Friday, October 21, 2016

Orbital ATK's Successful Rocket Launch Enables it to Supply the ISS Again

The International Space Station (ISS) currently houses three astronauts: one each from Russia, Japan, and the United States. Those astronauts live and do research in the floating structure 250 miles above the Earth, and as such, need a steady supply of food and equipment to stay alive. Two years ago, on October 28, 2014, an unmanned Antares rocket from a company called Orbital ATK exploded on takeoff, destroying the rocket, launch pad, and the entire shipment of supplies. Fortunately, Orbital ATK seems to be making a return to the market. Just this week, as detailed in an article by the Associated Press of the L.A. Times, a newly rebuilt Antares rocket took flight, carrying over 5,000 pounds of food and other supplies for the astronauts on the ISS.

The rocket's flight was in view for watchers throughout the East Coast, as far north as Boston and as far south as Charleston.  Besides the fact that the renovations and repairs cost over $15 million, the engineers of Orbital ATK were very relieved when the rocket launch was successful. because it meant that they could get back into the business of supplying the ISS. Over the past two years, since Orbital ATK was out of commission, NASA's sole source of supplies was SpaceX. When the American space program first ended in 2011, government-owned shuttles were forced into retirement, which gave SpaceX and Orbital ATK room to take over.

Orbital ATK was doubtful about its ability to launch over the past few weeks, due mainly to the hurricane weather in the region, but the success of their rocket has brought the company back on track. Analysts expect that the next space-related venture to be commercialized will be flights to transport crew members of the ISS. NASA also hopes to get astronauts to Mars by the 2030s, which would mean the next goal for companies like SpaceX would be commercialized transport to Mars and other planets in the future. Orbital ATK's newly regained ability to send rockets into space has granted the company a spot in the competition for control of a future commercialized form of interplanetary travel.

The payload of supplies released by the Antares rocket, stored in a Cygnus capsule, is currently orbiting the Earth, waiting a few days before it will break free of the orbit and make it all the way to the space station. The reason for the delay is that a new crew of three astronauts is set to launch from Kazakhstan this week, and NASA wants to give them a little bit of time to get settled on the ISS before they have to immediately begin unpacking supplies and beginning the experiments. Especially because their last rocket exploded before it ever left the ground, many people were wary that a similar outcome could be expected this time. The success of Orbital ATK's rocket speaks volumes for their position in the future market of commercialized space transportation.

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