After a burst of smoke and column of flame, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sunday lifted off the cargo-laden Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft onto an orbital path for a rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) on December 9 to deliver grocery such as scientific experiments and supplies to its six-person crew of astronauts.
The lift-off took place on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 4:44:56 p.m. EST, the Atlas V pushed its payload through the low, thick air over Florida and the Atlantic Ocean before the 106-foot-long first stage spent its propellants and fell away allowing the Centaur upper stage to finish the flight into orbit.
The enhanced Cygnus is carrying more than 7,000 pounds of materials to help dozens of research works along with equipment for spacewalks and air tanks for the station’s atmosphere. This is the first flight in a series that will include a crew change in addition to a Russian Progress cargo craft leaving and another one coming to the station.
"This is the beginning of an extremely busy time on station," said Kirk Shireman of NASA. "There are 324 investigations during this increment pair."
It took only moments for the 191-foot-tall booster to lift the spacecraft off the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida adjacent to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to begin a steady, accelerating ascent into space, tat was aired live on NASA TV on Sunday.
The launch marked the first time the workhorse Atlas V launch vehicle was used to send a spacecraft to the ISS and in the near future, Boeing and United Launch Alliance plan to use the Atlas V to launch astronauts to the station in the CST-100 Starliner for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The other private space operator SpaceX is also preparing its own launcher/spacecraft combination – Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon – to carry astronauts to the station in the near future.