Reborn Antares Raised at Virginia Launch Pad for Crucial May 31 Engine Test

First stage of Orbital ATK Antares rocket outfitted with new RD-181 engines stands erect at Launch Pad-0A on NASA Wallops Flight Facility on May 24, 2016 in preparation for the upcoming May 31 hot fire engine test. Credit:  Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – The soon to be reborn Orbital ATK Antares commercial rocket sporting new first stage engines has been raised at its repaired launch pad on Virginia’s scenic eastern shore for a long awaited test firing of the powerplants. The static test firing is now slated to take place in less than 3 days on Tuesday evening, May 31.

The now revamped launch vehicle – dubbed Antares 230 – has been ‘re-engined’ and upgraded with a pair of modern and more powerful first stage engines – the Russian-built RD-181 fueled by LOX/kerosene.

The engine test will be conducted using only the first stage of Antares at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

The raised rocket with the first stage capped at the top is visible right now at the Wallops pad – as seen in my new photos taken this week.

NASA announced that the static test firing is slated for no earlier than May 31 during a test window that runs from 5 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. EDT. As a contingency, the Wallops range has been reserved for backup test dates that run through June 5 just in case issues crop up.

NASA will not be carrying a live webcast of the test. Rather they will note the completion of the test on the Wallops’ Facebook and Twitter sites.

The test firing will be visible from various public viewing locations in the local Wallops area. However the NASA Wallops Visitor center will not be open.

NASA will not be carrying a live webcast of the test. Rather they will note the completion of the test on the Wallops’ Facebook and Twitter sites.

The test firing will be visible from various public viewing locations in the local Wallops area. However the NASA Wallops Visitor center will not be open.

The test involves firing up Antares dual first stage RD-181 engines at full 100% power (thrust) for a scheduled duration of approximately 30 seconds. Hold down restraints will keep the rocket firmly anchored at the pad during the test.

To prepare for the static hot fire test, Orbital ATK technicians rolled the vehicle on a dedicated multi-wheeled transporter erector launcher from the rockets processing hangar inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A about a mile away.

A successful outcome is absolutely crucial for permitting Antares to carry out its ‘Return to Flight’ launch dubbed OA-5 and set for sometime this summer.

“The hot fire will demonstrate the readiness of the rocket’s first stage and the launch pad fueling systems to support upcoming flights,” said NASA officials.

Antares launches ground to a halt following a devastating launch failure 19 months ago which destroyed the rocket and its payload of space station science and supplies for NASA in a huge fireball.

The ‘Return to Flight’ blastoff – which could come as soon as July 2016 – will be the first for the private Antares rocket since that catastrophic launch failure on Oct. 28, 2014, just seconds after liftoff from Wallops. That flight was carrying Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo freighter on the critical Orb-3 resupply mission for NASA and the astronauts living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch mishap was traced to a failure in the AJ26 first stage engine turbopump and caused Antares launches to immediately grind to a halt.

The RD-181 replaces the AJ26. The flight engines are built by Energomash in Russia.

“They are a good drop in replacement for the AJ26. And they offer 13% higher thrust compared to the AJ26,” said Kurt Eberly, Orbital ATK Antares deputy program manager, in an interview with Universe Today.

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.

“This stage test paradigm is a design verification test, said Eberly.

“After the 30 second test is done we will shut it down and have a pile of data to look at,” Eberly told Universe Today.

“Hopefully it will confirm all our environments and all our models and give us the confidence so we can proceed with the return to flight.”

Technicians have been processing the rocket at the pad to ready it for the test. They also conducted a wet dress rehearsal (WDR) and loaded the propellants like during an actual launch campaign.

The full up engine test follows the WDR.

“After the WDR we will do the stage test,” Eberly explained.

“It is a 30 second test. We will fire up both engines and hit all 3 power levels that we plan to use in flight.”

“We will use the thrust vector controls. So we will move the nozzles and sweep them through sinusoidal sweeps at different frequencies and excite various resonances and look for any adverse interaction between fluid modes and structural modes.”

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

After the engine test is completed, the stage will be rolled back to the HIF 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 as soon as July.

“Orbital ATK is building, testing and flying the Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. NASA initiatives like the cargo resupply contracts are helping develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit,” according to NASA.

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

Ken Kremer

The post Reborn Antares Raised at Virginia Launch Pad for Crucial May 31 Engine Test appeared first on Universe Today.

Streaks Galore as Cygnus Soars Chasing Station for Science; Photos, Videos

Long exposure streak shot of blastoff of United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016, with foreground view of world famous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Atlas V lifted off from nearby Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Alex Polimeni/Spaceflight Now

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Tuesday evening, March 22, turned into ‘streaks galore’ on Florida’s space coast, as the nighttime launch of an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter atop an Atlas V rocket was captured in unforgettable fashion by talented space photographers as it chases down the International Space Station (ISS), loaded with hundreds of science experiments.

Check out this expanding gallery of breathtaking photos and videos collected from many of my photojournalist friends and colleagues – who collectively count as the best space photographers worldwide!

We all descended on the sunshine state to record the Tuesday’s blastoff of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying Orbital ATK’s Cygnus CRS-6 (OA-6) spacecraft from an array of locations ringing Cape Canaveral’s seaside launch pad as well as remote cameras we all set as media directly at the launch pad.

The two stage ULA Atlas V lifted off right on time at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, into a picturesque moonlit sky on a resupply mission to the ISS.

One could not have asked for better weather. Conditions were near perfect at launch time with virtually no winds and clouds.

Cygnus rode to orbit on a fountain of fire. And right now she is in hot pursuit of the million pound orbiting outpost crewed by an international team of six astronauts and cosmonauts.

The streak shots vividly show how the rocket magnificently illuminated the scattered thin clouds hovering over the seaside launch pad as it ascended and arced over eastwards towards Africa.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-6 (OA-6) mission launched aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) in the 401 configuration vehicle. This includes a 4-meter-diameter payload fairing in its longest, extra extended configuration to accommodate the Cygnus.

The first stage of the Atlas V booster is powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. The Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

It was the ULA’s 62nd straight success with the Atlas V as well as the firms third launch in 2016 and the 106th launch since the company formed in 2006.

The Cygnus CRS-6 (OA-6) mission is being launched under terms of the firm’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. It also counts as Orbital ATK’s fifth cargo delivery mission to the space station.

Watch these launch videos from remote video cameras set right at the launch pad showing the full fury of liftoff sounding off with the deafening thunder of some one million pounds of liftoff thrust.

https://youtu.be/FQKO__OUngw

Video caption: Flame trench view of the Orbital/ATK OA-6 resupply module launch to the ISS on a ULA Atlas 5 rocket from Pad 41 of the CCAFS on March 22, 2016. Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

https://youtu.be/Flf6hNwZ_2I

Video caption: Mobius video camera placed at Florida launch pad captures blastoff up close of Orbital ATK OA-6 (CRS-6) mission riding to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016 at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

OA-6 is loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware to the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

The post Streaks Galore as Cygnus Soars Chasing Station for Science; Photos, Videos appeared first on Universe Today.

Stunning Nighttime Cygnus Freighter Rockets to ISS Stocked with Science Mesmerizing Spectators

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying a Cygnus resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff was at 11:05 p.m. EDT on March 22, 2016.  The spacecraft will deliver 7,500 pounds of supplies, science payloads and experiments.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A stunningly beautiful nighttime launch mesmerized delighted spectators as it roared off a Florida space coast launch pad late Tuesday night, March 22, on a mission for NASA stocked with over three tons of science and supplies bound for the multinational crews working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocketed raced to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying an enlarged Cygnus commercial resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the ISS.

The venerable Atlas V lifted off right on target at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 into a picturesque moonlit sky that magnificently illuminated the scattered thin clouds hovering over the seaside launch pad for the hordes of excited folks and families lining the beaches and lucky to witness what may be history’s last launch of a Cygnus from Florida.

Future liftoffs of the private Orbital ATK Cygnus supply truck designed to stock the station will return to their original launch site on Virginia’s eastern shore starting with the next mission for their NASA customer sometime this summer.

Cygnus launches to the ISS normally start from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

But a catastrophic failure of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket moments after liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014, forced Orbital to seek and book an alternative launch vehicle while the company redesigned and reengined Antares first stage with new powerful powerplants for the ride to orbit.

The Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the station on Saturday, March 26, at which time Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) will grapple Cygnus, using the space station’s robotic arm, at approximately 6:40 a.m. NASA TV coverage of rendezvous and grapple will begin at 5:30 a.m.

The commercial Cygnus cargo freighter was built by Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, Virginia.

The Cygnus has been named the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rick Husband, the late commander of Space Shuttle Columbia, which was tragically lost with its crew of seven NASA astronauts during re-entry on its final flight on Feb. 1, 2003.

This flight is also known as OA-6 and is being launched under terms of the firm’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. It also counts as Orbital ATK’s fifth cargo delivery mission to the space station.

OA-6 is loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware to the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

About a quarter of the cargo is devoted to science and research gear. The cargo includes 3279 kg of science investigations, 1139 kg of crew supplies, 1108 kg of vehicle hardware, 157 kg of spacewalk equipment, and 98 kg of computer resources.
Here a NASA description of a few of the scientific highlights:

– Gecko Gripper, testing a mechanism similar to the tiny hairs on geckos’ feet that lets them stick to surfaces using an adhesive that doesn’t wear off,

– Strata-1, designed to evaluate how soil on small, airless bodies such as asteroids behaves in microgravity.

– Meteor, an instrument to evaluate from space the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. The instrument is being re-flown following its loss on earlier supply missions.

– Saffire, which will set a large fire inside the Cygnus in an unprecedented study to see how large fires behave in space. The research is vital to selecting systems and designing procedures future crews of long-duration missions can use for fighting fires.

– Cygnus is carrying more than two dozen nanosatellites that will be ejected from either the spacecraft or the station at various times during the mission to evaluate a range of technology and science including Earth observations.

Here a cool video prelaunch look at Cygnus and me in the NASA Kennedy Space Center clean room discussing the Meteor experiment:

https://youtu.be/3BVjJE799vM

Video Credit: Thaddeus Cesari/VideoShampoo.com

When the ISS Expedition 47 crew members open the hatch, they will be greeted with a sign noting the spacecraft was named ‘SS Rick Husband’ in honor of the STS-107 mission commander.

Cygnus will spend approximately two months docked at the ISS.

OA-6 is only the second Cygnus to be launched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, following the OA-4 mission last December.

The CRS-6/OA-6 flight is also the second flight of the enhanced Cygnus variant, that is over 1 meter longer and sports 50% more volume capability.

Thus it is capable of carrying a much heavier payload of some 3500 kg (7700 lbs) vs. a maximum of 2300 kg (5070 lbs) for the standard version.

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

The post Stunning Nighttime Cygnus Freighter Rockets to ISS Stocked with Science Mesmerizing Spectators appeared first on Universe Today.

Next Cygnus Cargo Freighter Named in Honor of Columbia’s Last Commander Rick Husband

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being prepared for the upcoming Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. The Cygnus was named SS Rick Husband in honor of the commander of the STS-107 mission. On that flight, the crew of the space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The next Cygnus cargo resupply ship targeted to blastoff for the International Space Station (ISS) on March 22, has been named the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rick Husband, the late commander of Space Shuttle Columbia, which was tragically lost with its crew of seven NASA astronauts during re-entry on its final flight on Feb. 1, 2003.

The ‘S.S. Rick Husband’ was announced as the Cygnus delivery vessels name by former astronaut Dan Tani, now senior director of Missions and Cargo Operations for Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia, during a media briefing in the clean room processing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Rick was a very accomplished astronaut, and a devoted husband and father,” said Tani.

The commercial Cygnus cargo freighter was built by Orbital ATK, based in Dulles, Virginia.

Christened the S.S. Rick Husband, the spacecraft is a tribute to NASA astronaut Col. Rick Husband, of U.S. Air Force, who served as commander of Columbia’s STS-107 mission. The mission and all aboard were lost as Columbia disintegrated due to the effects of reentry heating into the Earth’s atmosphere high over Texas.

“We are proud to unveil the name of our #OA6 #Cygnus spacecraft—the S.S. Rick Husband, in honor of the late astronaut,” added Orbital ATK in a statement.

This flight is known as OA-6 and is being launched as under terms of the firm’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. It also counts as the Orbital ATK’s fifth cargo delivery mission to the space station.

Final processing of the cargo ship was completed as bunny suited media including myself observed technicians putting the finishing touches on the vehicle inside Kennedy’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF). Technicians had already finished fueling the vehicle with hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

Liftoff of the commercial resupply services mission to the orbiting outpost is now targeted for Tuesday, March 22, during a 30-minute launch window that opens at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft, also known as Commercial Resupply Services-6 (CRS-6), will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from the seaside Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.

OA-6 is loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware to the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

When the ISS Expedition 47 crew members open the hatch, they will be greeted with a sign noting the spacecraft was named ‘SS Rick Husband’ in honor of the STS-107 mission commander.

Overall, Orbital will deliver approximately 28,700 kilograms of cargo to the ISS under the life of the CRS contract, which extends to 2018.

STS-107 was Husband’s second flight to space.

OA-6 is the first Cygnus to named after an astronaut who actually participated in building the ISS – during his first flight as shuttle pilot on the STS-96 mission in 1999.

The prior Cygnus cargo spacecraft was named the S.S. Deke Slayton during the OA-4 mission. It successfully launched to the ISS in December 2015 – read my on site articles here.

Orbital ATK has named each Cygnus after a deceased NASA astronaut, several of whom later worked for the company.

OA-6 is only the second Cygnus to be launch atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, following the OA-4 mission last December.

The CRS-6/OA-6 flight is also the second flight of the enhanced Cygnus variant, that is over 1 meter longer and sports 50% more volume capability.

Thus it is capable of carrying a much heavier payload of some 3500 kg (7700 lbs) vs. a maximum of 2300 kg (5070 lbs) for the standard version.

Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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

Ken Kremer

The post Next Cygnus Cargo Freighter Named in Honor of Columbia’s Last Commander Rick Husband appeared first on Universe Today.

Commercial Cygnus Cargo Freighter Departs ISS After Resuming US Resupply Runs

Cygnus before we let her go as we flew above Bolivia this morning, Feb. 19, 2016. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

A commercial Cygnus cargo freighter departed the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Feb. 19) after successfully resuming America’s train of resupply runs absolutely essential to the continued productive functioning of the orbiting science outpost.

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra commanded the release of the privately developed Orbital ATK “S.S. Deke Slayton II” Cygnus resupply ship from the snares of the stations Canadian-built robotic arm at 7:26 a.m. EST – while the space station was flying approximately 250 miles (400 km) above Bolivia.

“Honor to give #Cygnus a hand (or arm) in finalizing its mission this morning. Well done #SSDekeSlayton!” Kelly quickly posted to his social media accounts.

The Orbital ATK “S.S. Deke Slayton II” Cygnus craft had arrived at the station with several tons of supplies on Dec. 9, 2015 after blazing to orbit on Dec. 6 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the company’s fourth NASA-contracted commercial station resupply mission dubbed CRS-4.

To prepare for today’s release, ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center first used the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6- meter-long) robotic arm, Canadarm2, to unberth Cygnus from its place on the stations Earth-facing port of the Unity module at about 5:38 a.m.

Cygnus came loaded with over three tons of critically needed supplies and research experiments as well as Christmas presents for the astronauts and cosmonauts living and working on the massive orbital lab complex during Expeditions 45 and 46.

Today’s activities were carried live on NASA TV. This brief NASA video shows a few highlights from Cygnus departure:

https://youtu.be/pTyYu7yuKuw

Altogether, Cygnus spent approximately 72 days attached to the station. During that time the crews unloaded all the research gear for experiments in areas such as biology, biotechnology, and physical and Earth science.

“All good things must come to an end. #Cygnus, your mission was a success! Farewell #SSDekeSlayton,” said Kelly.

Mission controllers at Orbital ATK’s Dulles, VA space operations facility soon commanded Cygnus to fire its thrusters to gradually maneuver away from the station.

Before departure, the crew had loaded Cygnus back up with about 3000 pounds of trash for disposal.

On Saturday, after the spacecraft is far away from the station, controllers will fire the engines twice to pushing the vehicle into Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery reentry where it will harmlessly burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

December’s arrival of the Orbital ATK Cygnus CRS-4 cargo freighter – also known as OA-4 – represented the successful restart of American’s critically needed cargo missions to the ISS following a pair of launch failures by both of NASA’s cargo providers – Orbital ATK and SpaceX – over the past year and a half. It was the first successful US cargo delivery mission in some 8 months.

Cygnus was named the ‘SS Deke Slayton II’ in memory of Deke Slayton, one of the America’s original seven Mercury astronauts. He was a member of the Apollo Soyuz Test Flight. Slayton was also a champion of America’s commercial space program.

CRS-4 counts as the first flight of Cygnus on an Atlas and the first launch to the ISS using an Atlas booster.

This is also the first flight of the enhanced, longer Cygnus, measuring 5.1 meters (20.5 feet) tall and 3.05 meters (10 feet) in diameter, sporting a payload volume of 27 cubic meters.

“The enhanced Cygnus PCM is 1.2 meters longer, so it’s about 1/3 longer,” Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK Vice President for Human Spaceflight Systems Programs, said in an exclusive interview with Universe Today.

This Cygnus also carried its heaviest payload to date since its significantly more voluminous than the original shorter version.

“It can carry about 50% more payload,” DeMauro told me.

“This Cygnus will carry more payload than all three prior vehicles combined,” former NASA astronaut Dan Tani elaborated.

The total payload packed on board amounted to 3513 kilograms (7745 pounds), including science investigations, crew supplies, vehicle hardware, spacewalk equipment and computer resources.

Among the contents are science equipment totaling 846 kg (1867 lbs.), crew supplies of 1181 kg (2607 lbs.), and spacewalk equipment of 227 kg (500 lbs.).

Orbital ATK holds a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from NASA worth $1.9 Billion to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for eight Cygnus cargo delivery flights to the ISS.

Orbital ATK has contracted a second Cygnus to fly on an Atlas on the OA-6 mission, currently slated for liftoff around March 22, 2016. Liftoff was delayed about two weeks to decontaminate an infestation of mold found in cargo already packed on the Cygnus.

NASA has also contracted with Orbital ATK to fly three additional missions through 2018. Orbital also recently was awarded six additional cargo missions by NASA as part of the CRS-2 procurement.

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

Ken Kremer

The post Commercial Cygnus Cargo Freighter Departs ISS After Resuming US Resupply Runs appeared first on Universe Today.

Orbital ATK Integration of Upgraded Antares Kicks Into High Gear For 2016 ‘Return to Flight’

Orbital ATK Antares rocket hardware fills the Horizontal Integration Facility from end-to-end at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility for upcoming ‘Return to Flight’ missions in 2016 from Virginia launch base. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Assembly and testing of a significantly upgraded version of Orbital ATK’s commercially developed Antares rocket has kicked into high gear and is on target for rebirth – as the clock ticks down towards its ‘Return to Flight’ by approximately mid-2016 from a launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia, company managers told Universe Today during a recent up close media visit to see the actual flight hardware.

Mission integration operations are in full swing right now as technicians were actively processing Antares hardware during my visit to Orbital ATK’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in December.

“We are working on integrating, processing and testing the Antares rocket hardware,” Mike Pinkston, Vice President and General Manager Orbital ATK’s Antares program, told Universe Today in exclusive interviews at NASA Wallops and the Kennedy Space Center.

The cavernous Wallops Island HIF facility was filled from end-to-end with a pair of first stage cores, newly upgraded RD-181 first stage engines, a second stage, interstages, payload fairings and other key components slated to launch on the first two Antares missions in the spring and fall of 2016.

“We are planning to resume Antares launches in late May or June 2016,” said Pinkston.

The currently planned spring 2016 blastoff will be the first for the private Antares rocket since its catastrophic launch failure on Oct. 28, 2014, just seconds after liftoff from Wallops. It was carrying Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo freighter on the critical Orb-3 resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch mishap was traced to a failure in the AJ26 first stage engine turbopump.

The revamped Antares 230 launch vehicle has been upgraded with a pair of modern new first stage engines, the Russian-built RD-181 fueled by LOX/kerosene. They replace the refurbished 40 year old AJ26 engines originally known as the NK-33 that were originally built during the Soviet era.

“Using the RD-181s will result in a 25 percent greater payload to orbit,” Pinkston told Universe Today.

But before any launch, the fully integrated Antares first stage still has to pass a hot fire test with the RD-181 engines at launch pad OA on Wallops Island.

“The hot fire stage is scheduled for early March 2016,” Pinkston told me. “It will be a full duration 30 second test at full thrust. The test uses the core for the OA-7 launch later in the year.”

“The hot fire test will run through all the operating points and execute all sequences.”

A similar 30 second hot fire test was conducted in advance of the first Antares launch to test out all rocket and launch pad systems.

The first Antares booster to launch will be named the OA-5 mission and will use the other core stage currently being processed inside the HIF, he explained.

During our media visit, the first set of RD-181 engines was seen already attached to the base of the first stage core, which is built in Ukraine.

A second set of RD-181 flight engines has also arrived for processing in the HIF.

Orbital ATK quickly decided to replace the AJ-26 with the RD-181 soon after the Orb-3 accident, said Pinkston. Evaluations had already been in place to replace the AJ26 prior to the accident.

What changes were made to accommodate the RD-181 vs the AJ26 engines?

“For the RD-181 engines there are new thrust adapters, new avionics to control the engine actuators, and new propellant feed lines,” Pinkston told me.

“There are also some small changes to the first stage core itself.”

“The RD-181 engines are basically a drop in replacement engine. Its similar in size to the AJ-26. But has a better thrust profile.”

Earlier this month, the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter already accomplished its return to flight mission when it was launched to the ISS on the OA-4 mission (also known as CRS-4) using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for the first time.

OA-4 successfully lifted off on Dec. 6, 2015 with over 7000 pounds of cargo from Cap-e Canaveral, Florida – as outlined in my on site reports. It berthed at the ISS on Dec. 9.

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

Ken Kremer

The post Orbital ATK Integration of Upgraded Antares Kicks Into High Gear For 2016 ‘Return to Flight’ appeared first on Universe Today.

Cygnus Docks at Station for Christmas Delivery to Successfully Resume American Resupply Chain

The commercial Cygnus cargo spaceship, loaded with over three tons of critically needed supplies and research experiments, successfully rendezvoused and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Dec. 9) after blazing to orbit on Sunday, Dec. 6, and thereby successfully resumed the American resupply chain to orbit – just in time for Christmas […]

Critical Cygnus Return to Flight Mission via Atlas V Set to Restore US Cargo Launches to ISS – Watch Live

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In the shadow of the spanking new commercial crew access tower that our astronauts will soon ascend to restore America’s human access to space, the first ever Atlas V rocket that will launch a commercial Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) is poised for blastoff on Thursday, […]

Cygnus Freighter Fueled and Loaded to Resume American Cargo Launches to Space Station

The largest and most advanced version of the privately developed Cygnus cargo freighter ever built by Orbital ATK is fueled, loaded and ready to go to orbit – signifying a critical turning point towards resuming American commercial cargo launches to the space station for NASA that are critical to keep it functioning. The enhanced and […]

NASA Again Postpones Space Station Commercial Cargo Contract Awards, Boeing Out

Will NASA renew SpaceX and Orbital ATK as the favored contractors for the commercial cargo flights absolutely essential to keeping the International Space Station (ISS) amply stocked with science experiments and supplies through 2024 for the multinational crews now celebrating 15 years of continuous human occupation? Or will a trio of other American aerospace competitors […]