TS Nicole approaches Bermuda tracking station, prompting delay of OA-5 mission
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — After slipping 24 hours to Friday, Oct. 14, it looks as though the OA-5 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station will be delayed again. This time, it’s due to Tropical Storm Nicole, which is strengthening and poised to strike Bermuda, the location of a critical launch tracking station, as early as this Thursday.
NASA announced via a release issued on Tuesday, Oct. 11, that the launch would now take place no-earlier-than Sunday, Oct. 16. The launch window for that date would open at 8:03 p.m. EDT (00:03 GMT on Oct. 17). As the space agency noted via a statement, the tracking station is crucial to the resupply flight: “As the spacecraft’s trajectory takes it from Wallops and past Bermuda on its flight into orbit, the Bermuda tracking station provides downrange tracking, telemetry and flight termination support. Tropical Storm Nicole is expected to reach Bermuda as a hurricane Thursday, Oct. 13.”
This was reinforced by personnel who work on the range at Wallops.
“The tracking station at Bermuda is required to conduct the Antares launch from Wallops,” said Steven Kremer, chief of the Wallops Range and Mission Management Office. “The ability to support a launch will depend on the impact the storm has on not only our systems, but also the overall Bermuda infrastructure.”
Cygnus is to be carried to orbit by the newly-upgraded Antares 230 rocket from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s (MARS) Pad 0A. It will be the first time in two years that the rocket has been launched, since the Orb-3 accident of Oct. 2014.
The return-to-flight was originally supposed to occur in June 2016, but delays primarily due to requirements placed by the customer (NASA) pushed the date to this week. The last slip was needed to resolve a minor vehicle processing issue that, combined with contingency planning for Hurricane Matthew, required an extra day. Mission managers have not said how long the current delay will be.
When it does fly, the Cygnus spacecraft, named S.S. Alan Poindexter, will spend about two days traveling and catching up to the International Space Station. Once there, it will be captured by the station’s robotic Canadarm2 and berthed to the station’s Unity module.
This is part of Orbital ATK‘s $1.9 billion dollar contract under NASA’s Commercial Resupply services program to send cargo, supplies, and equipment to the orbiting laboratory using commercially-produced rockets and spacecraft.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.