Antares return to flight pushed to October
According to a report appearing on Space News, at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2016 conference in Long Beach, California, Orbital ATK‘s director of business development, John Steinmeyer, said on Sept. 13 that the company was looking to launch their Antares rocket in early October – a delay from late September.
The launch will mark the return to flight for the Antares booster. In October of 2014, seconds after the Orb-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) got underway, one of the rocket’s two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 engines exploded causing the whole vehicle to come crashing back down next to the pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia. After nearly two years of redesign, pad upgrades, and evolving the Antares to the “Enhanced” Antares (200), the company is nearly ready to send the rocket skyward again.
“We’re working with NASA to select an optimal launch date,” Steinmeyer said at the conference. “We’re very diligent in our preparations for that launch, and making sure we completely validate the system and the RD-181 engines.”
After test-firing the booster in late spring of 2016, Orbital ATK was eyeing early July for a launch date. That was subsequently pushed to August and then late September.
The mission will utilize an upgraded version of the company’s Antares rocket, called Antares 230. The primary difference was the replacement of the AJ26 engines, refurbished engines that were built in the late 1960s for the Soviet lunar program’s ill-fated N-1 rocket. The new engines, also Russian-built, are RD-181 engines.
When the return-to-flight does get underway, it will send an Orbital ATK-built Cygnus cargo ship to the ISS. The OA-5 mission will be the third Cygnus to launch since the October 2014 mishap. The last two were sent into orbit via United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rockets.
This delay comes a few weeks after the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced a delay in their H-2 Transfer Vehicle cargo ship, called Kounotori. The Oct. 1 launch was postponed due to the discovery of an air leak in the vessel. JAXA has yet to set a new target launch date.
Additionally, SpaceX was supposed to send their CRS-10 Dragon cargo ship to the ISS in November. However, due to the Sept. 1 pad explosion, which led to the loss of the Falcon 9 rocket and Amos-6 satellite, it is unclear when the NewSpace firm will start launching again or what payload will be flown first.
According to Ars Technica, during a speech in Paris, SpaceX’s president, Gwynne Shotwell, said the company may start flying again as early as November, albeit from nearby Launch Complex 39A. Space Launch Complex 40 endured an undisclosed amount of damage due to the explosion, and repairs may take up to a year to complete.
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. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.