Cygnus Spacecraft Chasing Down The International Space Station

The Cygnus spacecraft is chasing down the International Space Station (ISS). The privately owned cargo vessel, built by Orbital Sciences, will dock with the orbiting space station on Sunday.

Cygnus blasted off for the first time on Wednesday aboard its Antares rocket. The inaugural mission to the ISS is meant to show that the unmanned spacecraft is ready to deliver cargo to the orbiting science lab.

Space News reports that NASA officials called Wednesday’s launch “picture perfect.” The chase phase is also going well, according to an update from Orbital Sciences officials on Friday.

Cygnus still has some work to do before it catches up to the International Space Station on Sunday morning. It needs to go through 10 maneuvers to prove to NASA it can safely fly up to the orbiting lab. The unmanned craft performed two by Friday and the other eight will happen early Sunday morning.

Once the formality is out of the way, NBC News notes that early bird skywatchers will get their shot at seeing the Cygnus spacecraft as it chases down the International Space Station.

The space station takes about 93 minutes to orbit the Earth. The unmanned spacecraft trailed the ISS by 35 minutes on Wednesday after its launch. By Friday morning, the gap diminished to less than five minutes. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, the gap will be one minute or less.


Weather permitting, it will be possible for observers to see both objects at the same time. The space station will appear first, followed by the Orbital Sciences cargo ship. Because the International Space Station is the size of a football field and includes massive, wing like solar arrays, it isn’t too hard to spot with the naked eye. However, Cygnus is much smaller.

Interested in seeing Cygnus chase the International Space Station? Chris Peat’s Heavens Above, NASA SkyWatch, and can all give you the best viewing schedule for the ISS. This site will also tell you real-time satellite tracking data, showing at any given time where the ISS or Cygnus is.

For additional fun, Space News will broadcast live the docking of Cygnus with the International Space Station. Coverage begins at 4:30 am EDT on Sunday.

[Image by NASA/Bill Ingalls via Wikimedia Commons]