CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A space station delivery mission was called off Monday, just hours after the orbiting lab had to sidestep a piece of treacherous junk.
Orbital Sciences Corp. got to within the 10-minute mark for the Virginia launch of its unmanned Cygnus capsule. But a sailboat ended up in the restricted danger zone, and controllers halted the evening countdown. The Virginia-based company will try again tonight.
Early Monday afternoon, space station flight controllers steered the complex and its six inhabitants away from satellite wreckage. The debris – part of an old, destroyed Russian satellite – would have passed within two-tenths of a mile of the station if not for the maneuver.
Mission Control was informed of the space junk over the weekend. It is wreckage from a Kosmos satellite that was launched in 1993 and collided with an Iridium spacecraft in 2009.
Orbital Sciences Corp.’s unmanned Cygnus capsule – on the pad at Wallops Island, Virginia – holds 5,000 pounds of cargo for NASA, including 32 mini research satellites, a meteor tracker and a tank of high-pressure nitrogen to replenish a vestibule used by spacewalking astronauts.
Traffic is heavy these days 260 miles up.
Just Saturday, a Dragon cargo ship supplied by the California-based SpaceX company – its fifth – departed the space station after a monthlong visit and splashed into the Pacific with a load of precious science samples.
On Wednesday, a Russian cargo ship is set to rocket into orbit from Kazakhstan and arrive at the space station the same day.
This is the fourth space station delivery for the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences. Each one honors a deceased person linked to the company or commercial spaceflight; this one pays tribute to Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton, who led a rocket company until his death in 1993. As a retro-style homage, Orbital Sciences flight controllers wore short-sleeved white shirts and skinny black ties.
NASA is paying Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to make regular space station deliveries.
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