Antares Raised to Launch Position for Sunday Night Launch to ISS

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is raised into the vertical position on launch Pad-0A, Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is raised into the vertical position on launch Pad-0A, Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – After a two year stand down, an upgraded commercial Antares rocket was rolled out to the NASA Wallops launch pad on Virginia’s eastern shore and raised to its launch position today in anticipation of a spectacular Sunday night liftoff, Oct. 16, to the International Space Station (ISS) on a critical resupply mission for NASA.

Blastoff of the re-engined Orbital ATK Antares rocket is slated for 8:03 p.m. EDT on Oct. 16 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s picturesque Eastern shore.

The two year lull in Antares launches followed the rockets immediate grounding after its catastrophic failure just moments after liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014 that doomed the Orb-3 resupply mission to the space station – as witnessed by this author.

Officials had to postpone this commercial resupply mission – dubbed OA-5 – from mid-week due to Cat 3 Hurricane Nicole which slammed into Bermuda yesterday, Oct. 13, packing winds of about 125 mph, and is home to a critical NASA launch tracking station.

After the storm passed, engineers found the tracking station only suffered minor damage – so the GO was given to proceed with preparation for Sunday’s nighttime launch.

“Repairs to the station have been made and the team is currently readying to support the launch,” according to NASA officials.

Engineers are still testing the station to ensure its readiness.

“The Bermuda site provides tracking, telemetry and flight terminations support for Antares launches from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Final testing is scheduled to be conducted the morning of Oct. 15 prior to the launch readiness review later that day.”

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is rolled out of the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to begin the approximately half-mile journey to launch Pad-0A, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station.  Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is rolled out of the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to begin the approximately half-mile journey to launch Pad-0A, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

If all goes well Antares is sure to provide a dazzling nighttime skyshow from NASA’s Virginia launch base Sunday night – and potentially offering a thrilling spectacle to millions of US East Coast spectators.

The launch window last five minutes and the weather outlook is currently favorable.

The launch will air live on NASA TV and the agency’s website beginning at 7 p.m. EDT Oct 16.

Antares rocket stands erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before a launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Antares rocket stands erect, reflecting off the calm waters the night before a launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 133-foot-tall (40-meter) Antares was rolled out to pad 0A on Thursday, Oct. 13 – three days prior to the anticipated launch date – and raised to the vertical launch position this afternoon.

The two stage Antares will carry the Orbital OA-5 Cygnus cargo freighter to orbit on a flight bound for the ISS and its multinational crew of astronauts and cosmonauts.

On-Ramp to the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and International Space Station - ready for blastoff from NASA Wallops in this file photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
On-Ramp to the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and International Space Station – ready for blastoff from NASA Wallops in this file photo. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The launch marks the first nighttime liftoff of the Antares – and it could be visible up and down the eastern seaboard if weather and atmospheric conditions cooperate to provide a spectacular viewing opportunity to the most populated region in North America.

The 14 story tall commercial Antares rocket also will launch for the first time in the upgraded 230 configuration – powered by new Russian-built first stage engines.

Orbital ATK’s Antares commercial rocket had to be overhauled with the completely new RD-181 first stage engines – fueled by LOX/kerosene – following the destruction of the Antares rocket and Cygnus supply ship two years ago.

The RD-181 replaces the previously used AJ26 engines which failed moments after liftoff during the last launch on Oct. 28, 2014 resulting in a catastrophic loss of the rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter.

The launch mishap was traced to a failure in the AJ26 first stage engine turbopump and caused Antares launches to immediately grind to a halt.

The new RD-181 engines are installed on the Orbital ATK Antares first stage core ready to support a full power hot fire test at the NASA Wallops Island launch pad in March 2016.  New thrust adapter structures, actuators, and propellant feed lines are incorporated between the engines and core stage.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The new RD-181 engines are installed on the Orbital ATK Antares first stage core ready to support a full power hot fire test at the NASA Wallops Island launch pad in March 2016. New thrust adapter structures, actuators, and propellant feed lines are incorporated between the engines and core stage. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

For the OA-5 mission, the Cygnus advanced maneuvering spacecraft will be loaded with approximately 2,400 kg (5,290 lbs.) of supplies and science experiments for the International Space Station (ISS).

“Cygnus is loaded with the Saffire II payload and a nanoracks cubesat deployer,” Frank DeMauro, Orbital ATK Cygnus program manager, told Universe Today in a interview.

Among the science payloads aboard the Cygnus OA-5 mission is the Saffire II payload experiment to study combustion behavior in microgravity. Data from this experiment will be downloaded via telemetry. In addition, a NanoRack deployer will release Spire Cubesats used for weather forecasting. These secondary payload operations will be conducted after Cygnus departs the space station.

Other experiments include a study on the effect of lighting on sleep and daily rhythms, collection of health-related data, and a new way to measure neutrons.

Watch for Ken’s continuing Antares/Cygnus mission and launch reporting. He will be reporting from on site at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA during the launch campaign.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Cygnus spacecraft for the OA-5 mission is named the S.S. Alan G. Poindexter in honor of former astronaut and Naval Aviator Captain Alan Poindexter.

Under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, Orbital ATK will deliver approximately 28,700 kilograms of cargo to the space station. OA-5 is the sixth of these missions.

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft aboard. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft aboard. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orbital ATK on the Rebound With Antares Return to Flight in 2016

Orbital ATK is on the rebound with return to flight of their Antares rocket slated in early 2016 following the catastrophic launch failure that doomed the last Antares in October 2014 on a resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).

Engineers are making “excellent progress” assembling a modified version of Antares that is currently on track to blast off as soon as March 2016 with the company’s Cygnus resupply ship and resume critical deliveries of research experiments and life sustaining provisions to the multinational crews serving aboard the orbiting outpost.

“We are on track for the next Antares launch in early 2016,” said David Thompson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orbital ATK in a progress update.

Resuming Antares launches is a key part of the company’s multipronged effort to fulfil their delivery commitments to NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

“The focus all along has been to do everything we can to fulfill our commitments to delivering cargo to the space station for NASA,” Thompson stated.

“After the Antares launch failure last October … our team has been sharply focused on fulfilling that commitment.”

Pre-launch seaside panorama of Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket at the NASA's Wallops Flight Facility launch pad on Oct 26 - 2 days before the ??Orb-3? launch failure on Oct 28, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Pre-launch seaside panorama of Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket at the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility launch pad on Oct 26 – 2 days before the Orb-3 launch failure on Oct 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The key milestone was to successfully re-engine Antares with a new type of first stage engine that completely eliminates use of the original AJ26 engines that were refurbished 40 year leftovers – the NK-33 from Russia’s abandoned manned moon landing program.

After the launch failure, Orbital managers decided to ditch the trouble plagued AJ-26 and “re-engineered” the vehicle with the new RD-181 Russian-built engines that were derived from the RD-191.

Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares’ rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Soviet era NK-33 engines refurbished as the AJ26 exactly like pictured here probably caused Antares’ rocket failure on Oct. 28, 2014. Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital ATK holds a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from NASA worth $1.9 Billion to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware spread out over eight Cygnus cargo delivery flights to the ISS.

NASA has recently supplemented the CRS contract with three additional Cygnus resupply deliveries in 2017 and 2018.

However, the Cygnus missions were put on hold when the third operational Antares/Cygnus flight was destroyed in a raging inferno about 15 seconds after liftoff on the Orb-3 mission from launch pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore.

Until Antares flights can safely resume, Orbital ATK has contracted with rocket maker United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch a Cygnus cargo freighter atop an Atlas V rocket for the first time, in early December – as I reported here.

The Antares rocket is being upgraded with the new RD-181 main engines powering the modified first stage core structure that replace the troublesome AJ26 engines whose failure caused the Antares Orb-3 launch explosion on Oct. 28, 2014.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“We are making excellent progress in resuming our cargo delivery service to the International Space Station for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract,” said company officials.

Orbital ATK engineering teams have been working diligently on “integrating and testing the new RD-181 main engines.”

After engineers finished acceptance testing and certification of the RD-181, the first dual engine set was shipped to Orbital’s Wallops Island integration facility. They arrived in mid-July. A second set is due to arrive in the fall.

“The RD-181 engine provides extra thrust and higher specific impulse, significantly increasing the payload capacity of the Antares rocket. This state-of-the-art propulsion system is a direct adaptation of the RD-191 engine, which completed an extensive qualification and certification program in 2013, accumulating more than 37,000 seconds of total run time,” said Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group, in a statement.

Engineers and technicians have now “integrated the two RD-181 engines with a newly designed and built thrust frame adapter and modified first stage airframe.”

Then they will add new propellant feed lines and first stage avionics systems.

Then comes the moment of truth. A “hot fire” test on the launch pad will be conducted by either the end of 2015 or early 2016 “to verify the vehicle’s operational performance and compatibility of the MARS launch complex.”

“Significant progress has been made in the manufacture and test of the modified hardware components, avionics and software needed to support the new engines,” said Mike Pinkston, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Antares Program.

“We are solidly on track to resume flying Antares in 2016.”

Antares rocket raised at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket raised at NASA Wallops launch pad 0A bound for the ISS on Sept 18, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Simultaneously, teams have been working hard to repair the Wallops launch pad which was damaged when the doomed Antares plummeted back to Earth and exploded in a hellish inferno witnessed by thousands of spectators and media including myself.

Repairs are expected to be completed by early 2016 to support a launch tentatively planned for as soon as March 2016.

SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial cargo company under contract to ship supplies to the ISS also suffered a launch failure of with their Falcon 9/Dragon cargo delivery rocket on June 28, 2015.

NASA is working with both forms to restart the critical ISS resupply train as soon as can safely be accomplished.

Be sure to read Ken’s earlier eyewitness reports about last October’s Antares failure at NASA Wallops and ongoing reporting about Orbital ATK’s recovery efforts – all here at Universe Today.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about Orbital ATK, SpaceX, Boeing, ULA, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Aug 29-31: “MUOS-4 launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

ULA Delta IV Heavy Rocket Rolled to Cape Launch Pad and Raised for Orion’s First Flight

The march towards first launch of NASA’s next generation Orion crew vehicle is accelerating rapidly.

The world’s most powerful rocket – the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy – was moved to its Cape Canaveral launch pad overnight and raised at the pad today, Oct. 1, thereby setting in motion the final steps to prepare for blastoff of NASA’s new Orion capsule on its first test flight in just over two months.

All the pieces are ready and now it’s just a matter of attaching all those components together for the inaugural uncrewed liftoff of the state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft on its maiden mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in December.

“We’ve been working toward this launch for months, and we’re in the final stretch,” said Kennedy Director Bob Cabana, in a NASA statement.

Orion is almost complete and the rocket that will send it into space is on the launch pad. We’re 64 days away from taking the next step in deep space exploration.”

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy topped by the Orion EFT-1 capsule is slated to blastoff on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket  launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

After a nearly two day delay due to drenching rain storms, the Delta IV Heavy integrated first and second stages were transported horizontally overnight Wednesday starting around 10 p.m. from the processing hanger inside ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to the nearby launch complex and servicing gantry at Pad 37.

Early this morning, the rocket was hoisted up into its launch configuration. Several of my space photo-journalist colleagues were on hand. See their photos herein.

From now until launch technicians will conduct the final processing, testing and checkout of the Delta IV Heavy booster. They will also carry out “a high fidelity rehearsal to include fully powering up the booster and loading the tanks with fuel and oxidizer,” according to ULA.

“This is a tremendous milestone and gets us one step closer to our launch later this year,” said Tony Taliancich, ULA’s director of East Coast Launch Operations, in a ULA statement.

“The team has worked extremely hard to ensure this vehicle is processed with the utmost attention to detail and focus on mission success.”

“The Delta IV Heavy is the world’s most powerful launch vehicle flying today, and we are excited to be supporting our customer for this critical flight test to collect data and reduce overall mission risks and costs for the program,” said Taliancich.

ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space
ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket launching NASA’s Orion’s EFT-1 in Dec. 2014 being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Credit: Jeff Seibert/Wired4Space

NASA’s Orion Program manager Mark Geyer told me in a recent interview that the Orion spacecraft, built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, will be transported to the pad around November 10 or 11. Then the Orion will be hoisted and attached to the top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket at the base of its service module.

The Delta IV Heavy first stage is comprised of a trio of three Common Booster Cores (CBCs).

These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Each CBC measures 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. They are equipped with an RS-68 engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. Together they generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.

The Delta IV Heavy became the world’s most powerful rocket upon the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program and is the only vehicle that is sufficiently powerful to launch the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft.

The first CBC booster was attached to the center booster in June. The second one was attached in early August.

Beyond the ruins of Launch Complex 34, where three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire, NASA looks to the future as workers raise a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket on the pad at Space Launch Complex 37. This Delta vehicle will power the first test flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft, the first human spacecraft designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo program. Launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is targeted for the morning of December 4. Photo Credit:Matthew Travis / Zero-G News
Beyond the ruins of Launch Complex 34, where three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire, NASA looks to the future as workers raise a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket on the pad at Space Launch Complex 37. This Delta vehicle will power the first test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the first human spacecraft designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo program. Launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is targeted for the morning of December 4. Photo Credit:Matthew Travis / Zero-G News

I recently visited the HIF during a media tour after the three CBCs had been joined together as well as earlier this year after the first two CBCs arrived by barge from their ULA assembly plant in Decatur, Alabama, located about 20 miles west of Huntsville. See my photos herein.

I was also on hand at KSC when the Orion crew module/service module (CM/SM) stack was rolled out on Sept. 11, 2014, on a 36 wheeled transporter from its high bay assembly facility in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

It was moved about 1 mile to the KSC fueling facility named the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS). Read my Orion move story – here.

Fueling of Orion was completed over the weekend and it has now been moved to the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) for the installation of its last component – the Launch Abort System (LAS).

Orion’s next stop is SLC-37.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

NASA is simultaneously developing a monster heavy lift rocket known as the Space Launch System or SLS, that will eventually launch Orion on its deep space missions.

The maiden SLS/Orion launch on the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) unmanned test flight is now scheduled for no later than November 2018 – read my story here.

SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built and the assembly of its core stage has begun at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Read my story – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion’s EFT-1 launch vehicle being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B this morning. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
Orion’s EFT-1 launch vehicle being hoisted vertical at SLC-37B on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) on Sept. 11, 2014, at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Assembly Completed on Powerful Delta IV Rocket Boosting Maiden Orion Capsule Test Flight

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Assembly of the powerful Delta IV rocket boosting the pathfinder version of NASA’s Orion crew capsule on its maiden test flight in December has been completed.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and other destinations in our Solar System.

The state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft is scheduled to launch on its inaugural uncrewed mission, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), in December 2014 atop the Delta IV Heavy rocket. It replaces NASA’s now retired space shuttle orbiters.

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy is currently the most powerful rocket in America’s fleet following the retirement of the NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

Engineers from the rocket’s manufacturer – United Launch Alliance (ULA) – took a major step forward towards Orion’s first flight when they completed the integration of the three primary core elements of the rockets first stage with the single engine upper stage.

These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) the will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

All of the rocket integration work and preflight processing took place inside ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Universe Today recently visited the Delta IV booster during an up close tour inside the HIF facility last week where the rocket was unveiled to the media in a horizontally stacked configuration. See my Delta IV photos herein.

The HIF building is located at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37), on Cape Canaveral, a short distance away from the launch pad where the Orion EFT-1 mission will lift off on Dec. 4.

“The day-to-day processing is performed by ULA,” said Merri Anne Stowe of NASA’s Fleet Systems Integration Branch of the Launch Services Program (LSP), in a NASA statement.

“NASA’s role is to keep a watchful eye on everything and be there to help if any issues come up.”

The first stage is comprised of a trio of three Delta IV Common Booster Cores (CBCs).

Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Each CBC measures 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. They are equipped with an RS-68 engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. Together they generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.

This past spring I visited the HIF after the first two CBCs arrived by barge from their ULA assembly plant in Decatur, Alabama, located about 20 miles west of Huntsville.

The first CBC booster was attached to the center booster in June. The second one was attached in early August, according to ULA.

“After the three core stages went through their initial inspections and processing, the struts were attached, connecting the booster stages with the center core,” Stowe said. “All of this takes place horizontally.”

The Delta IV cryogenic second stage testing and attachment was completed in August and September. It measures 45 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. It is equipped with a single RL10-B-2 engine, that also burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant and generates 25,000 pounds of thrust.

“The hardware for Exploration Flight Test-1 is coming together well,” Stowe noted in a NASA statement.

“We haven’t had to deal with any serious problems. All of the advance planning appears to be paying off.”

This same Delta IV upper stage will be used in the Block 1 version of NASA’s new heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).

Be sure to read my recent article detailing the ribbon cutting ceremony opening the manufacture of the SLS core stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, LA. The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built by humans, exceeding that of the iconic Saturn V rocket that sent humans to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Wide view of the new welding tool at the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Wide view of the new welding tool at the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Delta IV rocket will be rolled out to the SLC-37 Cape Canaveral launch pad this week.
Assembly of the Orion EFT-1 capsule and stacking atop the service module was also completed in September at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

I was also on hand at KSC when the Orion crew module/service module (CM/SM) stack was rolled out on Sept. 11, 2014, on a 36-wheel transporter from its high bay assembly facility in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) on Sept. 11, 2014, at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

It was moved about 1 mile to its next stop on the way to SLC-37 – the KSC fueling facility named the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS). Read my Orion move story here.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Orion EFT 1 crew module departs Neil Armstrong Operation and Checkout Building on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, beginning the long journey to the launch pad and planned liftoff on Dec. 4, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s Orion EFT 1 crew module departs Neil Armstrong Operation and Checkout Building on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, beginning the long journey to the launch pad and planned liftoff on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space journalists including Ken Kremer/Universe Today pose with the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Space journalists including Ken Kremer/Universe Today pose with the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

How to Watch Spectacular Antares Commercial Launch to ISS on July 13 – Complete Viewing Guide

Orbital 2 Launch from NASA Wallops Island, VA on July 12, 2014- Time of First Sighting Map
This map shows the rough time at which you can first expect to see Antares after it is launched on July 12, 2014. It represents the time at which the rocket will reach 5 degrees above the horizon and varies depending on your location . We have selected 5 degrees as it is unlikely that you’ll be able to view the rocket when it is below 5 degrees due to buildings, vegetation, and other terrain features. As an example, using this map when observing from Washington, DC shows that Antares will reach 5 degrees above the horizon more after than a minute. Credit: Orbital Sciences
See more trajectory viewing maps and NASA TV broadcast link below
Story updated[/caption]

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – Catching a break from nearly relentless and damaging thunderstorms along the US East coast, Orbital Sciences Corp. was finally able to roll their commercial Antares rocket out to its beachside launch pad at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA, early this morning, July 10, following a weather postponement that pushed the scheduled liftoff back by one day to Saturday, July 12 from Friday, July 11.

UPDATE: Orbital Sciences Corp. has postponed the launch of its Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station until 12:52 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 13, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Severe weather in the Wallops area has repeatedly interrupted Orbital’s operations schedule leading up to the launch.

The long delayed blastoff of the privately developed Antares rocket on a critical cargo mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS) and packed with science experiments is now slated for 1:14 p.m. on July 12 12:52 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 13 from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern shore.

Antares is carrying the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft to orbit on the Orbital-2 (Orb-2) mission. It is the second of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

Here’s our complete guide on “How to See the Antares/Cygnus July 12 Blastoff” – chock full of viewing maps and trajectory graphics (above and below) from a variety of prime viewing locations; including historic and notable landmarks in Philadelphia, Washington, DC., NYC, New Jersey, Virginia and more.

US National National Mall Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences
US National National Mall Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences

If you have never seen a rocket launch, this one could be for you especially since it’s now on the weekend and you don’t have to take the long trek to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Depending on local weather conditions, portions of the daylight liftoff could be visible to millions of spectators along the US Eastern seaboard stretching from South Carolina to Massachusetts.

The launch window on Sunday, July 13 opens at 12:52 p.m. for a duration of 5 minutes.

NASA will broadcast the Antares launch live on NASA TV starting at 12 Noon – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Philadelphia - Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Philadelphia – Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences

In the event of a delay for any reason the next available launch opportunity is Sunday, July 13 at 12:52 p.m.

The weather prognosis for both days this weekend is currently excellent.

The weather forecast shows a probability of acceptable weather at 80% GO on Saturday and improves to 90% GO on Sunday. Of course the weather can change on a dime.

Certainly the best viewing of all will be in the mid-Atlantic region closest to Wallops Island.

So if you have the opportunity to observe the launch locally, you’ll get a magnificent view and hear the rockets thunder at either the NASA Wallops Visitor Center or the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague National Seashore.

For more information about the Wallops Visitors Center, including directions, see: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/wallops/visitorcenter

NASA will have special “countdown speakers” set up at the NASA Wallops Visitor Center, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague National Seashore and Ocean City inlet.

Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft await launch on Orb 2 mission on July 13, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. LADEE lunar mission launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft await launch on Orb 2 mission on July 13, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA. LADEE lunar mission launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft are set to blast off on July 11, 2014 on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the International Space Station (ISS).  The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft are set to blast off on July 12, 2014 on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Orb-2 launch was postponed about a month from June 10 to conduct a thorough re-inspection of the two Russian built and US modified Aerojet AJ26 engines that power the rocket’s first stage after a test failure of a different engine on May 22 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi resulted in extensive damage.

I was granted a visit to the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket integration facility at NASA Wallops recently as the engine re-inspection work by Aerojet engineers was winding down and ultimately resulted in approval to launch. See my Antares/Cygnus Orb-2 rocket photos herein.

The pressurized Cygnus cargo freighter will deliver 1,657 kg (3653 lbs) of cargo to the ISS including science experiments and instruments, crew supplies, food, water, computer equipment, spacewalk tools and student research experiments.

Cygnus will remain berthed at the station for 40 days.

For the destructive and fiery return to Earth, Cygnus will be loaded with approximately 1,346 kg (2967 lbs) of trash for disposal upon atmospheric reentry.

Battery Park, NYC - Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Battery Park, NYC – Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences

Despite the 1 day delay, an on time launch on Saturday will still result in Cygnus arrival at the ISS on July 15. The flight time to the ISS reduced from approximately 3 days to 2 days.

Station commander Steven Swanson of NASA and Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (ESA) will grapple and berth Cygnus using the stations 57 foot-long robotic arm onto the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony module.

Orbital Sciences was awarded a $1.9 Billion supply contract by NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for 8 flight to the ISS through 2016 under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) initiative.

The July mission marks the second operational Antares/Cygnus flight.

The two stage Antares rocket stands 133 feet tall. It takes about 10 minutes from launch until separation of Cygnus from the Antares vehicle.

SpaceX has a similar resupply contract using their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo carrier and just completed their 3rd operational mission to the ISS in May.

Atlantic City, NJ - Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Atlantic City, NJ – Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences

Watch for Ken’s onsite Antares Orb-2 mission reports from NASA Wallops, VA.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing ISS, OCO-2, GPM, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about NASA’s Mars missions and Orbital Sciences Antares ISS launch on July 12 from NASA Wallops, VA in July and more about SpaceX, Boeing and commercial space and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations.

July 11/12: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Launch from Virginia” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

Iwo Jima Memorial -  - Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Iwo Jima Memorial – – Antares Orb-2 trajectory. Credit: Orbital Sciences
ATK built 2nd stage integrated onto 1st stage of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket slated for July 11, 2014 launch on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS.  The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
ATK built 2nd stage integrated onto 1st stage of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket slated for July 11, 2014 launch on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS. The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Antares Commercial Rocket Cleared for July 11 Space Station Blastoff Following Engine Re-Inspection

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – The long delayed liftoff of an Orbital Sciences Corp. commercial Antares rocket on a cargo mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS) has been cleared for blastoff this Friday, July 11, from the Eastern shore of Virginia, following a thorough re-inspection of the two Russian built and US modified AJ26 engines that power the rocket’s first stage after the test failure of a different engine in May.

The critically important Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 engine re-inspection was mandated following the significant failure of another AJ26 engine during acceptance testing on May 22 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to investigate any concerns and insure against an in flight failure.

NASA and Orbital Sciences are now targeting the Antares launch carrying the privately developed Cygnus resupply freighter on the Orb-2 mission from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, on July 11 at 1:40 p.m. (EDT).

Universe Today was granted a visit to the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket integration facility at NASA Wallops recently as the engine re-inspection work was winding down. See my Antares/Cygnus Orb-2 rocket photos herein.

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS.  Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS. Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Aerojet engineers re-inspected the engines while they were still mated to the bottom of the Antares rocket and found them to be satisfactory for fight. No swap out was required.

The Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft was then mated to the rocket on July 3 and will be rolled out to the Wallops launch pad on Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m., July 9.

Late stow items including time sensitive science experiments will be packed aboard on Tuesday, July 8.

The launch window on July 11 opens at 1:40 p.m. for a duration of 5 minutes.

NASA will broadcast the Antares launch live on NASA TV – http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

In the event of a delay for any reason the next available launch opportunity is July 12 at 1:14 p.m.

Until the first stage engine failure, this Antares rocket had been slated to blastoff on June 10 with the Cygnus cargo freighter on the Orb-2 mission which is the second of eight cargo resupply missions to the ISS under Orbital’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

1st and 2nd stage of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket set for blast off on July 11, 2014 on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS.  The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
1st and 2nd stage of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket set for blast off on July 11, 2014 on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS. The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The AJ26 rocket engine that failed in May was extensively damaged about halfway through the planned test aimed at qualifying the engine for an Antares flight scheduled for early next year.

“There was a test failure at Stennis on May 22,” Orbital Sciences spokesman Barry Beneski told Universe Today at that time. “Engineers are examining data to determine the cause of the failure.”

The failure occurred approximately 30 seconds into the planned 54-second test.

“It terminated prematurely, resulting in extensive damage to the engine,” Orbital said in a statement in May.

The pressurized Cygnus spacecraft will deliver 1,657 kg of cargo to the ISS including science experiments and instruments, crew supplies, food, water, computer equipment, spacewalk tools and student research experiments.

Up-close side view of payload fairing protecting Cygnus cargo module during launch for Orb-2 mission to ISS. Vehicle undergoes prelaunch processing at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Up-close side view of payload fairing protecting Cygnus cargo module during launch for Orb-2 mission to ISS. Vehicle undergoes prelaunch processing at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Cygnus will remain berthed at the station for 40 days.

For the return to Earth it will be loaded with approximately 1,346 kg of material for disposal upon atmospheric reentry.

The two stage Antares rocket stands 133 feet tall.

It takes about 10 minutes from launch until separation of Cygnus from the Antares vehicle.

ATK built 2nd stage integrated onto 1st stage of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket slated for July 11, 2014 launch on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS.  The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
ATK built 2nd stage integrated onto 1st stage of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket slated for July 11, 2014 launch on the Orb-2 mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, bound for the ISS. The rocket undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops during visit by Universe Today/Ken Kremer. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Flight time to the ISS is approximately 3 days. An on time launch will result in Cygnus arrival at the ISS on July 15.

Station commander Steven Swanson of NASA and Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (ESA) will grapple and berth Cygnus using the stations 57 foot-long robotic arm onto the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony module.

The Antares first stage is powered by a pair of liquid oxygen and kerosene fueled AJ26-62 engines that deliver a combined 734,000 pounds (3265 kilonewtons) of sea level thrust.

To date the AJ26 engines have performed flawlessly through a total of three Antares launches from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia starting in April 2013.

They measure 3.3 meters (10.9 feet) in height and weigh 1590 kg (3,500 lb.).

The AJ26 engines were originally known as the NK-33 and built during the 1960s and 1970s in the Soviet Union for their manned moon landing program.

Aerojet extensively modified, checked and tested the NK-33 engines now designated as the AJ26-62 to qualify them for use in the first stage Antares core, which is manufactured in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine by the Yuznoye Design Bureau and based on the Zenit launch vehicle.

Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps.  These engines powered the successful Antares  liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orbital Sciences technicians at work on two AJ26 first stage engines at the base of an Antares rocket during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today at NASA Wallaps. These engines powered the successful Antares liftoff on Jan. 9, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orbital Sciences was awarded a $1.9 Billion supply contract by NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware for 8 flight to the ISS through 2016 under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) initiative.

The July mission marks the second operational Antares/Cygnus flight.

SpaceX has a similar resupply contract using their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo carrier and just completed their 3rd operational mission to the ISS in May.

Watch for Ken’s onsite Antares Orb-2 mission reports from NASA Wallops, VA.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing ISS, OCO-2, GPM, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Orbital Sciences Antares ISS launch on July 11 from NASA Wallops, VA, and more about SpaceX, Boeing, commercial space, NASA’s Mars missions and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations.

July 10/11: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Launch from Virginia” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

Antares Orb-2 launch viewing map for July 11, 2014 liftoff from NASA Wallops, VA. Credit: NASA
Antares Orb-2 launch viewing map for July 11, 2014 liftoff from NASA Wallops, VA. Credit: NASA

NASA Unveils Orion’s Powerful Delta IV Heavy Rocket Boosters for Dec. 2014 Blastoff

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Production and assembly of virtually all of the key hardware elements for NASA’s eagerly anticipated Orion EFT-1 uncrewed test flight are either complete or nearing completion at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

Two of the three first stage boosters comprising the mammoth Delta IV Heavy rocket that will propel Orion to high Earth orbit have arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and were unveiled this week by top NASA managers at a media briefing attended by Universe Today.

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy rocket is currently the most powerful rocket in America’s fleet and the only one capable of launching the Orion EFT-1 capsule to its intended orbit of 3600 miles altitude above Earth.

Due to urgent US national security requirements, the maiden blastoff of the unmanned Orion pathfinder capsule – that will one day send humans back to the Moon and beyond Earth’s realm – has just been postponed about three months from September to December 2014 in order to make way for the accelerated launch of recently declassified US Air Force Space Surveillance satellites – as I reported here.

Two of the three United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy boosters for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission were unveiled during a media event inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 17, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Two of the three United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV heavy boosters for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission were unveiled during a media event inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 17, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The center and starboard side boosters recently arrived at the Cape aboard a barge from Decatur, Alabama where they were manufactured by United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The remaining port side booster and the Centaur upper stage are due to be shipped by ULA to Cape Canaveral in April.

“It’s great to see Orion, the next step in our journey of exploration, said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “And it’s very exciting to see the engines integrated into the booster.”

“This mission is a stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars. The EFT-1 mission is so important to NASA. We will test the capsule with a reentry velocity of about 85% of what expect on returning [astronauts] from Mars.”

“We will test the heat shield, the separation of the fairing and exercise over 50% of the eventual software and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft. We will also test the recovery systems coming back into the Pacific Ocean.”

Despite the EFT-1 launch postponement, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said technicians for prime contractor Lockheed Martin are pressing forward and continue to work around the clock at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in order to still be ready in time to launch by the original launch window that opens in mid- September 2014.

“The contractor teams are working to get the Orion spacecraft done on time for the December 2017 launch,” said former shuttle commander Cabana.

“They are working seven days a week in the Operations and Checkout High Bay facility to get the vehicle ready to roll out for the EFT-1 mission and be mounted on top of the Delta IV Heavy.”

“I can assure you the Orion will be ready to go on time, as soon as we get our opportunity to launch that vehicle on its first flight test and that is pretty darn amazing.”

“It’s great to see all the hardware and boosters that will take Orion to orbit.”

Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Universe Today also confirmed with Cabana that NASA will absolutely not delay any Orion processing and assembly activities.

“Our plan is to have the Orion spacecraft ready because we want to get EFT-1 out so we can start getting the hardware in for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and start processing for that vehicle that will launch on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in 2017,” Cabana told me standing besides the Delta IV boosters inside the ULA Horizontal Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral.

Side view of two Delta IV heavy boosters powered by RS-68 engines inside Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Side view of two Delta IV heavy boosters powered by RS-68 engines inside Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral for NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

Although the mission will only last a few hours it will be high enough to send the vehicle plunging back into the atmosphere and a Pacific Ocean splashdown to test the craft and its heat shield at deep-space reentry speeds of 20,000 mph and endure temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit – like those of the Apollo moon landing missions.

The EFT-1 mission will provide engineers with critical data about Orion’s heat shield, flight systems and capabilities to validate designs of the spacecraft, inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. All these measurements will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in the solar system.

“Orion EFT-1 is really exciting as the first step on the path of humans to Mars,” said Lightfoot. It’s a stepping stone to get to Mars.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention, NY on April 12/13 and at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ on April 6. Also evenings at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL, March 24/25 and March 29/30

Ken Kremer

Delta IV Heavy boosters and Ken Kremer of Universe Today reporting from inside Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral on NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Delta IV Heavy boosters and Ken Kremer of Universe Today reporting from inside Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral on NASA’s upcoming Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Antares Private Rocket Thunders off Virginia Coast bound for Space Station – Marks 2nd US Commercial Launch This Week

Birds take flight as Antares lifts off for Space Station from Virginia Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station and loaded with science experiments.
Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer
Story updated[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – A private Antares rocket thundered off a Virginia launch pad today (Jan. 9) bound for the International Space Station on a breakthrough mission that marks the second successful commercial rocket launch by an American aerospace company this week – a feat that’s sure to send shock waves reverberating around the globe as well as providing an absolutely crucial life line to the station.

The majestic blastoff of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket took place from a beach side pad at NASA’s Wallop’s Flight Facility along the eastern shore of Virginia, Thursday, at 1:07 p.m. EST.

A flock of birds flew by just as Antares soared off the pad – see my lucky shot above.

The milestone flight was conducted under Orbital’s $1.9 Billion contract to NASA as the firm’s first operational cargo delivery flight to the ISS using their own developed Cygnus resupply vehicle.

“Today’s launch gives the cargo capability to keep the station going,” said Frank Culbertson, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group, and former Space Shuttle commander.

“Everything was right on the money.”

And with the ISS lifetime in Earth orbit now newly extended by the Obama Administration to 2024, the resupply freighters pioneered by Orbital Sciences and SpaceX – in partnership with NASA – are even more important than ever before to keep the station well stocked and humming with an ever increasing array of research projects.

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS.  Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS. Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The goal was to restore America’s cargo and crew capabilities to low Earth orbit and the ISS that was totally lost following the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles.

Cygnus is packed chock full with a myriad of science experiments for dozens of new NASA science investigations as well as two dozen student science experiments from school across the country.

Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Both the terrestrial and space weather forecasts improved dramatically in the final hours of the countdown and cooperated to allow today’s magnificent Antares launch.

The launch of the two stage, 133 foot tall Antares put on a spectacular sky show that may – because of crystal clear skies – have been visible to millions of spectators spread across the US east coast from the Carolina’s to Connecticut.

Antares beautiful liftoff on Thursday comes on the heels of Monday’s (Jan. 6) SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff .

Furthermore, it marks a grand success for the innovative US strategy of forging low cost, reliable and effective access to space by handing the task of building the rockets and cargo vehicles to US commercial companies for routine jobs in Earth orbit while NASA focuses on investing in deep space exploration.

“Today’s launch demonstrates how our strategic investments in the American commercial spaceflight industry are helping create new jobs here at home and keep the United States the world leader in space exploration,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a NASA statement.

“American astronauts have been living and working continuously in space for the past 13 years on board the International Space Station, and we’re once again sending them supplies launched from U.S. soil.”

“In addition to the supplies, the passion and hard work of many researchers and students are being carried by Cygnus today. I congratulate Orbital and the NASA teams that made this resupply mission possible.”

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The fourth launch attempt was finally the charm after a trio of postponements since mid- December 2013 to fix the malfunctioning cooling system on the station, unprecedented frigid weather and then an unexpected blast of solar radiation from the Sun on Tuesday (Jan. 7) that could have fried the delicate electronics controlling the rockets ascent with disastrous consequences.

Gorgeous Wallops Sunrise greets Antares rocket poised at Launch Pad 0A on Virginia shoreline.  A blast of solar radiation on Jan. 7 postponed Antares blastoff from Jan 8 to Jan 9, 2014. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com
Gorgeous Wallops Sunrise greets Antares rocket poised at Launch Pad 0A on Virginia shoreline. A blast of solar radiation on Jan. 7 postponed Antares blastoff from Jan. 8 to Jan. 9, 2014. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com

Both the Antares and Cygnus are private vehicles built by Orbital Sciences under a $1.9 Billion supply contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware to the ISS.

Orbital Sciences commercial competitor, SpaceX, is likewise under contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg of supplies to the ISS with the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon architecture.

Antares majestic contrail soaring to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares majestic contrail as it experiences maximum dynamic pressure (MAX-Q) and flies down range over Atlantic ocean soaring to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Both the Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus and SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon vehicles were developed from the start with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership.

The flight is designated the Orbital-1, or Orb-1 mission.

A total of eight Antares/Cygnus missions to the space station are scheduled over the next two to three years by Orbital under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

Two additional Antares/Cygnus flight are slated for this year.

They are slated to lift off around May 1 and early October, said Culbertson.

This launch follows a pair of successful launches in 2013, including the initial test launch in April and the 1st demonstration launch to the ISS in September.

Cygnus is loaded with approximately 2,780 pounds / 1,261 kilograms of cargo for the ISS crew for NASA including science experiments, computer supplies, spacewalk tools, food, water, clothing and experimental hardware.

33 cubesats are also on board that will be deployed over time by the 6 person crew living aboard the ISS.

Among the research items packed aboard the Antares/Cygnus flight are an experiment to study the effectiveness of antibiotics in space and a batch of 23 student experiments involving life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.

The student experiments selected are from middle school and high school teams from Michigan, Texas, Colorado, and Washington, DC.

Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops Science experiments from these students representing six schools across  America were selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft which launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops
Science experiments from these students representing six schools across America were selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft which launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

There is also an ant farm aboard with ant colonies from Colorado, North Carolina and of course host state Virginia too. The goal is to study ant behavior in space in zero gravity and compare that to ants on Earth living under normal gravity.

Cygnus will rendezvous with the station on Sunday, Jan 12.

Expedition 38 crew members aboard the station will grapple Cygnus with the stations robotic arm Sunday at 6:02 a.m. EDT.

NASA TV will provide live coverage of Sunday’s docking.

Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. glistens at dusk on Jan. 7 amidst bone chilling cold ahead of blastoff scheduled for Jan. 8, 2014 from NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. glistens at dusk on Jan. 7 amidst bone chilling cold ahead of blastoff on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for my ongoing Antares launch reports from on site at NASA Wallops.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Cygnus pressurized cargo module - side view - during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Cygnus is loaded with 2780 pounds of cargo and 23 student experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion Spacecraft to Launch in 2014

[/caption]
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA has announced its intention to launch an unmanned flight of the Orion Spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle – by 2014. This flight test will be added to the contract that the space agency has with aerospace firm Lockheed Martin. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle or Orion MPCV as it is more commonly known – will test out systems that will be employed on the Space Launch System (SLS). If successful, this will allow astronauts to travel beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO) for the first time in over four decades.

“This flight test will provide invaluable data to support the deep space exploration missions this nation is embarking upon,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver.

The flight has been dubbed Exploration Flight Test or EFT-1 and will be comprised of two high-apogee orbits that will conclude with a high-energy reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Like the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules before it, the Orion MPCV will conduct a water landing.

The test mission will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station located in Florida. It is designed to provide the space agency with vital flight data regarding how the vehicle handles re-entry and other performance issues.

The test flight will be comprised of two high-apogee orbits followed by a splash down. This flight will provide NASA with crucial information that could potentially lead to changes in the Orion spacecraft's design. Image Credit: NASA

“The entry part of the test will produce data needed to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving speeds greater than 20,000 mph and safely return astronauts from beyond Earth orbit,” said Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William
Gerstenmaier. “This test is very important to the detailed design process in terms of the data we expect to receive.”

Presumably the use of a Delta IV Heavy would allow NASA to accelerate its human exploration objectives at an accelerated rate. Since the flight will be unmanned, there is no need to man-rate the launch vehicle and given the current economic issues facing the United States, the use of so-called “legacy” hardware could ensure that costs are kept down.

The past year has seen the development of the Orion spacecraft proceed at an accelerated pace. Photo Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

NASA has also stated its intention to release competitive solicitations for design proposals for new, advanced liquid or solid boosters to be used on the SLS. Another contract that will be opened for competition will be for payload adaptors for both crewed as well as cargo missions.

The Orion spacecraft was originally part of the Constellation Program. Its design has since been modified – but its mission to one day fly astronauts to the Moon, Mars and beyond – remains. The EFT-1 test flight will allow technicians and NASA officials to better determine what further changes need to be made to best aid the completion of NASA’s exploration goals.

The EFT-1 test flight could pave the way for flights back to the Moon, to the planet Mars and to other destinations throughout the solar system. Image Credit: NASA.gov

Stage Set For SpaceX to Compete for Military Contracts

[/caption]
The United States Air Force has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and NASA to bring more players into the launch vehicle arena. On Oct. 14, NASA, the NRO and the U.S. Air Force announced plans to certify commercial rockets so that they could compete for future contracts involving Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELVs. This means that Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) could compete for upcoming military contracts.

“This strategy will provide us with the ability to compete in the largest launch market in the world,” said Kirstin Brost Grantham, a spokeswoman with SpaceX. “There are those who are opposed to competition for space launches, they would prefer to see the status quo protected. But SpaceX has shown it is no longer possible to ignore the benefits competition can bring.”

In terms of sheer numbers of launch vehicles purchased – the U.S. Air Force is the largest customer in the world – with the U.S. taxpayer picking up the tab. Therefore it was considered to be in the Air Force’s best interest to find means to reduce this cost. The U.S. Air Force’s requirements are currently handled by United Launch Alliance (ULA) in what is essentially a monopoly (or duopoly considering that ULA is a collective organization – comprised of both Boeing and Lockheed Martin).

The two launch vehicles that ULA provides are the Delta IV and Atlas V family of rockets. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

“SpaceX welcomes the opportunity to compete for Air Force launches. We are reviewing the MOU, and we expect to have a far better sense of our task after the detailed requirements are released in the coming weeks,” said Adam Harris, SpaceX vice president of government affairs.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has decided to go ahead with a five-year, 40-booster “block-buy” plan with ULA – despite the fact that the U.S. General Accounting Office’s (GAO) has requested that the DoD rethink that strategy. The GAO stated on Oct. 17, that they are concerned that the DoD is buying too many rockets and at too high of a price.

Under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Plan, the DoD is set to spend some $15 billion between 2013 and 2017 to acquire some 40 boosters from ULA to send satellites into orbit. For its part, the DoD conceded that it might need to reassess the manner in which it obtained launch vehicles.

As it stand now, United Launch Alliance has a virtual monopoly on providing launch vehicles for the Department of Defense. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

The new strategy which is set to allow new participants in to bid on DoD and NRO contracts is an attempt to allow the free-market system drive down the cost of rockets. Recently, the price of these rockets has actually increased. The cause for this price increase has been somewhat attributed to the vacuum created by the end of the space shuttle program.

Firms like SpaceX, which seek to compete for military contracts, will have to meet requirements that are laid out in “new entrant certification guides.”
“Fair and open competition for commercial launch providers is an essential element of protecting taxpayer dollars,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO. “Our American-made Falcon vehicles can deliver assured, responsive access to space that will meet warfighter needs while reducing costs for our military customers.”

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) CEO Elon Musk applauded the recent announcement that could see his company competing for military contracts. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com