Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Orbital tests new launch pad

Antares rolls out to new pad - NASA

Orbital Sciences Corporation  has commenced Antares launch vehicle operations at the liquid-fuel launch complex at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Orbital begin on-pad operations leading up to flight demonstrations of its Antares medium-class launch vehicle and Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft, which will be used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

Over the next several months, the company plans to complete three major program milestones, including an on-pad hot-fire test of the Antares first stage, the maiden flight of a fully operational Antares rocket, and a demonstration mission to the ISS of Orbital’s cargo delivery system, prior to commencing operational cargo delivery missions to the ISS.

The first of the three milestones, the Antares hot-fire test operation, will demonstrate the readiness of the rocket’s first stage and launch pad fueling systems to support the upcoming flights. The hot-fire test involves firing Antares’ dual AJ26 rocket engines that will generate a combined total thrust of 680,000 lbs. for approximately 30 seconds while the first stage is held down on the pad. The hot-fire operation is expected to be conducted in four to five weeks following integration and check-out of the Antares first stage test unit with the launch complex’s fueling systems.

The hot-fire test will be followed about one month later by the maiden flight of the Antares rocket, which will carry a Cygnus mass simulator payload that will be heavily instrumented to gather data on the launch environment aboard Antares. In addition, four small “pico satellites” will be deployed from two dispensers that will be integrated with the mass simulator.

The last of the three COTS test milestones will be the COTS demonstration mission to the ISS. For this mission, a fully operational Cygnus spacecraft will be launched into orbit by Antares and, following an extensive series of in-orbit tests, will autonomously rendezvous and berth with the ISS. The first Cygnus will deliver approximately 550 kg of cargo upon its arrival and will remove about 1,000 kg of disposal cargo upon its departure from the orbiting laboratory.