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Friday, November 23, 2012

Antares-Cygnus Set for ISS in April 2013

The first test launch of the Antares-Cygnus to the International Space Station has been set for April 2013 following delays resulting from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pad construction and by minor damages from  Hurricane Sandy.  If completed successfully, the next flight will be the first of eight contracted flights for NASA, carrying supplies to the ISS.
 
Artist rendering of hot fire test.
The first test launch of the Antares booster without the Cygnus cargo spacecraft is set for January 2013 following a cold-flow test, a crucial trial in which the rocket is fueled and defueled and a hold-down (hot fire) test will be held, in which the rocket's two Aerojet AJ-26 engines will be lit but the rocket restrained from flight late this month (November 2012), according to FlightGlobal.
 
The first flight, slated for early next year, will carry a dummy Cygnus cargo carrier along with a secondary payload comprising four cubesats to orbit. The vehicle will not rendezvous with the ISS on the initial Antares booster test. 
 
Meanwhile, NASA investigators may have discovered the root cause of two consecutive launch failures of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus XL rocket, a manufacturing defect that could affect the company’s Antares rocket. NASA and Orbital investigative teams have traced the problem to a heat-treated frangible rail designed to fracture when a pyrotechnic charge is detonated post-launch to shed the rocket’s payload-fairing shroud.
 
William Gerstenmaier (NASA)
William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Spaceflight and Operations Directorate, noted recently teams have discovered a manufacturing problem “that may be more generic than just to the Taurus,” and that while the investigation into this new line of inquiry is preliminary, the findings and mitigation efforts may affect not only the Taurus XL, but other Orbital launch vehicles as well, including the company’s Pegasus, Minotaur and Antares launchers.
 
Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski recently told Aviation Week that the company ’s Antares, Pegasus and Minotaur rockets all fly versions of the frangible joint fairing separation system. These rails are located along the seam between the two halves of Orbital’s clamshell-shaped fairing, as well as at the base of the fairing that connects to the launch vehicle itself.

Antares will launch from Virginia
If Orbital meets four significant milestones ahead with the "hot fire" test, the flaring manufacturing problem, the booster flight test, and the April 2013 demonstration mission, the Cygnus spacecraft will become the second operational commercial cargo available to the space agency - supplementing the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (now seeking a human flight rating).

Unlike the Dragon which has both up and down cargo capability, the Cygnus will, at least initially, will only have up mass capability and burn-up on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere following undocking from the ISS.

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