Private American Rockets Blast Open 2014 & Commercial Space Race with Big Bangs on Jan. 6 & 7

Seaside panoramic view of an Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft built by Orbital Sciences at Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia Eastern Shore. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Jan. 7, 2014 at 1:55 p.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
UPDATE – Frigid Weather Delays Antares Launch to Jan. 8[/caption]

The status quo in space flight operations is no more.

Private American rockets are leading the charge of overdue change into the innovative ‘Commercial Space Race’ by blasting 2014 open with a pair of ‘Big Bang fireworks’ just a day apart on Jan. 6 and Jan. 7.

A dynamic duo of US aerospace firms – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences – are each poised to launch their own recently developed private boosters in the first week of the new year and aiming to dramatically cut costs.

And to top that off, the rockets are thundering aloft from two different spaceports located some 800 miles apart along the US East coast – weather permitting of course given the monster snow storm and frigid arctic air – akin to Mars – bearing down at this very moment on the big populations centers of the Atlantic coast region.

UPDATE ALERT – Antares Launch just postponed to Wed, Jan 8 at 1:32 p.m.due to extremely cold weather forecast. Back up day is Jan. 9

Both companies are revolutionizing access to space for both government entities as well as commercial companies doing lucrative business in space.

The implications of vastly reducing expenses for space travel and space commerce are far reaching and imperative – especially in the face of static and declining budgets mandated by politicians worldwide.

Except for China, which just landed its first rover on the Moon, is investing mightily in space and science and reaping strong economic growth.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with SES-8 communications satellite on Dec. 3, 2013 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX is first on deck with their next generation Falcon 9 rocket poised to soar on Monday, Jan. 6, with a highly valuable international payload – the Thiacom-6 commercial broadcasting satellite.

Note: This launch has just been postponed from Jan. 3 according to a brief statement I received from the USAF 45th Space Wing. Apparently due to concerns with the rocket – better safe than sorry.

Orbital Sciences follows up quickly on Tuesday, Jan. 7, with their two stage Antares rocket carrying the firm’s own Cygnus cargo vessel on its first operational commercial resupply mission for NASA – that’s bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

The upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 two stage rocket is slated to launch from complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, likely at dusk.

The original Jan. 3 Falcon 9 evening time launch had been scheduled for 5:50 p.m. Thaicom-6 will be placed into an elliptical supersynchronous transfer orbit.

The commercial space race sometimes makes for strange bedfellows. The Thaicom-6 satellite was built by Orbital Sciences.

This marks only the 2nd launch of the newly upgraded Falcon 9 from Florida. Read my eyewitness reports about the thunderous maiden liftoff barely a month ago on Dec. 3, 2013 with the SES-8 commercial telecom satellite – starting here.

The new Falcon 9 is the key to achieving SpaceX’s future launch manifest of some 50 payloads worth billions of dollars.

The next gen Falcon 9 will also launch the human rated SpaceX Dragon to the ISS. But first the Dragon and Falcon 9 must successfully achieve a pair of abort tests planned for 2014. Read my new article and discussion with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk – here.

The Jan. 7 Antares liftoff is currently scheduled for 1:55 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Island, Virginia.

Antares rocket slated for Jan. 7, 2014 launch undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops, Virginia, during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares rocket slated for Jan. 7, 2014 launch undergoes processing at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA Wallops, Virginia, during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Antares launch comes on the heels of the completely successful demonstration flight to the space station by Orbital Sciences in September 2013.

This flight was originally scheduled for mid-December 2013 in prime time but was postponed due to the urgent repairs required to get the ISS cooling system back in full operation.

And although it’s now moved to daylight by reason of orbital mechanics, the liftoff could still easily be visible to millions of residents along a wide swath of the US East Coast spanning from North Carolina to New York City – weather permitting.

Antares Launch from Virginia– Maximum Elevation Map  The Antares daytime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Antares rocket will reach during the Jan 7, 2014 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences
Antares Launch from Virginia– Maximum Elevation Map
The Antares daytime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Antares rocket will reach during the Jan 7, 2014 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences

I’ll be covering the Antares launch, dubbed Orb-1, from on site at NASA Wallops – watch for my continuing reports.

The Cygnus logistics vessel will carry a total of 2,780 pounds of supplies to the station, including vital science experiments to expand the research capability of the Expedition 38 crew members aboard the orbiting laboratory, crew provisions, spare parts and experiment hardware, says NASA.

Also packed aboard the Antares/Cygnus flight are a batch of student experiments involving life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.

“The 23 experiments flying next week [on Antares/Cygnus] are the culmination of 8,700 students engaged in real experiment design, and 1,800 proposals received by student teams,” Dr. Jeff Goldstein told Universe Today. Goldstein is the Center Director for the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE),which is sponsoring and organizing the student experiments.

This rocket volley is but the opening salvo of shots heard reverberating round the world that will surely “rock” the space industry to its core by cutting the steep cost of access to space.

“This is really rocking the industry. Everybody has to look out,” said Martin Halliwell, SES chief technical officer during a recent media briefing with Elon Musk, including Universe Today.

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

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.

After a slow start, both Orbital Sciences and SpaceX have succeeded in bringing their new rockets and delivery vehicles safely on line.

SpaceX next Dragon cargo launch to the ISS is currently scheduled for Feb. 22, said SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin to Universe Today.

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

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 8 launch, Curiosity, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 7-9: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 8” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

Mike Whalen of Orbital Sciences and Ken Kremer of Universe Today pose at the base of the Antares rocket 1st stage now slated for liftoff on Jan. 7, 2014 at NASA Wallops, Virginia.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Mike Whalen of Orbital Sciences and Ken Kremer of Universe Today pose at the base of the Antares rocket 1st stage now slated for liftoff on Jan. 8, 2014 (after weather delay) at NASA Wallops, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

How to See the Historic Antares/Cygnus Launch to Space Station on Sept. 18

Top of the Rock – New York City
Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft approximate launch trajectory view as should be seen from atop Rockefeller Center, NYC, on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT – weather permitting – after blastoff from NASA Wallops, VA. Credit: Orbital Sciences
See more Antares launch trajectory viewing graphics below[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – “All Systems Are GO” for the Sept. 18 launch of Orbital Sciences Antares commercial rocket carrying the first ever fully functional Cygnus commercial resupply vehicle to orbit on the history making first flight blasting off from NASA’s Wallops Island Facility– along the eastern shore of Virginia and bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

Here’s our guide on “How to See the Antares/Cygnus Launch” – complete with viewing maps and trajectory graphics from a variety of prime viewing locations courtesy of Orbital Sciences, the private company that developed both the Antares rocket and Cygnus spaceship aimed at keeping the ISS fully operational for science research.

And although the launch is slated for late morning it should still be visible to millions of spectators along a lengthy swath of the US East Coast from North Carolina to Connecticut – weather permitting – who may have never before witnessed such a mighty rocket launch.

The daylight liftoff of the powerful two stage Antares rocket is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept 18 at 10:50 a.m. EDT from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. The launch window extends 15 minutes to 11:05 a.m.

Up top is the view as anticipated from “The Top of the Rock” or Rockefeller Center in New York City. See below the extraordinary image of LADEE’s launch from “Top of the Rock” by Ben Cooper to compare the day and night time sighting delights.

In anticipation of liftoff, the Antares rocket was rolled out to Pad 0A on Friday morning Sept. 13 and I was on hand for the entire event – see my rollout photos here and upcoming.

Seaside panoramic view of Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops at the Virginia Eastern Shore  on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Seaside panoramic view of Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops at the Virginia Eastern Shore on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff for the ISS is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT. LADEE launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares.
Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Here’s a hi res version of the viewing map courtesy of NASA Wallops Flight Facility:

Antares/Cygnus Launch - Hi Res Visibility map The Antares/Cygnus daylight rocket launch on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT from NASA Wallops, VA.  will potentially be visible to millions of spectators along the Eastern US coast from Connecticut to North Carolina -weather permitting. This high resolution map shows the regions of visibility over time in the seconds after the rocket launch on a demonstration cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA Wallops Flight Facility
Antares/Cygnus Launch – Hi Res Visibility map
The Antares/Cygnus daylight rocket launch on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT from NASA Wallops, VA. will potentially be visible to millions of spectators along the Eastern US coast from Connecticut to North Carolina -weather permitting. This high resolution map shows the regions of visibility over time in the seconds after the rocket launch on a demonstration cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA Wallops Flight Facility

The Antares launch follows closely on the heels of the spectacularly bright Sept. 6 nighttime Moon shot blastoff of the Minotaur V rocket that successfully injected NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter into its translunar trajectory.

And just as was the case with the Minotaur V and LADEE, you don’t have to be watching locally to join in and experience all the fun and excitement. As with any NASA launch, you can also follow along with up to the minute play by play by watching the NASA TV webcast online or on smartphones, iPods or laptops.

Atlantic City
Atlantic City

It’s hard to say exactly how long and how bright the rockets flames and exhaust trail will be visible since it depends on the constantly changing lighting, prevailing clouds and overall weather conditions.

But one thing is for sure. If you don’t go outside and watch you’re giving up a great opportunity.

And keep in mind that Antares will be moving significantly slower than the Minotaur V.

Herein are a series of graphics showing the Antares trajectory and what you should see during firings of both stages from the perspective of standing on the ground or skyscrapers at a variety of popular destinations including Annapolis, the US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, National Air and Space Museum, Atlantic City, NJ, New York City and more.

Capitol East-Front Steps
Capitol East-Front Steps
Goddard Space Flight Center - GSFC
Goddard Space Flight Center – GSFC
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA.,on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT.  LADEE launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft after rollout to Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Facility, VA.,on Sept. 13, 2013. Blastoff is slated for Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT. LADEE launch pad 0B stands adjacent to right of Antares. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The goal of the mission is to demonstrate the safe and successful launch, rendezvous and docking of the privately developed Cygnus cargo carrier with the International Space Station (ISS) and delivery of 1300 pounds of essential supplies, food, clothing, spare parts and science gear to the six person resident human crews – currently Expedition 37.

Although it’s the 2nd launch of Antares following the maiden flight in April, this is the first flight of the Cygnus commercial delivery system. The demonstration and testing will be the same as what SpaceX accomplished in 2012 with their competing Falcon 9/Dragon architecture.

The mission is designated Orb-D1 and is funded with seed money by NASA’s COTS program to replace the cargo delivery duties of NASA’s now retired Space Shuttle orbiters.

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
Richmond
Richmond

For those who are traveling to witness the launch locally in the Chincoteague, Va., area, there will be two public viewing sites said Jeremy Eggers, NASA Wallops Public Affairs Officer in an interview with Universe Today.

“There will be are two local sites open to the public,” Eggers told me. “Folks can watch at either the NASA Wallops Flight facility Visitors Center (http://sites.wff.nasa.gov/wvc) or the beach at Assateague National Seashore (http://www.nps.gov/asis/index.htm).”

“There will be loudspeakers to follow the progress of the countdown, but no TV screens as done with the LADEE launch.”

National Air & Space Udvar-Hazy Museum
National Air & Space Udvar-Hazy Museum
Annapolis
Annapolis

So far the weather outlook is promising with a 75% chance of “GO” with favorable conditions at launch time.

NASA Television coverage of the Antares launch will begin at 10:15 a.m. on Sept 18 – (www.nasa.gov/ntv).

Be sure to watch for my continuing Antares and LADEE mission reports from on site at NASA’s Wallops Launch Pads in sunny Virginia – reporting for Universe Today.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rovers, MAVEN, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 17/18: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

This magnificent view of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter launched on Friday night Sept 6, on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from Virginia was captured by space photographer Ben Cooper perched atop Rockefeller Center in New York City. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launchphotography.com
This magnificent view of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter launched on Friday night Sept 6, on the maiden flight of the Minotaur V rocket from Virginia was captured by space photographer Ben Cooper perched atop Rockefeller Center in New York City. Compare this actual launch view to the graphic calculated for Antares (above) as seen from the exact same location atop Rockefeller Center. Credit: Ben Cooper/Launchphotography.com

How to See the Historic LADEE Nighttime Moon Shot on Sept. 6

Minotaur V rocket and LADEE spacecraft launch trajectory view as should be seen from atop the Empire State Building, NY, on Sept. 6, 2013 at 11:27 p.m. EDT – weather permitting.
See more launch trajectory viewing graphics below[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – An unprecedented spectacle is set to light up the skies this Friday night, Sept. 6, courtesy of NASA when America returns to the Moon with the history making nighttime launch of the LADEE lunar orbiter atop a retired and specially converted intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from NASA’s Wallops Island facility on the Virginia shoreline.

Blastoff of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Observatory atop the maiden flight of the powerful new Minotaur V rocket is slated for 11:27 p.m. EDT Sept. 6 from Launch Pad 0B along the Eastern Shore of Virginia at NASA Wallops.

Because it’s at night and lifting off from the most densely populated region of the United States, the flames spewing from the tail of Minotaur could be visible to tens of millions of distant spectators – weather permitting – who have never before witnessed such a rocket launch.

So you don’t have to be watching locally to join in the fun and excitement. And you can always watch the NASA TV webcast online on a smartphone or laptop.

Minotaur V rocket launch view as should be seen from Wright Brothers Memorial, Kitty Hawk, NC
Minotaur V rocket launch view as should be seen from Wright Brothers Memorial, Kitty Hawk, NC

The LADEE (pronounced ‘laddie’ not ‘lady’) launch is historic in many ways.

No space satellite has ever been launched to beyond Earth orbit from NASA’s Wallops’s launch base in Virginia, it’s the first flight to the Moon from Wallops, the first Minotaur V rocket launch based on the Peacekeeper missile, and it’s the first flight of the revolutionary new modular spacecraft design aimed at significantly cutting the cost of exploring space.

So although the very best views are available from local areas in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware just tens of miles away from the Wallops Island launch pad, magnificent viewing opportunities are available from a broad region up and down the East Coast and into the interior.

LADEE_Poster_01

Let’s look at some viewing maps courtesy of Orbital Sciences, the company responsible for assembling the Minotaur V and integrating it with the LADEE spacecraft – built by NASA’s Ames Research Center.

First up is the Maximum elevation map showing how high the rocket will be visible in degrees from the heavily populated US East Coast stretching from Maine to both Carolinas and into the industrial Midwest.

LADEE Minotaur V Launch – Maximum Elevation Map  The LADEE nighttime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Minotaur V rocket will reach during the Sep. 6, 2013 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences
LADEE Minotaur V Launch – Maximum Elevation Map
The LADEE nighttime launch will be visible to millions of spectators across a wide area of the Eastern US -weather permitting. This map shows the maximum elevation (degrees above the horizon) that the Minotaur V rocket will reach during the Sep. 6, 2013 launch depending on your location along the US east coast. Credit: Orbital Sciences

Herein are a series of graphics showing the Minotaur V trajectory and what you should see – during firings of the first three stages – from the perspective of standing on the ground or skyscrapers at a variety of popular destinations including the US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Kitty Hawk, NC, Atlantic City, NJ, New York City, Cape Cod and more.

US Capitol
US Capitol
Cape Cod, MA
Cape Cod, MA
Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
New York City (Battery Park)
New York City (Battery Park)

The five stage Minotaur V rocket stands 80.6 feet (24.6 meters) tall, is 7.6 feet (2.3 m) in diameter and weighs 197,034 pounds (89,373 kilograms.

The first three stages of the Minotaur V are based on the nuclear armed Peacekeeper ICBM intercontinental ballistic missile built during the Cold War – now retired and refurbished by Orbital for peaceful uses. It’s literally beating swords into plowshares.

The 5th stage is a new addition and what makes this Minotaur a new rocket class. The added thrust is precisely what enables shooting for the Moon.

Minotaur V rocket launch view as should be seen from Atlantic City, NJ
Minotaur V rocket launch view as should be seen from Atlantic City, NJ

For anyone coming to the Wallops area for an eyewitness view of the launch, NASA worked with local officials to establish several viewing locations just 10 miles or so from the launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.

Visitors to the area may view the launch from Robert Reed Park on Chincoteague or Beach Road spanning the area between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands.

Both sites will feature a live countdown and broadcast and NASA personnel will be on hand to discuss the LADEE launch and goals of the mission.

A big-screen projector will broadcast live in Robert Reed Park beginning at 9:30 p.m.

“We’re excited about this partnership with the community in providing an enhanced launch experience to members of the public,” said Jeremy Eggers, public information officer for NASA Wallops in a statement. “The live countdown and launch broadcast will place people in mission control on launch night for what is already a historic mission for Wallops and the Eastern Shore.”

NASA TV starts a live broadcast of the launch at 9:30 p.m. on Sept 6 – available here: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Minotaur V rocket with NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter unveiled at NASA Wallops launch pad.  Credit: NASA EDGE/Franklin Fitzgerald
Minotaur V rocket with NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter unveiled at NASA Wallops launch pad. Credit: NASA EDGE/Franklin Fitzgerald

The couch sized 844 pound (383 kg) robotic explorer is equipped with 3 science instruments and a laser technology demonstrator.

These include an ultraviolet and visible light spectrometer that will gather detailed information about the composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere; a neutral mass spectrometer to measure variations in the lunar atmosphere over time; a laser dust experiment that will collect and analyze dust particle samples; and a laser communications experiment that will test the use of lasers in place of radio waves for high speed data communications with Earth.

Be sure to watch for my continuing LADEE and Antares launch reports from on site at NASA’s Wallops Launch Pads in sunny Virginia – reporting for Universe Today.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about LADEE, Cygnus, Antares, MAVEN, Orion, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 5/6/16/17: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 8: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Close-up view of STAR 37FM 5th stage solid fuel motor of Minotaur V rocket at NASA Wallops rocket facility will propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
LADEE’s Ticket to the Moon – 5th Stage of new Minotaur V rocket
Close-up view of STAR 37 5th stage solid fuel motor for inaugural Minotaur V rocket launch at NASA Wallops rocket facility will propel LADEE into its lunar transfer orbit. LADEE will be mounted on top and surrounded by the payload fairing attached at bottom ring. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Powerful Private Rocket Crucial to ISS Set for Maiden April Blast Off from Virginia – Launch Pad Gallery

The first stage of the privately developed Antares rocket stands erect at newly constructed Launch Pad 0-A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility during exclusive launch complex tour by Universe Today. Maiden Antares test launch is scheduled for mid-April 2013. Later operational flights are critical to resupply the ISS.
Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
See Antares photo gallery below[/caption]

The most powerful rocket ever to ascend near major American East Coast population centers is slated to blast off soon from the eastern Virginia shore on its inaugural test flight in mid April.

And Universe Today took an exclusive inspection tour around the privately developed Antares rocket and NASA Wallops Island launch complex just days ago.

NASA announced that the maiden flight of the commercial Antares rocket from Orbital Sciences is slated to soar to space between April 16 to 18 from the newly constructed seaside launch pad dubbed 0-A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The two stage Antares rocket is absolutely pivotal to NASA’s plans to ship essential cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) in the wake of the shutdown of the Space Shuttle program in July 2011.

No admittance to the Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket without permission from the pad manager! Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
No admittance to the Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket without permission from the pad manager. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Antares stands 131 feet tall and serves as the launcher for the unmanned commercial Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

Both Antares and Cygnus were developed by Orbital Sciences Corp under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to replace the ISS cargo resupply capability previously tasked to NASA’s now retired Space Shuttle’s. The goal is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the ISS and low-Earth orbit (LEO).

I visited NASA Wallops for an up close personal tour of the impressive Antares 1st stage rocket erected at the launch pad following the successful 29 second hot fire engine test that cleared the last hurdle to approve the maiden flight of Antares. Umbilical lines were still connected to the rocket.

Antares rocket 1st stage and umbilicals at NASA Wallops Flight Facility.  Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket 1st stage and umbilical lines at NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The pads protective seawall was rebuilt following significant damage from Hurricane Sandy, NASA Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler told me.

Launch Complex 0-A sits just a few hundred yards (meters) from Virginia’s eastern shore line on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s hard to believe just how close the low lying pad complex is to the beach and potentially destructive tidal surges.

Barely 400 meters (1300 feet) away lies the adjacent Launch Pad 0-B – from which Orbital’s new and unflown solid fueled Minotaur 5 rocket will boost NASA’s LADEE lunar science probe to the Moon in August 2013 – see my upcoming article.

The maiden Antares test flight is called the A-One Test Launch Mission. It will validate the medium class rocket for the actual follow-on flights to the ISS topped with the Cygnus cargo carrier starting later this year with a demonstration docking mission to the orbiting lab complex.

The first stage of the privately developed Antares rocket stands on the pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
1st stage of private Antares rocket erect at new Launch Pad 0-A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. This rocket will be rolled back to the hanger to make way for the complete Antares booster due to blast off in mid-April 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

The Antares first stage is powered by dual liquid fueled AJ26 first stage rocket engines that generate a combined total thrust of some 680,000 lbs. The upper stage features a Castor 30 solid rocket motor with thrust vectoring. Antares can loft payloads weighing over 5000 kg to LEO.

The launch window opens at 3 p.m. and extends for a period of time since this initial test flight is not docking at the ISS, Orbital spokesman Barry Boneski told Universe Today.

Antares will boost a simulated version of the Cygnus carrier – known as a mass simulator – into a target orbit of 250 x 300 kilometers and inclined 51.6 degrees.

Antares A-One will fly on a southeast trajectory and the Cygnus dummy will be instrumented to collect flight and payload data.

The simulated Cygnus will separate from the upper stage 10 minutes after liftoff for orbital insertion.

“All launches are to the south away from population centers. Wildlife areas are nearby,” said Koehler.

The goal of the ambitious A-One mission is to fully demonstrate every aspect of the operational Antares rocket system starting from rollout of the rocket and all required functions of an operational pad from range operation to fueling to liftoff to payload delivery to orbit.

Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Launch Complex 0-A at the edge of Virginia’s shore at NASA Wallops are crucial to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Launch Complex 0-A at the edge of Virginia’s shore at NASA Wallops are crucial to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). . Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Antares/Cygnus will provide a cargo up mass service similar to the Falcon 9/Dragon system developed by SpaceX Corporation – which has already docked three times to the ISS during historic linkups in 2012 and earlier this month following the tension filled March 1 liftoff of the SpaceX CRS-2 mission.

The Dragon is still docked to the ISS and is due to make a parachute assisted return to Earth on March 26.

The first stage of the privately developed Antares rocket stands on the pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Antares rocket 1st stage and huge water tower at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Orbital has eight commercial resupply missions manifested under a $1.9 Billion contact with NASA to deliver approximately 20,000 kilograms of supplies and equipment to the ISS, Orbital spokesman Barry Boneski told me.

Tens of millions of American East Coast residents in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions have never before had the opportunity to witness anything as powerful as an Antares rocket launch in their neighborhood.

Watch for my continuing reports through liftoff of the Antares A-One Test flight.

Ken Kremer

NASA Wallops Launch Control Center. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
NASA Wallops Launch Control Center. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Ken Kremer & Antares rocket at NASA Wallops launch pad at the Virginia Eastern Shore.  Only a few hundred feet separate the pad from the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Ken Kremer & Antares rocket at NASA Wallops launch pad at the Virginia Eastern Shore. Only a few hundred feet of beach sand and a low sea wall separate the pad from the Atlantic Ocean and Mother Nature. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Antares Rocket Critical Hotfire Engine Test Set for Feb. 12

Orbital Sciences Corporation has at last scheduled a critical engine test for the firm’s new commercially developed Antares medium class rocket for Feb. 12 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s (MARS) Pad-0A.

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility will provide launch range support for the Antares rocket test which is a key milestone on the path to a flight that is crucial for eventual resupply of the International Space Station (ISS).

The window for the 29 second long engine test is 6-9 p.m EST. There will be no live broadcast or formal viewing of the test since it is only operational in nature.

For this hot fire test only the first stage of the Antares rocket will be rolled out to the launch pad – the first of its kind constructed in America in several decades.

The first stage of the Antares rocket stands on the pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Orbital Sciences
The first stage of the Antares rocket stands on the pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: Orbital Sciences

During the test, the Antares’ dual AJ26 first stage rocket engines will generate a combined total thrust of 680,000 lbs. In a unique capability for its duration, the rocket will be held down on the pad and accounts for the huge water tower built nearby.

The goal of the hot fire test is a complete checkout of the rocket’s first stage and all the support systems at Pad-0A being utilized for the first time.

Antares is the launcher for Orbital’s unmanned commercial Cygnus cargo spacecraft that NASA’s hopes will further reestablish American resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) lost with the shuttle’s shutdown.

If successful, a full up test flight of the 131 foot tall Antares with a Cygnus mass simulator bolted on top is planned for the maiden launch in roughly 4 to 6 weeks later, perhaps by late March 2013.

Antares/Cygnus will provide a similar service to the Falcon 9/Dragon system developed by SpaceX Corporation – which has already docked twice to the ISS during historic linkups in 2012.

Both the Orbital and SpaceX systems were developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to replace the ISS cargo capability previously tasked to NASA Space Shuttle’s.

A docking demonstration mission to the ISS would follow later in 2013 which would be nearly identical in scope to the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration flight successfully accomplished in May 2012.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff on May 22, 2012 from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on the first commercial mission to the International Space Station.  Orbital hopes to duplicate the SpaceX feat in 2013.  Credit: Ken Kremer
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket liftoff on May 22, 2012 from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on the first commercial mission to the International Space Station. Orbital hopes to duplicate the SpaceX feat in 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer

The Antares first stage is powered by a pair of Soviet era NK-33 engines built during the 1960 and 1970’s as part of Russia’s ill-fated N-1 manned moon program. The engines have since been upgraded and requalified by Aerojet Corp. and integrated into the Ukrainian built first stage rocket as AJ-26 engines.

Tens of millions of US East Coast residents in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions have never seen anything as powerful as an Antares rocket launch in their neighborhood.

“Antares is the biggest rocket ever launched from Wallops,” NASA Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler told me.

Ken Kremer

Antares Commercial Rocket Reaches New Atlantic Coast Launch Pad

Image Caption: Antares Rocket At Wallops Flight Facility Launch Pad. Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket at the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. In a few months, Antares is scheduled to launch a cargo delivery demonstration mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Credit: NASA

At long last, Orbital Sciences Corporation has rolled their new commercially developed Antares medium class rocket to the nation’s newest spaceport – the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island,Va – and commenced on pad operations as of Monday, Oct 1.

The long awaited rollout marks a key milestone on the path to the maiden test flight of the Antares, planned to blast off before year’s end if all goes well.

This is a highly noteworthy event because Antares is the launcher for Orbital’s unmanned commercial Cygnus cargo spacecraft that NASA’s hopes will reestablish resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) lost with the shuttle’s shutdown.

“MARS has completed construction and testing operations on its launch complex at Wallops Island, the first all-new large-scale liquid-fuel launch site to be built in the U.S. in decades,” said David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

“Accordingly, our pad operations are commencing immediately in preparation for an important series of ground and flight tests of our Antares medium-class launch vehicle over the next few months. In fact, earlier today (Oct. 1), an Antares first stage test article was transported to the pad from its final assembly building about a mile away, marking the beginning of full pad operations.”

Antares 1st stage rocket erected at Launch Pad 0-A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA

In about 4 to 6 weeks, Orbital plans to conduct a 30 second long hot fire test of the first stage, generating a total thrust of 680,000 lbs. If successful, a full up test flight of the 131 foot tall Antares with a Cygnus mass simulator bolted on top is planned for roughly a month later.

An ISS docking demonstration mission to the ISS would then occur early in 2013 which would be nearly identical in scope to the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration flight successfully launched and accomplished in May 2012.

The first commercial resupply mission to the ISS by SpaceX (CRS-1) is now set to lift off on Oct. 7 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The 700,000 lb thrust Antares first stage is powered by a pair of Soviet era NK-33 engines built during the 1960 and 1970’s as part of Russia’s ill-fated N-1 manned moon program. The engines have since been upgraded and requalified by Aerojet Corp. and integrated into the Ukrainian built first stage rocket as AJ-26 engines.

Image Caption: Antares first stage arrives on the pad at NASA_Wallops on Oct. 1. First stage approaching adapter ring on the right. Credit: NASA

NASA awarded contracts to Orbital Sciences Corp and SpaceX in 2008 to develop unmanned commercial resupply systems with the goal of recreating an American capability to deliver cargo to the ISS which completely evaporated following the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in 2011 with no follow on program ready to go.

“Today’s (Oct. 1) rollout of Orbital’s Antares test vehicle and the upcoming SpaceX mission are significant milestones in our effort to return space station resupply activities to the United States and insource the jobs associated with this important work,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver. “NASA’s commercial space program is helping to ensure American companies launch our astronauts and their supplies from U.S. soil.”

The public will be invited to watch the Antares blastoff and there are a lot of locations for spectators to gather nearby for an up close and personal experience.

“Antares is the biggest rocket ever launched from Wallops,” NASA Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler told me. “The launches will definitely be publicized.”

Ken Kremer