Spaceflight Insider

Northrop Grumman prepares the final Antares 230+ rocket

The Antares rocket with the NG-19 Cygnus spacecraft stands at Pad 0A awaiting launch. Credit: NASA

The Antares rocket with the NG-19 Cygnus spacecraft stands at Pad 0A awaiting launch. Credit: NASA

WALLOPS ISLAND, Virginia — Northrop Grumman is set to launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft atop what will be the final flight of the Antares 230+ rocket.

The NG-19 mission to the International Space Station will begin with a liftoff schedule for 8:31 p.m. EDT (00:31 UTC) Aug. 1, 2023, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island in Virginia. Aboard will be thousands of pounds of cargo, equipment and science experiments bound for the outpost’s seven-person Expedition 69 crew.

Because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, this will be the final launch of the rocket in this configuration.

The first stage core structures and propellant systems of Antares 230+ were manufactured by Yuzhmash State Enterprise under the design authority of Yuzhnoye SDO in Dnipro, Ukraine, and the first stage’s RD-181 engines made by Russian manufacturer Energomash are no longer being delivered due to Russian sanctions on the U.S. and vise versa.

The Antares 230+ first stage in the horizontal integration hangar in preparation for launch. Steve Hammer / Spaceflight Insider

The Antares 230+ first stage in the horizontal integration hangar in preparation for launch. Steve Hammer / Spaceflight Insider

Given this dependency on overseas suppliers, Northrop Grumman had been seeking a local partner. In August 2022, the company announced a partnership with Firefly Aerospace to develop a domestic version of the rocket. This move not only reduces vulnerability due to international political developments but also positions the company to compete for contracts from the Department of Defense.

The new rocket will be called the Antares 330. Because the propulsion technology of Firefly employs the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, it diminishes the requirement for substantial alterations at the fuel farm at the Wallops launch site.

Seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines will power the Antares 330, and it will also harness Firefly’s composite technology for building the first stage structures and tanks.

Concurrently, Northrop Grumman will contribute its tried-and-tested avionics and software, upper-stage structures, and the Castor 30XL motor, coupled with its proficiency in vehicle assembly and launch pad procedures. This new stage is set to significantly boost the orbit-bound payload capacity of the Antares rocket.

The upgraded Antares 330 rocket may make its first appearance as soon as the end of 2024.

An illustration of the upgraded Antares 330 rocket. Credit: Northrop Grumman

An illustration of the upgraded Antares 330 rocket. Credit: Northrop Grumman

In order to cover the transitional service gap of Antares, Northrop Grumman has acquired three SpaceX Falcon 9 launches, ensuring the continuity of Cygnus space station cargo deliveries with minimal disruption.

With the NG-19 mission, Northrop Grumman is marking 10 years of providing commercial resupply services missions. So far, Cygnus has transported roughly 130,000 pounds (59,000 kilograms) of crucial cargo, supplies, equipment and scientific experiments to the crews of the International Space Station.

The launch of the NG-19 spacecraft, dubbed S.S. Laurel Clark, will take place from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A, located on Wallops Island, Virginia. The spacecraft is set to transport some 8,200 pounds (3,700 kilograms) of scientific research, supplies for the crew and equipment to the space station in order to assist the Expedition 69 crew.

One of the experiments aboard is called Neuronix, a project supported by the ISS National Lab, which will explore the creation of three-dimensional neuron cell cultures in a microgravity environment and experiments with a gene therapy specifically designed for neurons.

Another is Saffire VI, which will deliver a crucial standard for verifying models of how fire affects the livability of a spacecraft.

Additionally, there is the Multi Needle Langmuir Probe, which will track the densities of plasma in the ionosphere and the Exploration PWD, which will employ cutting-edge methods for water sanitization and reducing microbial growth, and it also provides hot water.

The Cygnus system is built upon a proven and effective design, incorporating components from both Northrop Grumman and its partner companies. It consists of a service module, developed by Northrop Grumman, and a pressurized cargo module, which is built by Thales Alenia Space. Together, these modules work in tandem to ensure the successful functioning of the Cygnus system, supporting its mission to deliver essential supplies and equipment to the ISS.

During its cargo resupply missions to the ISS, the Cygnus vehicle has showcased a range of sophisticated abilities. These include autonomous navigation, deploying cube satellites from external deployers, transporting live rodents to the station, serving as a functional laboratory while docked to the station, elevating the station’s orbit and autonomously operating in orbit for extended periods, surpassing one year.

Once in space, the NG-19 Cygnus spacecraft is expected to take about two days to reach the ISS where it will spend several months attached to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.

Video courtesy of NASA


Steve moved to central Virginia from the Atlanta suburbs. He studied U.S. history, geography and social sciences at Virginia Tech and began teaching in the public school system in Southampton County, in Virginia’s Tidewater region. While there, he developed a passion for photography focusing on transportation and anything historic. With encouragement from family and friends, he moved backed to central Virginia where he currently lives and works as a computer science teacher. In his spare time, Steve enjoys spending time with his family and exploring the beautiful Virginia county side with his camera.

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