Antares NG-15 Launches from the Virginia Coast

At 12:36 PM Est February 20th, 2020. Atop an Antares rocket from LP-0 from the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport

We are used to the normalcy of SpaceX and ULA launching numerous rockets through out the year down at Cape Canaveral, few realize that NASA has another launch facility in Northern Virginia on Wallops Island. Home to the Antares rocket.The Antares rocket sits unflinching atop it’s perch at NASA’s MARS (Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport) facility. Previously called the Taurus II, Antares is an expendable launch vehicle specially made to launch the Cygnus Spacecraft. It is the largest of all Northrop Grumman’s launch vehicles standing just 133ft tall and 13ft wide. Making it’s debut launch in 2013, the Antares has only suffered one failure. In 2014 a problem with the first stage engine caused the rocket’s first and second stage along with the payload to suffer a catastrophic failure, obliterating the entire rocket. After a complete overhaul to the program the next generation Antares was born and began launching in 2016.

Lift off. Photo by: Derek Wise – NHS

On top of Antares sits, Northrop Grumman’s resupply spacecraft “Cygnus” which is headed to the ISS (International Space Station) today. For it’s fifteenth launch, and fourteenth trip to the ISS under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. This mission is bringing 8,000lbs of supplies, hardware and scientific research to the Space Station. Northrop Grumman names each spacecraft after individuals who have made substantial contributions to the U.S. human space flight program. NG-15 is named Katherine Johnson, in honor of the NASA mathematician and black woman who delivered critical calculations to numerous human spaceflight missions, and broke through many racial, and gender barriers during her time at NASA. In May of 1962, when American Alan Shepard made our first launch to orbit, it was because of her trajectory analysis. In 1962 when it was time for John Glenn to make his launch, Katherine was called up to do what she would become best known for. As part of his preflight checklist, Glenn asked the engineers to “get the Girl” so that Katherine Johnson could run the same numbers through the same equations that their IBM computers had done, by hand. “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go” Glenn was reported to say. Johnson would go on to work on the calculations that helped NASA’s Project Apollo’s Lunar Module synch with the Command and Service Module. She then worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Technology Satellite program. She retired in 1986 after working at Langley for 33 years. In 2015, then President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, The highest civilian honor in America. Katherine died on Feb. 24, 2020. “Our NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old. She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten.” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the morning of her passing.

Photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

Today her legacy lives on, now that her spacecraft has lifted off from Wallops Island, Virginia it will remain docked at the International Space Station for approximately three months before departing with with up to 8,200lbs of disposable cargo. As the Cygnus capsule does not have any return capabilities it will be loaded with obsolete equipment and trash that will burn up as it reenters Earths atmosphere, much like the Russian “Progress” vehicles.

For the mission NG-15 will again be used a science platform in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) for several different customers. When it departs from the Space Station it will deploy a variety of CubeSats, via a Slingshot deployer and a Nanoracks deployer. Some of these include Dhabisat, the second Cubesat developed by Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi. It was developed in part with Northrop Grumman and the United Arab Emrites satellite operator Al Yah Satellite. There will also be thirty secondary payloads, called ThinSats. Built by students from seventy schools across nine states, (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, North Caroline, South Caroline, Virginia, and West Virginia) for the ThinSats program. This program is a science, and technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach program.