Station Taxi Flight Bumps Cargo Spaceship Arrival

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Wednesday’s scheduled launch and speedy arrival of three new crewmembers to the International Space Station will delay the rendezvous and docking of Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo ship until Saturday.

The company, one of two hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station following the retirement of the space shuttles, had hoped to fly its demonstration Cygnus ship to the station on Sunday but a software problem prompted a delay until Tuesday.

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Engineers have developed and tested a software patch to fix the glitch, but attempting a rendezvous and docking on Tuesday would cut it too close to the Wednesday night arrival of a Russian Soyuz capsule carrying three new station crewmembers, officials said on Monday.

Typically, the station needs at least 48 hours between spacecraft dockings.

“This new schedule will allow the Orbital operations team to carefully plan and be well-rested before restarting the critical final approach to the space station. Meanwhile, Cygnus has all the resources needed to remain in orbit for an extended period of time,” Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s executive vice president, said in a statement.

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Cygnus, one of two cargo ships developed in partnership with NASA, blasted off on its debut mission on Wednesday aboard an unmanned Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia. Orbital Sciences plans to return to the station in December with the first of eight cargo hauls under a $1.9 billion NASA contract.

Image: A Soyuz rocket is rolled out to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday. Liftoff of a Soyuz capsule with three new space station crewmembers is scheduled for 4:58 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, with docking to follow about six hours later. Credit: Carla Cioffi/NASA

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