Antares launches Cygnus spacecraft to ISS

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Antares launches Cygnus spacecraft to ISS
Antares launches Cygnus spacecraft to ISS

Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket has launched a Cygnus spacecraft on Sunday, beginning the company’s CRS-8 Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff, from Launch Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, came after Saturday’s attempt was scrubbed due to a plane in the hazard area.

The Asgardia-1 satellite, which is roughly the size of a loaf of bread, is the product of an effort organized by Russian scientist Igor Ashurbeyli. It’ll store thousands of files uploaded by online fans who have signed up as Asgardia’s “citizens.”

Ashurbeyli, who attended today’s launch at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, has said Asgardia-1 will be the foundation stone for a network of satellites independent of the world’s nations. “The Asgardia space kingdom has now established its sovereign territory in space,” the project’s website proclaimed.

Legal experts say the sovereignty claim is highly questionable, considering that satellite operations have to comply with the terms of Asgardia’s application to the Federal Communications Commission.

Asgardia-1 is among 14 pint-sized satellites that are due to be deployed from Cygnus after it completes its primary mission: delivering cargo to the space station. The bulk of the payload consists of food and equipment for the station’s crew, but there’s also a variety of scientific experiments on board.

One experiment will study the effect of zero gravity on antibiotic resistance, using E. coli bacteria as the experimental subjects. Another will test a miniaturized laser communication system, and yet another will try out a solar-powered radio antenna that’s optimized for nanosatellites.

Cygnus’ payload also includes a camera that Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli will use to shoot virtual-reality video for a National Geographic Channel documentary project.

Orbital ATK’s eighth cargo resupply mission got off the ground at 7:19 a.m. ET (4:19 a.m. PT) today, which was a day later than originally scheduled. Saturday’s launch attempt was called off at literally the last minute when a JetBlue commercial jetliner strayed into restricted airspace.

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