Antares and COTS Demonstration Mission Update

In the two weeks following the successful debut fight of the Antares rocket on April 21, the program's technical team gathered and analyzed large volumes of data collected during the A-ONE mission's countdown, ignition and lift-off, and flight sequence.

This data is used to validate that the launch vehicle's propulsion, navigation and other major subsystems, as well as the supporting ground systems, all performed as designed. The Antares team's conclusion was definitive: the rocket's first- and second-stage performance was right on the mark; the stage and fairing separation events were performed exactly as planned; and the data gathered from the heavily instrumented mass simulator payload confirmed Orbital's engineering models that predicted a benign launch environment for Cygnus and other future satellite payloads in terms of the thermal, acoustic, vibration, acceleration and other measurements captured during the flight.

"While the launch looked great to the casual observer, our team was hungry for data in order to validate our expectations for the rocket's performance," said Mr. Mike Pinkston, Orbital's Antares Program Manager. "Comprehensive post-flight analysis is an absolutely critical step to understanding exactly how a launch vehicle has performed and whether there are any necessary adjustments to its main systems prior to the next launch. Having intensively reviewed the data for a couple weeks, our conclusion was the inaugural Antares flight really was as good as it looked."

With the Antares Test Flight successfully completed, Orbital's Antares and Cygnus teams are now focused on the Demonstration Mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the final milestone in the COTS joint program with NASA. Orbital currently expects to be ready to carry out the Demonstration Mission in August. Orbital is swapping out one first stage AJ26 main engine for another unit that is already fully tested in order to further inspect and confirm a seal is functioning properly. The company expects the engine change-out process to add about three to four weeks to the schedule. In addition, missions to the ISS must be carefully scheduled with NASA to fit into the pre-planned traffic pattern at the orbiting laboratory. A Japanese cargo ship, the HTV, is also scheduled for a mission to the ISS in August. If the HTV schedule slips, Orbital expects to be ready to go in August. If the HTV holds its schedule, Orbital's Demonstration Mission could be planned for September.

Meantime, the Antares production team will keep pressing forward on the third Antares rocket that will launch the first of eight Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions. The CRS-1 mission is slated to take place in the fourth quarter of this year. For the CRS-1 mission, both AJ26 engines for that rocket have been fully tested and are already at Wallops. In addition, the two major components of the Cygnus spacecraft to be used for CRS-1 are complete and will be mated and integrated at Wallops this fall. The Service Module is fully tested and ready to be shipped to Wallops from Orbital's Dulles manufacturing facility, and the Pressurized Cargo Module is also complete and awaiting shipment to Wallops from Thales Alenia's plant in Turin, Italy.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.