East Coast Alert: Spectacular Night Launch To The Space Station

Antares Launch Viewing Map. This “first-sight” map indicates potential to see Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket in the minutes following its launch on the OA-5 mission to the ISS on October 16, 2016. Credit: Orbital ATK
This Antares launch map shows the rocket’s trajectory to the east this evening along with color-coded zones and a table you can use to determine how long the rocket will be visible after liftoff (L) from your location. Liftoff is expected at 7:40 EDT this evening Oct. 17. The ship was originally scheduled to launch yesterday but was held up by a technical glitch. Credit: Orbital ATK

If you live along the East Coast, it’s your lucky night. You just might have a ringside seat for a spectacular night launch to the space station. Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares rocket will lift off at 7:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia coast. Assuming good weather, Antares will dispatch a Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS). For those not living in the viewing zone, you can watch the launch live on NASA TV beginning at 6:45 p.m. EDT.

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft on board, is seen on launch Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station will deliver more than 5,100 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft on board, is seen on the launch pad Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station will deliver a Cygnus cargo ship filled with more than 5,100 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the space station’s crew this Sunday. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Cygnus is loaded with about 5,100 pounds of science investigations, food, supplies and hardware for the space station and its crew. When Cygnus arrives to the ISS on Sunday, Oct. 23, two astronauts will use the station’s robotic arm to grapple the spacecraft. After capture, ground controllers will command the station’s arm to rotate and install the Cygnus ship, dubbed the S.S. Alan Poindexter, on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.

Cygnus Orbital ATK OA-6 on a ULA Atlas V Rocket launches from Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). Spectators watch a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lift off carrying an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft to begin the CRS-6 mission. Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky
Spectators watch a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lift off carrying an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS this past March. Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The Cygnus spacecraft will spend about five weeks attached to the space station. When it departs in late November, it will be packed with several tons of trash and used in a fire safety experiment as it burns up in the atmosphere during re-entry.  While Cygnus is in orbit and before it docks, I hope to get times when we can watch it “chase” the space station across the night sky in a game or orbital cat and mouse the next few nights. As soon I know, you will too.

2 Responses

  1. Robert Brazys

    Hi Astro Bob! Great article – is it possible that I was able to see the trail left by this rocket launch from the suburbs of Chicago last night?! There was a vertical, very long lasting contrail that hung in front of the moon as it rose last night – seems like a long shot, but not sure what else it would have been. Thanks, Regular Bob

    1. astrobob

      Hi Robert,
      Thanks for your kind words. Chances are it was a local airplane contrail since Chicago is 900 miles from the Virginia coast. It would almost certainly have been below your horizon.

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