The Antares rocket which is owned by Orbital ATK Inc blasted off on October 17, 2016, at 2340 GMT (7:45 p.m. EDT) carrying the cargo ship with supplies to the International Space Station. It was a big moment for the Space Agency since it marked the booster rockets return to active flight after the previous version exploded at liftoff, two years ago.
The unmanned rocket blasted off from Wallops Island, Virginia, at 7:45 p.m. EDT and features two new Russian-made engines. The launch was delayed by five minutes to let the technicians go through one more check of the critical components. The 14 storey tall rocket carried the Cygnus capsule which was loaded with two and a half tonnes of fresh supplies, equipment and science experiments to the $100 billion ISS, the farthest manned outpost of humanity.
The ISS is presently orbiting the Earth at the height of 400 kilometres. The capsule will attach itself with the ISS after lingering for a few days to allow the Russian Soyuz capsule carrying the three new crew members to reach the outpost on Friday. The Russian capsule is scheduled for launch on Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The previous Antares launch, which ended in disaster took place on October 28, 2014. The booster which featured a refurbished Soviet Era engine exploded a few seconds after launch. The accident forced Orbital to speed up plans to replace the motors.
Orbital had to buy two rides of its Cygnus cargo ship aboard the Atlas rocket which was built and launched by United Launch Alliance which was a joint Space Agency with Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co having equal stakes.
Earlier Orbital had conducted a static 30 seconds test firing of the Antares at the Virginia launch pad on May 31 but had never flown a rocket featuring the new engines from Russia. The success of the launch was even more important for the US space agency after an accident destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket which was operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The accident also destroyed a $200 million Israeli communication satellite.