Two years after an anomaly caused one of its rockets to explode just seconds after liftoff, the American spaceflight company Orbital ATK is ready to launch another cargo resupply vehicle to the International Space Station. At 8:03 p.m. EDT on Sunday, an Antares rocket carrying a fully-stocked Cygnus spacecraft will lift off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia.
The spacecraft will berth with the ISS on Wednesday.
“After being launched into low-Earth orbit, the Cygnus spacecraft will use its advanced maneuvering capability to transport the cargo from a low parking orbit to the space station, where it will be grappled by the crew using the station’s robotic arm and berthed to the space station,” the company explained in a statement released Saturday. “After the cargo is removed and disposal items are loaded, Cygnus will depart from the station in mid-November.”
The launch can be viewed live on NASA TV.
Among the payloads the Cygnus spacecraft is carrying is an experiment named Spacecraft Fire Experiment-II, or Saffire-II. This experiment, which will start a controlled fire on the Cygnus capsule after it departs from the ISS, will seek to understand how fire behaves in microgravity.
“One of the least understood risks in space is how a fire starts, how it propagates, how you will detect the fire and how you put it out,” Jitendra Joshi, Saffire technology integration lead for the Advanced Exploration Systems Division at NASA, said in a statement.
Sunday’s resupply mission, titled OA-5, will be Orbital ATK’s sixth cargo-delivery mission to the ISS. Under its CRS-1 contract with NASA, the company plans to make 10 cargo deliveries — carrying a total of 66,000 pounds to the station through 2018. Then, beginning in 2019, Orbital ATK will carry out at least six cargo missions under the CRS-2 contract it secured earlier this year.
The launch would be closely watched as it comes just two years after an Orbital ATK rocket — also an Antares — exploded in mid-air, destroying the vehicle and causing damages worth millions to the Wallops launch pad.
“I’ve been through a couple failures in my 25-year career, and it’s always like a gut punch. You feel deflated,” Kurt Eberly, the Antares department program manager for Orbital ATK, told the Verge. “The team had been working so hard for years. We had just developed this new rocket, and the first flights were really spot on and worked really well. So it was extra disappointing.”