Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Launch Pad Decision Time at Orbital
After being selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration last February to demonstrate a new space transportation system for delivering cargo to the International Space Station, Orbital Sciences Corporation is expected to make a final decision on launch pad utilization between the Wallops Island Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia or Cape Canaveral, Florida this week.
In a three-year, $320 million cooperative program, NASA will invest $170 million and Orbital will contribute $150 million (including its planned Taurus II launch vehicle development investment) in the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) project. In its first phase, the COTS project will involve the development and flight demonstration of a commercial cargo delivery system to low Earth orbit with the potential to support ISS operations following the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010.
The initial announcement included a proposal to launch from Virginia's fledgling FAA-licensed commercial spaceport. But after intense lobbying by Florida aerospace interests, Orbital Sciences Corporation opened the launch site to bid. Both states have reportedly offered packages to lure the new Taurus II medium-lift rocket.
Orbital’s COTS demonstration mission is scheduled to take place in the fourth quarter of 2010. Subject to NASA’s future requirements, Orbital will be prepared to carry out several follow-on operational COTS missions in 2011 and to conduct as many as eight operational ISS cargo flights a year by 2012 and 2013. The Cygnus spacecraft to be launched aboard the Taurus II rocket will be capable of delivering up to 2,300 kg of cargo to the ISS and will be able to return 1,200 kg of cargo from the ISS to Earth.