Antares ‘Return to Flight’ Blastoff Soars to Stellar Success

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – The ‘Return to Flight’ blastoff of Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares rocket soared to a stellar success this evening, Oct. 17, on a space station bound mission to stock the orbiting outpost with two and a half tons of science and supplies. The re-engined Orbital ATK Antares/Cygnus OA-5 mission lifted […]

The post Antares ‘Return to Flight’ Blastoff Soars to Stellar Success appeared first on Universe Today.

NASA Targets ‘Return to Flight’ of Upgraded Antares for mid- October for Station Resupply

Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft blasts off on July 13  2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility , VA, on the Orb-2 mission and loaded with over 3000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the crew aboard the International Space Station.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

NASA is targeting mid-October for the ‘Return to Flight’ launch of the upgraded Orbital ATK Antares rocket on a cargo mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

In light of the grounding of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon cargo flights following the catastrophic Sept.1 launch pad disaster, this Orbital ATK mission becomes more critical than ever to keep that station stocked and fully operational for the resident crews.

NASA and Orbital ATK announced that the re-engined Antares will launch during a five-day launch window that opens no earlier than October 9-13, 2016 on the OA-5 Cygnus cargo mission from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern shore.

“A more specific date will be identified upon completion of final operational milestones and technical reviews,” according to statements from NASA and Orbital ATK.

If Antares launches on Oct. 9, liftoff is set 10:47 p.m. EDT and becomes progressively earlier on succeeding days. The launch time moves up to 9:13 p.m. EDT on Oct. 13.

If the launch takes place during this window, it will mark the first truly nighttime launch for Antares from Virgina.

“The arrival and berthing of Cygnus to the International Space Station will be determined by the exact launch date and in coordination with other space station activities,” says NASA.

For the OA-5 mission, the Cygnus advanced maneuvering spacecraft will carry approximately 2,400 kg (5,290 lbs.) of supplies and science experiments for the International Space Station (ISS).

Under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 28,700 kilograms of cargo to the space station. OA-5 is the sixth of these missions.

The post NASA Targets ‘Return to Flight’ of Upgraded Antares for mid- October for Station Resupply appeared first on Universe Today.

Antares Return to Flight Launch Likely Slips to August, Cygnus Completes Atmospheric Reentry

Antares rocket stands erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before the first night launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The long awaited maiden launch of Orbital ATK’s revamped Antares commercial rocket utilizing new first stage engines, from its Virginia launch base, will likely slip from July to August, a company spokesperson confirmed to Universe Today.

The target date for the ‘Return to Flight’ launch of Antares on a cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) is “likely to result in an updated launch schedule in the August timeframe,” Orbital ATK spokeswoman Sean Wilson told Universe Today.

The company had most recently been aiming towards an Antares launch date around July 6 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility – for its next NASA contracted mission to stock the ISS via the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter on a flight known as OA-5.

Meanwhile the firms most recently launched Cygnus OA-6 cargo ship departed the space station and completed its planned destructive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere on Wednesday, June 22.

But before Orbital ATK can resume Antares/Cygnus cargo flights to the ISS, it had to successfully hurdle through a critically important milestone on the path to orbit – namely a static hot fire test of the significantly modified first stage to confirm that its qualified for launch.

To that end the aerospace firm recently completed a successful 30 second long test firing of the re-engined first stage on May 31 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Launch Pad 0A – as I reported here earlier.

A thorough analysis of the hot fire test results and its implications is underway.
“Our Antares team recently completed a successful stage test and is wrapping up the test data analysis,” Wilson said.

“Final trajectory shaping work is also currently underway, which is likely to result in an updated launch schedule in the August timeframe.”

In the meantime, company engineers continue to ready the rocket and payload.

“We are continuing to prepare for the upcoming launch of the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft for the OA-5 cargo logistics mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility,” Wilson noted.

It’s also clear that a decision on a launch date target is some weeks away.

“A final decision on the mission schedule, which takes into account the space station traffic schedule and cargo requirements, will be made in conjunction with NASA in the next several weeks.”

And it also must take into account the launch of the intervening SpaceX ISS cargo flight that was just postponed two days to no earlier than July 18.

Antares launches had immediately ground to a halt following a devastating launch failure 20 months ago which destroyed the rocket and its critical payload of space station science and supplies for NASA in a huge fireball just seconds after blastoff – as witnessed by this author.

As a direct result consequence of the catastrophic launch disaster, Orbital STK managers decided to outfit the Antares medium-class rocket with new first stage RD-181 engines built in Russia.

The RD-181 replaces the previously used AJ26 engines which failed moments after liftoff during the last launch on Oct. 28, 2014 resulting in a catastrophic loss of the rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter.

The RD-181 flight engines are built by Energomash in Russia and had to be successfully tested via the static hot fire test to ensure their readiness.

As a result of switching to the new RD-181 engines, the first stage also had to be modified to incorporate new thrust adapter structures, actuators, and propellant feed lines between the engines and core stage structure, Mike Pinkston, Orbital ATK General Manager and Vice President, Antares Program told me in a prior interview.

So the primary goal of the stage test was to confirm the effectiveness of the new engines and all the changes in the integrated rocket stage.

It’s not entirely clear at this time whether the Antares launch delay to August is due to changes in the ISS manifest scheduling or any lingering questions from the hot fire test or both.

“A final decision on the mission schedule definitely takes into account the completion of data analysis combined with the busy space station traffic schedule and NASA’s cargo requirements,” Wilson told me in a response requesting clarification.

Following a quick look immediately following the May 31 test, Orbital ATK officials initially reported that all seemed well, with the caveat that further data review is needed.

“Early indications show the upgraded propulsion system, core stage and launch complex all worked together as planned,” said Mike Pinkston, Orbital ATK General Manager and Vice President, Antares Program.

“Congratulations to the combined NASA, Orbital ATK and Virginia Space team on a successful test.”

Orbital ATK engineers will now “review test data over the next several days to confirm that all test parameters were met. ”

The test used the first stage core planned to launch the OA-7 mission from Wallops late this year.

With the engine test is completed, the OA-7 stage will be rolled back to the HIF hanger at Wallops and a new stage fully integrated with the Cygnus cargo freighter will be rolled out to the pad for the OA-5 ‘Return to Flight’ mission in August.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Antares Return to Flight Launch Likely Slips to August, Cygnus Completes Atmospheric Reentry appeared first on Universe Today.

Cygnus Cargo Craft Comes Together for Space Station ‘Return to Flight’ Blastoff in December

The biggest and heaviest Cygnus commercial cargo craft ever built by Orbital ATK is coming together at the Kennedy Space Center as the launch pace picks up steam for its critical ‘Return to Flight’ resupply mission to the space station for NASA. Cygnus is on target for an early December blastoff from Florida and the […]

Catastrophic Failure Dooms Antares Launch to Space Station – Gallery

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Moments after a seemingly glorious liftoff, an Orbital Sciences Corp. commercial Antares rocket suffered a catastrophic failure and exploded into a spectacular aerial fireball over the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia that doomed the mission bound for the International Space Station […]

Stray Boater Delays Antares Launch to Tuesday

A Monday launch attempt for the third Orbital Sciences cargo mission to the International Space Station was scrubbed because a boat strayed into restricted waters southeast of the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. The Antares rocket, carrying the Cygnus capsule would have flown over the boater had the rocket lifted off and officials cited […]

Stray Boater Delays Antares Launch to Tuesday

A Monday launch attempt for the third Orbital Sciences cargo mission to the International Space Station was scrubbed because a boat strayed into restricted waters southeast of the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. The Antares rocket, carrying the Cygnus capsule would have flown over the boater had the rocket lifted off and officials cited […]

Stray Boater Delays Antares Launch to Tuesday

A Monday launch attempt for the third Orbital Sciences cargo mission to the International Space Station was scrubbed because a boat strayed into restricted waters southeast of the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. The Antares rocket, carrying the Cygnus capsule would have flown over the boater had the rocket lifted off and officials cited […]

Stray Boater Delays Antares Launch to Tuesday

A Monday launch attempt for the third Orbital Sciences cargo mission to the International Space Station was scrubbed because a boat strayed into restricted waters southeast of the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. The Antares rocket, carrying the Cygnus capsule would have flown over the boater had the rocket lifted off and officials cited […]

Stray Boater Delays Antares Launch to Tuesday

A Monday launch attempt for the third Orbital Sciences cargo mission to the International Space Station was scrubbed because a boat strayed into restricted waters southeast of the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. The Antares rocket, carrying the Cygnus capsule would have flown over the boater had the rocket lifted off and officials cited […]