Station Astronauts Unload Cygnus Science; Antares Launch Gallery

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are now busily unloading nearly four tons of science experiments, research gear, station equipment and crew supplies – following the spectacular launch of the Orbital ATK Antares rocket earlier this week on Sunday Nov. 12 from Virginia’s eastern shore that propelled the Cygnus cargo freighter to an on time arrival two days later on Tuesday Nov. 14.

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S.S Gene Cernan Honoring Last Moonwalker Arrives at International Space Station Carrying Tons of Research Gear and Supplies

The S.S. Gene Cernan Cygnus spacecraft named in honor of the Apollo 17 lunar landing commander and launched by Orbital ATK from the eastern shore of Virgina at breakfast time Sunday, Nov. 12, arrived at the International Space Station early Tuesday morning, Nov 14, carrying over 3.7 tons of research equipment and supplies for the six person resident crew.

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First Cygnus Cargo Ship from Virginia in Two Years Docks at Space Station

After a two year gap, the first Cygnus cargo freight train from Virginia bound for the International Space Station (ISS) arrived earlier this morning – restoring this critical supply route to full operation today, Sunday, Oct. 23. The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft packed with over 2.5 tons of supplies was berthed to an Earth-facing […]

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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 […]

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Antares Return to Flight Set for Magnificent Monday Night Launch – Watch Live

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – The ‘Return to Flight’ blastoff of Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares rocket will have to wait one more day to come to fruition with a magnificent Monday night launch – after a technical scrub was called this afternoon, Oct. 16, at NASA’s Virginia launch base due to a faulty cable.

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Antares Raised to Launch Position for Sunday Night Launch to ISS

After a two year stand down, an upgraded commercial Antares rocket was rolled out to the NASA Wallops launch pad on Virginia’s eastern shore and raised to its launch position today in anticipation of a spectacular Sunday night liftoff, Oct. 16, to the International Space Station (ISS) on a critical resupply mission for NASA.

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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.

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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

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Antares Launch Calamity Unfolds – Dramatic Photo Sequence

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – The first night launch of Orbital Sciences’ commercial Antares rocket suddenly ended in total calamity some 10 seconds or so after liftoff when the base of the first stage exploded without warning over the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Va, at 6:22 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, October […]

How to Watch Spectacular 1st Nighttime Antares Launch to ISS on Oct. 27 – Complete Viewing Guide

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Tens of millions of US East Coast residents can expect a dinnertime spectacular for the first ever nighttime launch of the commercial Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket slated to blastoff on Monday evening, October 27, from a beachside NASA launch base along the eastern shore of Virginia – if […]