Orbital ATK eyes early October 2016 for Antares’ return to flight
It’s been nearly two years since Antares has taken flight, but Orbital ATK’s launcher may soon thunder from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-AtlanticRegional Spaceport on Virginia’s Wallops Island. The company issued a news release indicating a targeted launch window of October 9-13, 2016 for the OA-5 mission to ferry supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) via their Cygnus spacecraft.
Sidelined after a failed turbopump caused the loss of the vehicle and payload shortly after launch for the Orb-3 mission on October 28, 2014, Orbital ATK had to source a replacement engine, and perform validation tests, prior to resuming launches.
Though no one was hurt in the launch mishap, extensive damage was caused to the launch pad and it destroyed the Cygnus spacecraft and the cargo intended for the ISS. Orbital ATK already had plans to replace that version of Antares, and the launch failure was an opportunity for the company to accelerate that development.
Abandoning the AJ-26 engine, which were modified 40 year-old NK-33 engines from Russia’s failed moon rocket program, Orbital ATK selected the RD-181 from Russia’s NPO Energomash, the same company who manufactures the RD-180 used on ULA’s Atlas V rocket.
The new engines provide approximately 100,000 pound-force (440 kilonewtons) more than the AJ-26 they replace. This increased capability will allow Orbital ATK to deliver more payload per flight, thus satisfying their cargo requirement for NASA in fewer launches.
Following tradition, Orbital ATK has once again christened Cygnus with the name of a former NASA astronaut, this time honoring Capt. Alan Poindexter. Poindexter was selected for the astronaut program in 1998 and flew on two shuttle missions, STS-122 and STS-131. The S.S. Alan G. Poindexter will carry 5,290 pounds (2,400 kilograms) of cargo — supplies, science experiments, and consumables — to the ISS, along with carrying out the second of three Saffire experiments. which will be activated after the craft has departed the station and is at a safe distance.
Orbital ATK has blocked off October 9 through October 13, 2016 as the anticipated launch window, and will be able to narrow it down as the window approaches.