Orbital ATK OA-8E Cygnus cargo mission slated for late summer
On the heels of Orbital ATK’s successful OA-7 Cygnus cargo run, teams at Virginia’s Wallops Flight Facility are preparing for the OA-8E mission. The 139-foot (42.5-meter) tall Antares rocket is slated to take an enhanced Cygnus and several tons of science and cargo to the International Space Station on Sept. 12, 2017.
Kurt Eberly, the program manager for Antares, said that the company would have OA-8E ready to travel as early as late July and certainly in August if necessary. Regardless of when it does get off the ground, the mission will send 7,385 pounds (3,350 kilograms) of cargo packed inside an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft. Liftoff will take place from Pad 0A at Wallops Island, Virginia.
The OA-8E mission is part of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 1 contract. The “E” signifies the CRS-1 contract extension, enabling NASA to cover space station resupply needs until the CRS-2 contract begins in 2019. Orbital ATK was awarded at least three additional Cygnus flights. SpaceX was also awarded additional flights.
After OA-8E will be OA-9E, which is currently scheduled to launch in March 2018 atop an Antares 230 rocket. The Antares rockets for both of these missions can be seen in the company’s horizontal integration facility.
The last Cygnus mission, OA-7, launched atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. While the spacecraft can be sent to space using either launch vehicle, there are currently no more plans for Orbital ATK to use the Atlas V.
Eberly said that by improving the performance of Antares, utilizing the pair of RD-181 engines, Orbital ATK is expected to achieve 13 percent higher thrust with 10 seconds of additional specific impulse (ISP). This should net 20–25 percent more mass to be delivered to orbit resulting in increased payload delivered to the ISS.
It is expected that, by OA-11E, Orbital ATK should be able to achieve its designed mass of 7,716 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of cargo and probably beyond in the CRS-2 missions.
For Antares’ second stage, there is a large Castor 30XL motor which is manufactured by the Propulsion Systems Division of Orbital ATK located in Utah.
Dale Nash, executive director at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, indicated that Pad 0A should be ready for OA-8E by end of July.
Nash briefed the media that with the last Antares launch, in October 2016, the rocket lifted off quickly and, as a result, there was much less damage to the launch pad, thereby improving turnaround times between launches to about 30 days.
“Wallops has a fairly wide open azimuth between 38 to 60 degrees inclination which the ISS is right in the sweet spot for that,” Nash said, talking about the advantages of Wallops over Cape Canaveral. Additionally, he said that there are far fewer scheduling conflicts at the Wallops Flight Facility and less chance of getting bumped.
Moreover, improvements to the design of Cygnus itself, including strengthened internal infrastructure and an improved power supply, allows for better support of science payloads. Additionally, procedural protocols allowing for later cargo insertion into the Cygnus have proven to have significant advantages allowing for easier accommodation of NASA cargo requests.
On June 12, 2017, Orbital ATK and NASA gave members of the media, including SpaceFlight Insider, a review of the current operation’s of Wallops Flight Facility Pad 0A and the nearby horizontal integration hangar.
Jerome Strach has worked within the Silicon Valley community for 20 years including software entertainment and film. Along with experience in software engineering, quality assurance, and middle management, he has long been a fan of aerospace and entities within that industry. A voracious reader, a model builder, and student of photography and flight training, most of his spare time can be found focused on launch events and technology advancements including custom mobile app development. Best memory as a child is building and flying Estes rockets with my father. @Romn8tr