Orbital ATK targeting Oct. 9–13 for Antares launch
Orbital ATK is targeting Oct. 9–13 for the launch of the company’s upgraded Antares 230 rocket. Liftoff will occur from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to send the OA-5 Cygnus spacecraft, called S.S. Alan G. Poindexter, to the International Space Station (ISS).
According to a news release from the company, a more specific date and time will be selected upon completion of final operational milestones and technical reviews. Launch times on these dates range from 10:47 p.m. EDT Oct. 9 to 9:30 p.m. EDT Oct. 13 (2:47 GMT Oct. 10 to 1:30 GMT Oct. 14).
The Cygnus spacecraft’s arrival at the orbiting laboratory will depend on when Antares launches and will have to be coordinated with other ISS activities.
Liftoff will come nearly two years after the Oct. 28 launch failure in which an engine exploded only seconds after the rocket cleared the launch pad lightning towers. The vehicle came crashing back down and destroyed the booster as well as the Orb-3 Cygnus spacecraft. Additionally, severe damage to Launch Pad 0A occurred, necessitating nearly a year’s worth of repairs.
It was later determined the cause of the explosion was a failed turbopump on one of the two AJ26 engines, refurbished Russian-built NK-33 engines, on Antares’ first stage. As the company was already planning on replacing the 40-year-old engines with new engines in a future variant of the vehicle, it was decided to accelerate those plans.
The company officially announced two Russian-built RD-181 engines, an exported version of the RD-191, would replace the two AJ26 engines on the Antares. However, redesigns were needed, prolonging the return to flight of the rocket.
In the meantime, Orbital ATK contracted United Launch Alliance to send their enhanced Cygnus to ISS via the Atlas V rocket. This allowed the company to meet their obligations to deliver cargo to the ISS for NASA via the Commercial Resupply Services contract.
The first Cygnus launch atop an Atlas V was in December 2015. The second was in March 2016.
For the OA-5 mission, the S.S. Alan G. Poindexter will send 5,290 pounds (2,400 kilograms) of supplies and science equipment to the orbiting outpost. It will be the sixth time a Cygnus has berthed with the ISS.
Inside Cygnus is the Saffire II payload – the second of three experiments designed to study combustion behavior in microgravity. Like the last experiment in March, this one will only be activated when the spacecraft has left the vicinity of the ISS. Data from the experiment will be downloaded via telemetry.
Additionally, a NanoRack deployer will be equipped to the side of Cygnus. This will allow for the release of CubeSats used for weather forecasting. They will be released after the spacecraft leaves the space station.
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.