Cargo mission launches to space station

- A fresh batch of supplies is headed for the International Space Station after a spectacular moonlight nighttime launch from Florida.

The unmanned Cygnus capsule, loaded with over 7,000 pounds of cargo, blasted off just after 11 p.m.  Tuesday.  The Atlas booster lit up the coast and was, momentarily, brighter than the nearly full moon.

VIDEO: Watch the launch

It will take about three days for the capsule – named the ‘Rick Husband’ after the late Columbia commander by contractor Orbital ATK – to reach the station.  Then it will spend up to two months docked to the orbiting outpost while station astronauts unload it and then repack it with garbage.

Normally, the capsule is then undocked from the station and allowed to burn up in the atmosphere, but this capsule will have one more mission.  It’s carrying the Saffire-1 experiment, a NASA test to study how fire burns in the zero-gravity environment of space.

Before the craft deorbits, scientists will remotely ignite a fire inside the capsule.  Sensors and capsules will record how the fire behaves for about 20 minutes, which could provide valuable information for use in future spacecraft system designs.

Orbital hopes to resume launching its Cygnus capsules aboard its own Antares rockets later this year.  They’ve had to hitch rides on Atlas V rockets since an Antares explosion moments after liftoff back in 2014, but the new version of the Antares could be ready to fly as soon as May.

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