Antares return to flight targeting late August
Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK is targeting August 22, 2016, for the return to flight of the company’s Antares rocket. This redesigned “Enhanced” booster will launch the next Cygnus cargo ship, the S.S. Alan Poindexter, to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).
This mission, dubbed OA-5, will launch out of Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0A. It will not only test out the upgrades to Orbital ATK’s Antares booster but also loft the sixth Cygnus to the space station as part of the $1.9 billion dollar Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.
The Antares 230 will be the first launch since the ill-fated Orb-3 mission in October 2014. That flight lasted just 15 seconds before the turbopump in the AJ26 engine—a refurbished Russian-built NK-33 engine—exploded. The vehicle, only 300 feet (91 meters) off the pad, came crashing back down, causing an estimated $15 million in damages to the launch pad.
An investigation found possible reasons for the failure included ingestion of loose debris or a manufacturing defect. As such, the company has since done away with the AJ26 in favor of another Russian-built engine—the RD-181. A 29-second static fire test already occurred on an upgraded Antares in late May.
Each of the rocket’s two RD-181 engines will provide 432,000 pounds (1,920 kilonewtons) of thrust at liftoff. That, with other upgrades, should allow for the booster to deliver up to 15,000 pounds (7,000 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit.
The OA-5 Cygnus cargo ship, when it launches, should take about two days to arrive at the ISS. There the Expedition 48/49 crew will capture and berth the spacecraft with the robotic Canadarm2. After that, the crew will unload the supplies, experiments, and other equipment.
After spending a couple months berthed to the station, the OA-5 Cygnus will be detached and sent to a safe distance for some eight days in order to remotely conduct the Saffire-2 experiment. The Saffire-1 study was conducted aboard the last Cygnus in late May.
Unlike the first Saffire, which tested a single cotton-fiberglass card that was 12 by 36 inches (30 by 91 centimeters), this second experiment will use nine smaller pieces—each 2 by 12 inches (5 by 30 centimeters).
After the experiment is conducted, ground teams will command the spacecraft to de-orbit somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.