A shipment of much-needed groceries and supplies has been sent to the crew currently orbiting Earth on the International Space Station (ISS). This is the first shipment sent in months, and if it arrives safe and sound on Wednesday it will be the first successful shipment from the U.S. since the spring.
The supply mission was possible thanks to the combined efforts of Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance (ULA). The latter provided the Atlas V rocket that launched the cargo, while Orbital ATK constructed Cygnus, the automated cargo spacecraft.
Cygnus normally flies on Orbital's Antares rocket. However, the last attempted launch of an Antares rocket, in October 2014, saw the rocket explode seconds after lift-off. The Antares fleet remains grounded while investigations continue, which is why an Atlas V was used this time. Indeed, 2015 has been a difficult year for the supply runs to the ISS; both Russia and Space X (the other commercial supplier to the ISS) have also lost supplies this year.
The Cygnus is carrying clothes, toiletries, spacewalking gear, air-supply tanks, materials needed for experiments, and even a pair of Raspberry Pi computers, as well as food. Due to the two failed re-supply missions the astronauts are down to the last two months' worth of food, reports the Associated Press. NASA prefers to have six months' worth of supplies kept in the pantry of the ISS, but the three failed missions have forced this rule to be scrapped.
Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, said in a statement: “This mission is delivering more than 7,000 pounds [3,200 kilograms] of cargo including supplies for the crew and critical materials supporting science and research investigations.” The research materials will be used by astronauts during Expeditions 45 and 46.
Check out a video replay of the launch below.