ULA To Launch Cygnus Cargo Missions To ISS

United Launch Alliance will be launching Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus capsule to the International Space Station. Image Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation

United Launch Alliance will be launching Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus capsule to the International Space Station. Image Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation

December 9, 2014 – United Launch Alliance (ULA) has signed a contract with Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orbital) to launch up to two cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.

“We could not be more honored that Orbital selected ULA to launch its Cygnus spacecraft,” said Jim Sponnick, vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “This mission was awarded in a highly competitive environment, and we look forward to continuing ULA’s long history of providing reliable, cost-effective launch services for customers.”

The first mission is set to lift off in late 2015 aboard an Atlas V 401 vehicle from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. If required by Orbital, the second mission would be targeted for 2016.

“Orbital is pleased to partner with ULA for these important cargo missions to the International Space Station,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Orbital executive vice president and general manager of its Advanced Programs Group. “ULA’s ability to integrate and launch missions on relatively short notice demonstrates ULA’s manifest flexibility and responsiveness to customer launch needs.”

Orbital announced its go-forward plans today. In formulating its plans, the company’s primary objective is to fulfill its commitment to NASA for ISS cargo deliveries with high levels of safety and reliability and minimum disruption to schedules. These plans are expected to allow Orbital to accomplish all remaining cargo deliveries under its current Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA by the end of 2016 and with no cost increase to the space agency.

Orbital’s October Antares rocket failure damaged the Wallops, Virginia launch complex. Current plans call for repairs to be substantially completed by the fall of 2015, with recertification taking place before year end.

Orbital has also confirmed its ability to accelerate the introduction of a new main propulsion system for the Antares rocket and has scheduled three additional CRS launches in the first, second and fourth quarters of 2016 using the upgraded vehicle. The greater payload performance of the upgraded Antares will permit Cygnus spacecraft on each of these missions to deliver over 20% more cargo than in prior plans.

With necessary supplier contracts now in place, the first new propulsion systems are expected to arrive at the Antares final assembly facility at Wallops Island, Virginia in mid-2015 to begin vehicle integration and testing.

The flexibility of Orbital’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft to accommodate heavier cargo loads, together with the greater lift capacity of the Atlas V and upgraded Antares vehicles, will allow the company to complete all currently contracted ISS deliveries in four missions instead of the five previously planned flights over the next two years.

ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno has stated his desire to work closely with commercial customers, as well as traditional government and military clients, to bring the cost of launches down for everyone.