NASA Wallops Flight Facility’s Pad 0A slowly recovering from Orb-3 accident
WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, Va — Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is starting to show signs of recovering over the explosion of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket attempting to carry out the third operational resupply mission (Orb-3) to the International Space Station in October of 2014. In terms of Pad 0A, located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS ) in Virginia, the damage caused by the rocket’s explosion, while still evident, are fading.
Visually, the Antares launch site, looked in pretty good shape. The lightning towers sustained major damage and are being replaced before the next flight, currently scheduled for March of 2016. The large water tower at the site, also had some minor scorching discoloration, but is structurally sound and survived in relatively good shape.
However, the vehicle erector/strong back sustained quite a bit of damage but is easily being repaired. The main fueling tanks and infrastructure also survived in fairly good condition. Repairs are well underway.
The main items that can’t be seen visually are the environmental impact studies and monitoring of the coastal and pad area for residual fuel spillage and seepage. Lots of liquid fuel, RP-1, was dumped on that area and what did not burn in the initial fireball is being closely monitored and cleaned up.
The first and second stages of the next Antares rocket, scheduled for the Orb-4 mission, are undergoing assembly and checkout in the HIF (Horizontal Integration Facility) at this time. At present, the engineers who assemble the booster are awaiting the delivery of the new RD-181 engine set for the next launch and will be conducting a flight readiness firing prior to next springs launch.
Orbital ATK was already in the process of moving away from using the 40-year-old AJ26 (the re-branded NK-33 Russian engine) rocket engine, produced by Aerojet Rocketdyne, before an issue with the AJ26’s turbopump caused the complete loss of the launch vehicle and its cargo. The engine had experienced at least two accidents while being tested at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi prior to the accident.
Orbital ATK has pressed on, selecting United Launch Alliance’s (ULA ) Atlas V 401 to send another Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station with enough cargo to maintain the company’s requirements under the $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract the Orbital ATK has with the space agency.
“NASA Wallops and all of the entities involved are looking forward to the return to flight of Orbital ATK’s Antares, the entire community is looking forward to that date,” said NASA’s Keith Koehler. “Orbital ATK has announced that Antares will take back the skies in early 2016 – we all can’t wait for that!”
Starting with the launch of Apollo 15 in 1971, Mark Usciak began using his photographic talents to cover the space program. His efforts have garnered him multiple awards from Aviation Week & Space Technology's photography contest, which he won in 1995, 1998 and 2003. His work has graced the halls of Congress as well as numerous magazines. Mark covered NASA's shuttle program, since the very first liftoff - until the final wheel stop. He has now turned his trained eye to reporting new efforts to cede control of access to low-Earth-orbit to commercial companies as the space agency focuses on sending astronauts beyond the orbit of Earth for the first time in decades.