Spaceflight Insider

How does Northrop Grumman secure Antares during powerful storms?

Northrop Grumman Antares rocket with S.S. John Young Cygnus spacecraft at Pad 0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak / SpaceFlight Insider

Northrop Grumman’s Antares 230 rocket with the S.S. John Young Cygnus spacecraft at Wallops’ Launch Complex 0A on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak / SpaceFlight Insider

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — A powerful “Nor’easter” storm that is hanging off the Atlantic Coast has caused mission managers to push back the flight an additional day. What does Northrop Grumman have in place to handle turbulent weather such as this one?

SpaceFlight Insider spoke with Northrop Grumman's Vice President of the company's Antares Program, Kurt Eberly, about the procedures when a powerful storm approaches and the rocket is already at the pad. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceFlight Insider spoke with Northrop Grumman’s Vice President of the company’s Antares Program, Kurt Eberly, about the procedures when a powerful storm approaches and the rocket is already at the pad. Photo Credit: Mark Usciak / SpaceFlight Insider

With the change in the launch schedule, the Antares 230 with the S.S. John Young Cygnus spacecraft is now slated to launch on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 4:01:22 a.m. EST (08:01 GMT). The launch site is Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

The region has experienced turbulent weather over the past few days, raising concerns that the launch vehicle and its payload might be in jeopardy. Mission planners have stated that both Antares and Cygnus are secured, safe and ready for launch when mother nature allows.

It turns out that systems that are in place to allow the rocket and spacecraft to be transported out to the pad – aid in situations such as this.

“Before liftoff, we will release these gripper arms (which hold Antares in place), as we approach launch we then move the transporter erector, which is our umbilical mast, back. While we’re connected, we just leave that there,” Kurt Eberly, Northrop Grumman’s Vice-President of the company’s Antares Program told SpaceFlight Insider.

With all of the experiments and other cargo tucked on board the S.S. John Young, keeping that payload safe and dry is another concern that Northrop Grumman appears to be ready to handle.

“We have three ‘dry bays’ in the vehicle. The payload cavity in the fairing, we have an inner tank bay between the RP (RP-1, the rocket’s fuel) and the LOX tanks (liquid oxygen) and then we have an aft bay at the bottom, where the engines are. In each of those bays, we have avionics and things that we want to keep dry and temperature controlled. So we have a lot of air in there. We have dual-redundant air conditioning at the pad, heat or cool, so we can precisely control the humidity. We have a lot of air flowing in there to keep those dry bays dry.”

Not everything that aids in Antares’ launch operations is inside the rocket or visible from the pad however, but some of these assets also contribute to keeping the rocket safe. 

“Underneath the pad, we have a series of vaults, equipment vaults where we stage our ground support equipment, power supply, comm gear, conversion to fiber for going back to the control center, it’s all down in these vaults. Those vaults are also highly-conditioned, they are leak tested because we deluge the pad (with water to mitigate the acoustic vibrations of launch) every time we launch anyway. So those vaults are thoroughly tested and are very stout.”

In the end, the massive amount of force unleashed by the two RD-181 engines located at the base of the rocket’s first stage, also help to provide security in the case of inclement weather.

“As you might imagine, there’s also a lot of concrete out on the pad. It was actually designed to be able to do a stage test on the launch pad, which is something we’ve down twice now with the two versions of Antares that we’ve flown. So it’s actually ‘over-designed’ – that gives us a lot of ruggedness for weather events like the one we’re seeing,” Eberly said. “Winds are going to be pretty high and there’s going to be a lot of rain, but it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket. Image Credit: David Collins / SpaceFlight Insider

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket. Image Credit: David Collins / SpaceFlight Insider

 

 

 

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

> the massive amount of force unleashed by the two RD-180 engines located at the base of the rocket’s first stage

Antares uses the RD-181 engine, not the RD-180. That’s half the power. Surprised you could make such a mistake.

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