Orbital’s COTS Schedule Slides to the Right Again

Pad OA at Wallops Island. (Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation)

Space News reports that Orbital’s plan to launch its first Antares rocket by early March has gone by the boards:

 A hold-down test of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket, a prerequisite for the launch vehicle’s maiden flight, likely will not be completed before April because of ongoing tests and certification work on the vehicle’s launch pad at Wallops Island, Va., a launch official said.

Antares, formerly known as Taurus 2, is the rocket Orbital will use to launch the cargo-carrying Cygnus tug to the international space station under its $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. Orbital is supposed to begin flights  under that contract this year, but it must first complete two Antares demonstration flights, which themselves cannot proceed until the hold-down test is completed. Orbital’s official launch schedule has the hold-down test slated to occur before the end of March.

But Reed said that the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority, the state entity that manages operations at the spaceport from which Orbital will launch, is still completing certification of individual systems. These include more than 130 pressurized vessels needed to support the launch of the liquid-fueled Antares. The authority is also working on what Reed called “integrated system performance and functional testing,” the purpose of which is to ensure that the various launch support systems and software at Orbital’s pad are working harmoniously.

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