. Kurt Eberly, deputy programme manager for Antares at Orbital ATK explained that the delay was caused by an issue with the chilling process related to one of the RD-181 main engines during launch prep. The delay, however, gave, "the range some more time to clear out some boats that were trending towards the hazard area", he was quoted as saying by Spacenews.
Antares apparently "over-performed" during the launch, placing the rocket at a higher orbit than necessary. This suggests the rocket is capable of carrying a slightly heavier payload, Eberly said. The Antares rocket will stay docked at the ISS for only a few weeks after which it will be loaded up with waste to bring back to Earth for disposal.
After undocking from the ISS, the Cygnus spacecraft will fly to a higher altitude, release the cubesats from a dispenser on its exterior, and head back to Earth for re-entry.