JOHNSON SPACE CENTER — A commercial cargo ship carrying everything from small satellites to ants will depart for the International Space Station today.
The 12:30 p.m. launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia marks the first official NASA delivery mission for Orbital Sciences Corporation, following a successful demonstration mission in September.
Orbital’s Antares rocket will blast the company’s Cygnus spacecraft into orbit for a rendezvous Sunday with the space station.
The craft will deliver 2,780 pounds of supplies, including fluid for robotic satellites and a variety of science experiments, such as tests for advanced electronics.
The Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus Science Insert — “Ants in Space” for short — will study swarm intelligence by comparing the behavior of ants in microgravity with the insects’ earthbound counterparts.
The educational project will allow grade school students on Earth to study videos of the ants in space as part of class curriculum.
Spare parts, clothing and other equipment for the Expedition 38 crew are also onboard.
Originally scheduled for mid-December, the Cygnus launch was postponed after astronauts were forced to conduct a series of spacewalks to repair a faulty cooling pump on the station.
When the craft reaches the orbiting laboratory Sunday, crew members will use the station’s giant robotic arm to lock the craft into place. The craft will eventually be filled with trash and other unneeded equipment before it is detached and sent to be destroyed returning through the Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA’s $1.9 billion commercial resupply services contract with Orbital calls for the private company to conduct eight delivery missions through 2016.
The Atlas rocket carrying the Cygnus craft will be the second commercial launch of the year. SpaceX, which has developed a competing craft to carry out NASA deliveries to the space station, launched a commercial Thai satellite into orbit Monday.
NASA will broadcast live coverage of today’s launch starting at noon at nasa.gov/nasatv.