Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares launch vehicle, carrying the Cygnus cargo vessel made an picture perfect liftoff this morning to mark the beginning of its COTS D1 Demonstration mission to the International Space Station. With good weather and no issues, the two stage Antares blasted off at 10:58 A.M. EDT from Pad-0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, carrying 1,300 lbs. of supplies to the orbiting outpost. Following a “nominal” burn of the liquid oxygen / kerosene first stage powered by two Russian built NK-33 engines, modernized and improved by Aerojet and re-designated AJ-26, the booster performed a successful stage separation, fairing separation and subsequent ignition of the ATK supplied Castor 30 solid rocket powered second stage. With its twin solar arrays deployed and the spacecraft fully powered, the Cygnus, which is named “Spaceship G. David Low” in honor of the three time Shuttle astronaut and Orbital Sciences Exec who passed away in 2008, will now begin a four day pursuit of the ISS over the course of which it perform a series of demonstrations designed to insure that once it enters the immediate vicinity of the Station, it can conduct a safe approach and prepare for berthing. Today’s launch marks the second successful flight of the Antares booster, and assuming the rest of the mission goes as smoothly, a fantastic finish to NASA’s Commercial Orbital Demonstration Program (COTS) which has seen the U.S. establish two completely independent re-supply systems for ISS with historically minimal taxpayer investment.