Orbital’s Antares launch vehicle is deep into preparations for its second trip into space – delayed 24 hours to Wednesday – this time hosting the debut mission for the Cygnus resupply ship. Known as ORB-D, Cygnus will make its long-awaited flight to the International Space Station (ISS), with the aim of validating multiple demonstration milestones ahead of its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions.
Starting life under the name Taurus II, the Antares is the first cryogenically powered rocket to be produced by Orbital Sciences. It’s also the largest rocket they have ever produced.
The first stage of the Antares was developed jointly between Orbital Sciences Corporation and KB Yuzhnoye and PO Yuzhmash of Ukraine, with the propulsion provided by two AJ26-62 engines burning RP-1 propellant in liquid oxygen, which generate 3.3 meganewtons (740,000 pounds) of thrust.
The AJ26 engines powering the first stage began life as NK-33s, constructed in the 1960s to power the rockets which would have taken Soviet cosmonauts to the Moon via the massive N1 rocket. The engines were rebuilt by Aerojet to optimize their performance for the Antares.
The Upper Stage Castor 30A is tasked with providing the final push to orbit, although Orbital will move to an upgraded version called the Castor 30B for the first two Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions – CRS-1 (Orb-1) and CRS-2 (Orb-2).
The final transition for the rocket will come via the use of the CASTOR 30XL, which will power the last six CRS flights scheduled for the Antares – allowing for the transition towards the launch of extra cargo on a larger Cygnus Spacecraft.
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ORB-D is the final leg of their COTS milestone requirements and will mirror SpaceX’s COTS 2+ mission by way of completing validation tasks ahead of beginning ISS runs under the NASA CRS contract.
Orbital successfully ticked the boxes for the A-ONE mission objectives, with a flawless launch of Antares on its debut mission into space.
With the A-ONE mission achieving all of its validation tasks – successfully lofting a Cygnus Mass Simulator into space – Orbital then conducted a post-flight performance review, in order to confirm everything proceeded as plan during Antares’ launch out of Wallops.
The flight data was used to validate the launch vehicle’s propulsion, navigation and other major subsystems, as well as the supporting ground systems. The results proved to be excellent.
Preparations had already begun for the ORB-D mission, this time debuting the flight of a real Cygnus spacecraft.
One of the key milestones for the launch was the rollout of the integrated Antares and Cygnus stack, with the rocket first emerging from its Horizontal Integration Facility in the early hours of Friday morning.
The rocket was then transported about one mile to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch complex, known as Pad 0A, aboard the Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL), a specialized vehicle that also raised the rocket to a vertical position on the launch pad and serves as a support interface between the rocket and the launch complex’s systems.
By about 1:00 pm local, Antares was in a fully vertical position on the launch pad.
“Today’s roll-out of the fully integrated Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft, along with this weekend’s on-pad testing and readiness review, are the final steps leading up to next week’s launch of our COTS demonstration mission,” noted David W. Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer,
“This mission will mark the completion of a five-year journey that NASA and our company embarked on in 2008 to create a new medium-class rocket, a sophisticated logistics spacecraft and a world-class launch site at the Wallops Flight Facility.”
Orbital were targeting Tuesday, September 17 for the launch during a 15-minute window from 11:16 to 11:31 am (EDT). However, per L2’s rolling updates for this mission, the launch has been delayed by 24 hours due to weather related delays in the launch pad/vehicle integration flow.
During the mission, the Antares rocket will boost the Cygnus spacecraft into a parking orbit of approximately 245 x 300 kilometers in altitude, inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator.
One Antares lofts Cygnus into orbit, the vehicle will be controlled by Orbital at MCC-Dulles, using an ops team that has experience operating GEO satellites, boosted by an increasing number of flight controllers from NASA MOD, who will bring their ISS experience to the table.
The new spacecraft will then spend six days conducting demos to check on its health and operations during the period of far field phasing. Future missions will only require a standard three days prior to arriving at the ISS.
On Day 6, NASA will provide a “Go” for Cygnus to berth with the Station, allowing it to proceed to what is known as the “Keep Out Sphere (KOS).
Once Cygnus has carefully approached the ISS, it will be grabbed by the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) robotic arm, before being berthed. The ISS crew will have over 1,500lbs of cargo to remove from the spacecraft’s pressurized section.
Once docked operations are over – currently scheduled for the 38th day of the mission – Cygnus will end its life via a destructive re-entry over the South Pacific Ocean, taking nearly 2,500lbs of ISS trash with it.
A post-flight review between Orbital and NASA will then take place to provide Antares and Cygnus with a green light to proceed towards CRS operations.
(Images: Orbital, NASA and via L2’s Antares/Cygnus Section – Containing presentations, videos, images, interactive high level updates and more).
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