Cygnus vs. Dragon: How two private spaceships compare.
If all goes well with Wednesday's launch, the Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft will be the second private American spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. How does the Cygnus stack up against its rival, SpaceX's Dragon capsule?
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SpaceX is contracted to fly 12 missions to the space station using Dragon and the Falcon 9 under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.Skip to next paragraph
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How do they stack up?
Cygnus: Orbital Sciences has designed two Cygnus vehicles for different purposes. The standard configuration of the spacecraft's cargo module will have the ability to carry up to 4,409 pounds (2,000 kg) of cargo, while the enhanced version will carry up to 5,952 pounds (2,700 kg) of material, company officials have said.
The mission Wednesday will use the standard configuration and is expected to deliver 1,543 pounds (700 kg) of supplies to the space station. This Cygnus is 17 feet (513.6 cm) tall and will remove up to 2,425 pounds (1,100 kg) of disposable cargo from the station when it leaves about one month after docking.
Dragon: SpaceX's capsule can carry up to 13,228 pounds (6,000 kg) of supplies to the International Space Station. It became the first private American spacecraft to deliver supplies to the orbiting outpost and return cargo back to Earth during its demonstration mission in May 2012.
SpaceX has also already completed two of its 12 contracted supply runs to the International Space Station. Dragon is scheduled to make its third cargo trip for NASA in January 2014.
How do they come back from space?
Cygnus: Once the Cygnus spacecraft undocks from the orbiting lab, it will burn up in Earth's atmosphere. Engineers on the ground will guide the capsule into a "destructive re-entry" above the South Pacific Ocean, according to Orbital Sciences officials.
Dragon: SpaceX's ship is the only spacecraft flying today with the ability to return substantial amounts of cargo to the Earth from the International Space Station, company officials have said. The capsule can safely return 6,614 pounds (3,000 kg) of supplies, experiments and other material to Earth.
The last Dragon to dock with the International Space Station splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Mexico on March 25 with more than 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of cargo aboard.
NASA will hold a press conference today at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) to discuss Wednesday's Cygnus launch to the International Space Station. You can follow that briefing live on SPACE.com, as well as the launch. SPACE.com partner Spaceflight now is also offering updates via its Cygnus Mission Status Center, which will also include a launch webcast.
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