Spaceflight Insider

Photo Gallery: Light, shadow and fog – the flight of OA-5

OA-5 mission: An Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket lifted off from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at 7:45 p.m. EDT (23:45 GMT) on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak / SpaceFlight Insider

An Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket lifted off from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at 7:45 p.m. EDT (23:45 GMT) on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak / SpaceFlight Insider

WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, Va. — Whenever SpaceFlight Insider’s team of photographers heads to Cape Canaveral, we have assets on hand, resources, and crew members to rely upon. We didn’t have that for the launch of OA-5. After Orb-3, it was decided that a new team, one whose focus was on reporting the mission, needed to be in place.

So what do you do? Simple. You go with who and what works. We re-tasked professionals who work as either “floaters” or who are part of other SFI teams to come in and cover the launch.

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans…


OA-5 mission: Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

Getting a new launch vehicle, as was the case with the Antares 230, off the ground and into the skies is no easy task. Moreover, when its payload, the S.S. Alan Poindexter Cygnus cargo freighter is headed to the International Space Station, an array of things has to go perfectly.

Yeah, good luck with that.

On the way out to Virginia, we found out that the launch would now take place no-earlier-than Oct. 14. This, effectively, took out one of our core photographers, Mike Deep. SFI is staffed primarily by volunteers – loyal folks who contribute their time, energy, and resources to tell the spaceflight story.

Most of them have day jobs and while a slip of a day or so can take them out of the equation, sources also let us know that the launch might slip even further.

Sure enough, Hurricane Nicole was bearing down on a critical tracking station in Bermuda and the launch slipped to no-earlier-than Oct. 16. An issue with a ground support cable would see the launch date slip an additional 24 hours.

One of the more common refrains that one hears is how “exciting”, “beautiful”, and “amazing” it must be to see a launch at night. From the public’s perspective, this is true. However, from the viewpoint of the media – not so much.

With us setting both still and video cameras at Pad 0A? A daylight launch, especially one at dusk, when the colors are more dramatic is preferred over a night-time launch. Having said that, we had three professionals on hand whose experience stretched back to the Apollo era.

Luna ascends


As night descended on the marshlands that surround Chincoteague Island, a fog accompanied the coming darkness which would impact most of those trying to capture the night’s launch.

Mission managers, in an effort to ensure that they had checked and rechecked everything, pushed the launch back to the very close of the five-minute window – 7:45 p.m. EDT (23:45 GMT). After the delays, we had worried that there would be another delay.

However, when the new T–0 was reached, the twin RD-181 rocket engines came to life and the newly upgraded Antares 230 leaped into the sky, moving off the pad and into the darkness above. The rocket’s light would be joined by that of the Moon as it also rose into the sky.

When the team had the opportunity to get out to the cameras, it was if it had rained out at the launch site. Despite this, SFI managed to get numerous still images as well as video from the flight. It had been a long road, but we had achieved the basic package that SFI attempts to produce for every launch that we cover.

Traveling from day into night and pushing back the fog that had encompassed Pad 0A, Antares, and the S.S. Alan Poindexter Cygnus spacecraft flew out of Earth’s atmosphere and on its way into the black of space. As is so often the case, those controlling the flight and those reporting on its ascent had an array of difficulties to overcome, and they did so with grace and professionalism.

OA-5 was the “return-to-flight” mission of Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket after an Aerojet Rocketdyne turbopump on an Antares 130 vehicle failed on October 28, 2014, destroying the rocket, spacecraft, and damaging the launch pad. The upgraded Antares 230 vehicle flew with a different Russian engine (an RD-181 instead of the 40-year-old AJ26/NK-33). The Cygnus cargo vehicle, which successfully flew cargo and supplies to the International Space Station, was named S.S. Alan Poindexter in honor of a former NASA Shuttle astronaut who passed away in 2012. The spacecraft was also used as an experiment site for testing fire propagation in space before reentering the atmosphere. OA-5 launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A at Wallops Island, Virginia on October 17, 2016.

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