NASA Will Not Release Public Report on SpaceX Falcon 9 Dragon Failure

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

NASA will not publicly release the results of its own investigation into the catastrophic failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched a Dragon resupply ship into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2015.

After saying it would release a summary of the agency’s investigation, NASA passed the buck to the FAA on an accident that destroyed $118 million worth of cargo the space agency was sending to the International Space Station (ISS).

“Since it was an FAA licensed flight, NASA is not required to complete a formal final report or public summary, and has deferred any additional products related to the matter at this time,” the agency’s Public Affairs Office (PAO) said in an email.

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Russian Rocket Engines Exempted from Sanctions Bill

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Officials at Orbital ATK and ULA breathed sighs of relief on Thursday as the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from a sanctions bill targeting Iran and Russia.

The amendment to the sanctions measure exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in the first stage of its Atlas V booster and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in the first stage of its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.

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A Look at Payloads Launched in 2016

Built by Lockheed Martin, the WorldView-4 satellite will expand DigitalGlobe’s industry-leading constellation of high-accuracy, high-resolution satellites, and double the availability of 30 cm resolution imagery for commercial and government customers around the globe. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Excerpt from

The Annual Compendium of
Commercial Space Transportation: 2017

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST)

January 2017

State of the Payload Industry

Space industry companies and organizations worldwide, sometimes the same as launch vehicle manufacturers but also those specifically dedicated to spacecraft manufacturing, produce these spacecraft. Commercially launched payloads are typically used for the following mission types:

  • Commercial communications satellites;
  • Commercial remote sensing or Earth observation satellites;
  • Commercial crew and cargo missions, including on-orbit vehicles and platforms;
  • Technology test and demonstration missions, usually new types of payloads undergoing test or used to test new launch vehicle technology; and
  • Other commercially launched payloads, usually satellites launched for various purposes by governments of countries not having indigenous orbital launch capability.

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It’s Showtime for Revamped Antares Booster

Antares vertical on the launch pad on Wallops Island. (Credit: Orbital ATK)
Antares vertical on the launch pad on Wallops Island. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

The Antares booster set to lift off on Sunday evening is a re-engineered version of a launch vehicle that exploded spectacularly after launch nearly two years ago.

The key change is the replacement of two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26 engines in the first stage with RD-181 engines produced by NPO Energomash of Russia. The new engines are powered by liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene.

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Orbital ATK Delays Antares Return to Flight to August

Antares rolled out for hot fire in May 2016. (Credit: Orbital ATK)
Antares rolled out for hot fire in May 2016. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

The return to flight of Orbital ATK’s Antares booster will be delayed from July 6 to sometime in August.

An Orbital ATK spokesperson said engineers are analyzing data from last month’s 30-second hotfire test on the Antares launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. In conjunction with the data crunching, the company’s engineers are also adjusting the trajectory the two-stage rocket will fly after blastoff from its seaside launch complex.

“Our Antares team recently completed a successful stage test and is wrapping up the test data analysis,” the company said in a statement. “Final trajectory shaping work is also currently underway, which is likely to result in an updated launch schedule in the August timeframe.”

The 139-foot-tall (42.5-meter) rocket, propelled by two RD-181 engines on its first stage and a solid-fueled Castor 30XL upper stage, will deliver Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo craft to orbit. The automated supply freighter, named the SS Alan Poindexter after the late space shuttle astronaut, will carry approximately 5,290 pounds (2,400 kilograms) of provisions, experiments and other cargo to the International Space Station.

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Orbital ATK Conducts Successful Antares Test Firing

DULLES, Va., 31 May 2016 (Orbital ATK PR) -– Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced it conducted a full-power “hot fire” test of the upgraded first stage propulsion system of its Antares medium-class rocket using new RD-181 main engines.

The 30-second test took place at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) on May 31, 2016 at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A. Initial indications are that the test was fully successful.

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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.

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Orbital ATK Receives New Antares Engines; Launch Accident Report Nears Completion

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

Orbital ATK has received the first two Russian-built RD-181 rocket engines for use in the company’s revamped Antares launch vehicle, the TASS news agency reports.

RSC Energia said the engines arrived in the United States on July 16 after being shipped from Russia the previous day. Energia is the managing organization for the engine’s manufacturer, NPO Energomash.

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Orbital, Aerojet Rocketdyne Disagree on Cause of Antares Explosion

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

After the explosion of an Antares rocket in October, NASA left the investigation in the hands of the company’s that bands of the company that built and launched the rocket, Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Orbital ATK). Yesterday, we got the first official word on what that investigation has found. And it’s very confusing.

Orbital ATK Executive Vice President Ronald Grabe said during the 31st Space Symposium that the failure was caused by excessive wear in the bearings of a turbo pump for one of the two first-stage AJ-26 engines supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

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Space Symposium Launch Vehicle Panel

31_space_symposium350
The 31st Space Symposium is taking place all week in Colorado Springs. It’s already generated some news, with ULA unveiling its new launch vehicle [here and here], Paul Allen demanding the company change the rocket’s name, and Rocket Lab showing off its electric motor.

I wasn’t able to attend this year, but I’ve been monitoring the events via Twitter.  Today’s most interesting session appears to have been a launch vehicle panel that included Aerojet Rocketdyne, Arianespace, Blue Origin, Orbital ATK, SpaceX and ULA.

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Orbital Says It Won’t Conduct Demo Flight of Upgraded Antares Rocket

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

Orbital ATK will  launch an upgraded version of its Antares launch vehicle next March with a full load of supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) next March without first conducting a qualification flight to test out the booster’s new first stage engines, officials announced this week.

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RSC Energia Seals Deal With Orbital Sciences for Engine Delivery

Energia_logoMOSCOW (RSC Energia PR) –– The President of RSC Energia (which is a part of the United Rocket and Space Corporation) Vladimir Solntsev and General Director of Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) David Thompson  have signed a direct contract for the delivery to the US of engines made by NPO Energomash (a subsidiary of RSC Energia).

The contract value is approximately US$1 billion (the exact figure is a commercial secret). Altogether, Russia is to deliver to the US 60 RD-181 engines – the customer is going to receive the first two engines as early as June 2015. The contract was concluded directly with the Orbital Sciences Corporation.

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2014: The Year We Realized Space is Hard (Part I)

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground. (Credit: NASA TV)

Sometimes things can go so well for so long that we forget – or try not to remember – just how difficult some tasks can be to achieve. Like getting to space, for example.

That reality was driven home during three days in October when an expendable booster exploded in Virginia and an experimental space plane crashed in the Mojave Desert in California. This is the first of a multi-part series looking at these accidents and their impacts.

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On Oct. 28, an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket exploded in spectacular fashion after takeoff from Wallops Island, Va. The rocket was carrying a Cygnus freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS) under a contract with NASA.

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Orbital to Replace Old Russian Engines With New Russian Engines on Antares

An Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket is seen as it launches from Pad-0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Thursday, January 9, 2014, Wallops Island, VA. Antares is carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Orbital-1 mission is Orbital Sciences' first contracted cargo delivery flight to the space station for NASA. Cygnus is carrying science experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and other hardware to the space station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
An Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket is seen as it launches from Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Thursday, January 9, 2014, Wallops Island, VA. Antares is carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Orbital-1 mission is Orbital Sciences’ first contracted cargo delivery flight to the space station for NASA. Cygnus is carrying science experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and other hardware to the space station. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

I guess Orbital Sciences Corporation can kiss any defense launches goodbye for its Antares launch vehicle. The company plans to replace the rocket’s Russian surplus AJ-26 engines with new Russian engines they hope won’t blow up during flight or be banned from export at some point in the future.

Designated the RD-181, the new engine will be used on Antares in shipsets of two to accommodate as closely as possible the two-engine configuration built around the AJ-26 engines supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne, Orbital Sciences managers said Dec. 16.

A descendant of the RD-171 that powers the Ukrainian-built Zenit launch vehicle, the RD-181 will be manufactured in the same Khimki factory that builds the RD-180 used on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V. It closely resembles the RD-191 on Russia’s new Angara launcher and the RD-151 that powers South Korea’s Naro-1 launch vehicle.

In testing at Energomash, “the RD-181s have seen more than two times the Antares flight duration to date, and if you take a look at some of the heritage of this engine, the RD-151 and the RD-191 combined have over 10 hr. of test time for their configuration testing,” said Mark Pieczynski, Orbital’s vice president for space launch strategic development.

Like the AJ-26, the single-thrust-chamber, single-nozzle RD-181 uses liquid oxygen and refined petroleum (RP) as propellants, generating a sea-level performance in the two-engine configuration of 864,000 lb. thrust with a specific impulse of 311.9 sec. That is equivalent to the twin-nozzle RD-180, but the two engines are a better fit with the Antares main stage, built for Orbital by Ukraine’s Yuzhmash.

Congress has just voted to prohibit ULA from using Russian RD-180 engines in its Atlas V booster due to deteriorating relations with that country. That would seem to limit Orbital’s ability to bid for defense launch contracts unless there is a change in policy.

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Energomash Test Fires New RD-193 Engine

NPO Energomash says it completed the fifth live firing of its new RD-193 experimental rocket engine last week, completing the first phase of a project that could have impacts on the launch industry in Russia and the United States.

The new 200-ton thrust, liquid oxygen-kerosene engine is an upgraded version of the RD-191 engine that incorporates a number of new welds and other improvements. It is 300 kilograms (661 pounds) lighter and 760 millimeters (30 inches) shorter than the RD-191 engine, which will be used in the Angara family of rockets set to fly next year. The RD-193 can be attached to gimbals or fixed to the body of the rocket.

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