Orbital Eyes Next Antares Flight in July

Two RD-181 integrated with the Antares first stage air frame at the Wallops Island, Virginia Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). A “hot fire” test on Pad 0A is scheduled for late 2015 or early 2016. (Credit: NASA/ Terry Zaperach)
Two RD-181 integrated with the Antares first stage air frame at the Wallops Island, Virginia Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). A “hot fire” test on Pad 0A is scheduled for late 2015 or early 2016. (Credit: NASA/ Terry Zaperach)

Orbital ATK reported today that it is making good progress on its upgraded Antares rocket, which has been grounded since a catastrophic launch accident in October 2014.

“The company’s operational performance remained excellent in the first quarter, highlighted by the successful launch and in-orbit operations of our Cygnus spacecraft that is currently at the International Space Station, as well as the preliminary work leading up to the next cargo mission to the Station that will put the Antares rocket back in service this summer,” said Chief Operating Officer Blake E. Larson in a statement announcing the company’s quarterly results.

The Cygnus supply mission to the space station is currently scheduled for July.

“For the upcoming OA-5 mission this summer, all necessary hardware for the mission will be at the launch site by mid-May when the Cygnus service module is shipped from the company’s Dulles, Virginia manufacturing and test facility to Wallops Island,” the statement said.

The Antares first stage is being re-engineered to accommodate more powerful Russian-made RD-181  engines. The company plans to conduct static fire tests later this month on the first new booster.

Earlier versions of Antares had used 40-year old AJ-26 engines left over from the Soviet lunar program. The company determined the aging motors were no longer reliable after one of them failed during the October 2014 flight.

Since the accident, Orbital ATK has launched two Cygnus cargo mission to the space station using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V booster.