Another delay pushes Antares launch to June 17
First postponed due to another delay that set back SpaceX’s CRS-3 launch at Cape Canaveral, NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation has announced yet another for their upcoming Antares ORB-2 launch. This time, the delay comes from a failed test of the AJ-26 Aerojet Rocketdyne engine. The rocket, first set to launch from Pad 0A out of Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on May 6, is now slated to launch no earlier than June 17 to give the team ample time to assess the extent of the engine failure.
An update on Orbital Sciences’ website states:
Orbital has rescheduled the launch of its Antares rocket for the Orb-2 mission to a date of no earlier than (NET) June 17, 2014. Orb-2 is the second of eight cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. The new launch schedule has been established to allow the engineering teams from the main stage propulsion supplier Aerojet Rocketdyne and Orbital to investigate the causes of an AJ26 engine failure that occurred last week at NASA’s Stennis Space Center during customary acceptance testing. That engine was designated for use in a mission slated for 2015 and was undergoing hot fire testing that all Antares AJ26 engines are subject to in order to ensure nominal performance and acceptance for use in Antares missions. The NET June 17 is a planning date. The determination of a new firm date will depend on progress of the investigation team, so please check back to this page for further updates.
Even though the engine that misfired was due to be used on next year’s Antares mission and not with next month’s launch vehicle, Orbital decided to postpone the launch by a week in order to reassess the issue with the AJ-26. As the investigation takes place, Antares and ORB-2 will continue forward in order to be fully prepared for the NET June 17 launch, which will land Cygnus at the International Space Station (ISS) no earlier than June 20. No new launch time has been released at this time.
The AJ-26 has experienced one prior failure, in June 2011, when an engine caught fire in the same E-1 Test Stand. The 2011 failure was determined to be caused by a fuel leak resulting from “stress corrosion cracking of the 40-year old metal” contained in the engine.
Despite this, the AJ-26 engines are actually refurbished, upgraded versions of the Soviet Union’s own NK-33 engines, which are then imported by Aerojet Rocketdyne for use with Orbital Sciences’ Antares and United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V series.
The engine failure comes at an interesting time where the Russian Federation has announced a ban on all imports of their NK-33 and RD-180 engines.
Please check back with SpaceFlight Insider for mission updates on the upcoming Antares launch.
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Britt Rawcliffe is a professional freelance aerospace and aviation photographer based out of Pennsylvania with over six years of professional photographic experience. Her creative imagery has spanned into all areas relating to space, including launches, photojournalism, architecture, and portraiture. Britt’s passion for history has been a common thread in much of her work, including having photographed many Moonwalkers such as Buzz Aldrin and Gene Cernan.
From what I understand, there were no further plans to import NK-33s, and these are part of a stock that have been im the US since the 90s. I don’t think Orbital is worried about Rogozin’s ban. Even with this failure, they should have plenty on hand to tide the, over until they come up with something else to power theor first stage.