Home » Air » Air Force » Orbital Successfully Launches New Rocket

Orbital Successfully Launches New Rocket

by Brendan McGarry on April 22, 2013

Orbital Sciences Corp. successfully launched its new rocket as part of a test flight for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The two-stage rocket lifted off at 5 p.m. local time on April 21 from Wallops Island, Virginia. About 10 minutes later, it delivered a dummy payload into orbit. The booster, called Antares, is the Dulles, Virginia-based company’s newest and biggest, measuring 133 feet long with about 755,000 pounds of thrust.

The test flight was required before Orbital attempts to launch an unmanned cargo spacecraft, called Cygnus, to the International Space Station this summer. Orbital and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, have NASA contracts to resupply the station through at least 2018. They’re also marketing the rockets to defense and intelligence agencies as cheaper alternatives to those built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co.

“Today marked a giant step forward for the Antares program, with a fully successful inaugural flight of the largest and most complex rocket the company has ever developed and flown,” David Thompson, Orbital’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We will now move forward toward completing the full demonstration mission of our system to resupply the International Space Station with essential cargo in just a couple of months.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a news release called it a “picture-perfect launch.”

The mission ended about 18 minutes after liftoff when the rocket’s upper stage completed planned maneuvers to distance itself from the dummy payload, which was the same size and weight as the Cygnus spacecraft, Orbital said. The flight demonstrated “all operational aspects” of the rocket, including reaching the target orbit of about 150 by 160 miles, the company said.

The launch was previously scheduled for April 17. It was aborted with about 10 minutes left in the countdown when an upper-stage engine hose disconnected prematurely. Once planned for 2011, the mission was repeatedly postponed because of delays in building and inspecting the new $125 million launch pad on Wallops Island.

Antares is designed to launch spacecraft weighing up to 14,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit and lighter payloads into higher orbits. It will offer commercial and other government customers such as the Air Force “affordable and reliable” launch services for medium-sized satellites that don’t require larger, more expensive vehicles, the company said.

The rocket for its first stage uses two liquid-fuel AJ26 engines, made by Aerojet, part of California-based GenCorp Inc. They’re modified versions of the NK-33s built in Russia more than four decades ago for its moon program, which was later canceled. Aerojet bought about 40 NK-33 engines in the mid-1990s and, under a contract with Orbital, modified them specifically for Antares, according to Aerojet. The second-stage of the rocket uses a solid-fuel engine made by Arlington, Virginia-based Alliant Techsystems Inc.

Orbital, which also makes satellites, saw an opportunity for Antares amid the dwindling inventory of Delta IIs sold by Centennial, Colorado-based United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture of Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and Chicago-based Boeing Co.

The rocket may be a contender for such military programs as the Air Force’s Orbital/Suborbital Program-3, known as OSP-3, and Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, known as EELV. It’s already certified for the NASA Launch Services-2 contract, according to the company.

Orbital has a separate $1.9 billion contract with NASA for at least eight resupply missions to the space station. The agency is relying in part on Orbital and SpaceX, led by billionaire Elon Musk, to ferry food, water and supplies to the station after retiring its shuttle fleet in 2011. The agency also plans to begin ferrying astronauts to the station on commercial rockets beginning in 2017 so it can concentrate on manned mission to an asteroid and Mars.

“With NASA focusing on the challenging and exciting task of sending humans deeper into space than ever before, private companies will be crucial in taking the baton for American cargo and crew launches into low-Earth orbit,” John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, said in a statement following the test flight.

SpaceX, which has a $1.6 billion NASA agreement for at least a dozen cargo flights, was the first company to send a privately developed spacecraft to the orbital outpost. The Hawthorne, California-based company completed its demonstration mission to the space station last spring and its first regular flight in the fall. SpaceX finished its second regular mission in March.

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is designed to bring back science experiments, lab equipment and other cargo, unlike Orbital’s Cygnus, which is designed to take back trash and burn up during re-entry.

Share |

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Dennis Barrett April 22, 2013 at 9:32 am

Hopefully these companies aren't union based.


blight_ April 22, 2013 at 10:06 am

I'm glad my iPhones aren't built by union guttersnipes. /sarc


John Deere April 24, 2013 at 2:01 am

Why would they be "union based"? Only 6% of the US workforce is unionised. Unions have virtually no effect on our economy; I suggest you switch off Fox "News"…


blight_ April 22, 2013 at 10:08 am

"Dear SpaceX,

I am interested in providing outsourcing opportunities for your company in Korea. Please send some example rockets and willing engineers to the Kaesong Industrial Complex. I will provide transport from there.


Kim Jong-Un"


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 10:46 am

Post marked from NK, and forwarded from Iran.


Restore Palestine April 25, 2013 at 1:10 am

Hand delivered by BS ENTERPRISE mental.


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 10:46 am

They fixed the pipe!


Restore Palestine April 25, 2013 at 1:12 am

Let go of the pipe for 10 minutes and take your meds, loony.


NavyGuy2007 April 22, 2013 at 11:54 am

My only problem with orbital is that it shows the typical Government Acusitions process, spend spend spend. For exapmle, Orbital replaced another company that had a contract along with SpaceX, but failed to meet some goals on time. Thats fine, but the problem is that Orbital is doing LESS launces for MORE money the SpaceX, AND they cant be used to return anything from the station. Seems to me that SpaceX is clearly the leader in terms of Bang for Taxpayer Buck, so why not just extend the contract wiht SpaceX to cover the remaining launches and save the money…..


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Yeah, the only trouble is that Defense Tech seems to love to ignore the leader, Space X. A truly remarkable company; though. Their development for the most powerful launched rocket ever (after the Saturn V) is reason enough to cover them.


John Deere April 24, 2013 at 2:08 am

SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are simply building on 60 years of taxpayer funded research; replicating NASA's achievements from the Gemini era… All testing and launch facilities, personnel, craft/rocket designs, funding and "profits" come from NASA.


USS ENTERPRISE April 24, 2013 at 10:58 am

You really have it in for Space X. They fact is that they are a private company, and through both private money and government money, they have been one the fastest growing space programs in HISTORY.


Mike E April 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

As I understand it, Orbital is using refurbished Russian engines. Do they actually have the capacity to produce new ones if everything goes well when those run out?


NavyGuy2007 April 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Aerojet bought about 40 NK33s from Russia and modified them. I would assume that they can manufacture the modified version, AJ26, as needed now.


TrueBlood April 22, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Haven't heard of too many Union People selling secrets to our enemies. As a matter of fact I can't recall a single one. GO Blue…Union tried and True. Oh thats right, its not patriotic to want to make a better life for myself and family, I must oblige myself to corporate outsourcing so only a few grredy american's can benefit from hard work and the toils of labor./


NavyGuy2007 April 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I dont want to get into a Union debate, but some would argure that a few companies out source BECAUSE of Unions. Many Cities across the nation are going bankrupt due in large part to HUGE union pensions, one lady in California has a $430k a year pension comeing when she retires next year thanks to her union. The Unions in WA State were up in arms when Boeing built a 787 plant in SC and not Washington because SC is a Right to Work state, which is how I think it needs to be nation wide, if a person dosent think the need union representation at a company, they should not be fored into it or loose their job.

The Former head of the DC Teachers Union on John Stossel last year said "The day students start paying dues I'll worry about them." The basic Structure is Union boss>Union>Member. I agree that Unions were needed back in the day, there was a LOT of bad pay and horriable conditions, but now that we have Worker protection laws, OSHA ect..I think that a lot of them are just corrupt and greedy.

Just my .02 anyways…


TrueBlood April 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Not to get into a full Union debate either. I thank the Unions for a 40 hour work week, paid vacations, paid sick days, representation if needed at arbitration, merit system boards, discipline hearings, affordable health care and so on. I also thank them heavily for keeping my job within the government instead of contracting or outsourcing them. I get really sick of old 1970's rhetoric that is tossed out about how Union workers are over paid when in fact true labor wages within Unions are less than those companies with comparable contracts and labor commitments that operate in the U.S. Open source competition is good because it creates advances in short amounts of time and creates transparency. This is critical for budgets and tax payers. As a business major, Unions do define certain paramters, but agree they can damage the principles of why Union work, as a labor force. As a former Chief Steward within the Second largest Federal Union – I have seen dynamic changes in their approach and understanding. These changes have come about because they forced managment to become more transparent. Its easy to cause a force to look bad when you lie to them or keep information about their working environment conditions as a whole silent.


TrueBlood April 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm

With education comes a more reliable contingent that you must deal with openly and honestly. I support my country and want to preserve it through all available protections sources including labor. Please take no offense at what I propose or stand for. United we accomplish more than if we are divided.


blight_ April 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I see you have noticed the one thing in common between "overpensioned unioners" and the "evil CEOs":

Both persons are people in authority compensating themselves /because they can/, regardless of the common interest of other employees.


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Yeah. Personally, I wish companies had people like good ole Ford at their helm. He would send people out to make sure that every factory worker of his was not drunk, late, and they each checked their homes for drink. Now, its a free-for-all. Of course, if a company did the service of making sure all its workers were straight, it would be brought up as a supreme court issue.


blight_ April 23, 2013 at 10:24 am

The problem is that people who did not found a company have little interest in the company beyond its ability to give them a salary and stock options. Who cares about the workers? Or the product, up until it kills the company?

John Deere April 24, 2013 at 2:12 am

Only 6% of the US workforce is unionized. They have no effect on US economic performance, despite the nonsense you hear spouted by some political figures.


Stan April 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm

The first stage is manufactured in Russia (or Ukraine) and the Cygnus vehicle is manufactured in Italy. Engines Russian-made for now and Russian-designed forever. Pricing per pound probably as insane as charged by ULA even if lunch winds up being cheaper due to smaller rockets. Government money well spent.


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Hmph. Sickens me to see the once Space Conquering USA to have to turn to its rival, Russia, just to send our astronauts up there. Its a sad era in space flight folks.


blight_ April 23, 2013 at 10:22 am

It's a triumph of American competitive advantage spirit. Outsourcing everything for maximum ROI.

Buffett, Koch Brothers, Romney and Soros approved this message.


USS ENTERPRISE April 23, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Well, its kinda like strapping the POTUS into an Air Force One A380. Its just, weird.


Belesari April 23, 2013 at 12:48 am

Stop deleting my post Dtech.

SpaceX is currently developing a reusable system making it fully reusable. It also has its own spacecraft. New Engines will power the future Falcons even more efficiently and more powerfully than the present. All American made and mass produce engines able by design.

SpaceX has probably done this cheaper than Orbital or any other. Damn sure cheaper than any other government project has. They are in a whole other league.


John Deere April 24, 2013 at 2:16 am

SpaceX is a Government project, effectively. The taxpayer pays for SpaceX.


David April 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Amusing to see the SpaceX fanbois coming out. Reminiscent of Apple vs. Microsoft, with SpaceX = Apple and Orbital = Microsoft.


USS ENTERPRISE April 23, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Well, Apple is better. And have you seen the progress Space X has?


bobbymike April 23, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Solid fuel version would make a nice sized ICBM and Global Strike Missile


small business loans April 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm
SFP May 23, 2013 at 2:29 am

As I understand it, Orbital is using refurbished Russian engines. Do they actually have the capacity to produce new ones if everything goes well when those run out?


@HarryInventor July 17, 2013 at 8:38 am

Some old fashioned american rubbish!
No single-stage-to-orbit plan yet, usa?
Oh dear!
SABRE, the latest British invention that you'll try to steal, is coming!
Yet again, the British teach the usa how to take some steps toward the 21st century!

Go feed your horse, cowboy! Or fix your dollar. Or pay your debts?
Leave space to the real people… the ones who made your Interent useful after being useless in american hands for 50yrs, invented the computer and gave you the jet engine!

No, don't thank us, usa. You'll can that when nobody is using your dollars to transact.


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Now, I think its important to note that with cheap labor, you get cheap outcomes. Sometimes you win with "Made in China", other times not so much. China's green outlook, though, is pretty bad. Some of the dirtiest cities, in terms of pollution can be found in China. If you want to know what the EPA's idea of h-e-double toothpick is, go to the industrial estates of China.


Belesari April 22, 2013 at 7:08 pm

A lot of the car manufacturing is moving south to the southern US or South America. They have more automation which the Unions don't like. This means the people there make around the same amount but the overall cost is cheaper.


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Wasn't the last guy in the White House a disaster and embarrassment? Now, If Mitt was here…. (different story entirely).


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Ehm. Obama has to clean up the mess that was left behind from Bush. Not an easy task. Clinton left the office with over 500 Billion in surplus money; Bush has left it in a war, a trillion dollar deficit, a crashed economy (one of the worst in history), and god knows what else. I am not saying that Obama is any good (sequestration, canceling the Blue Angels this year, cutting even more funding to the only thing that has ever actually used money properly, NASA, etc) but he is better than the Bush Jr. Still, he could have thrown up at a state dinner (but he did fall off a Segway, so).


yogiberra111 April 23, 2013 at 12:52 am

You, sir, are a horse's ass.


USS ENTERPRISE April 22, 2013 at 7:33 pm

I have personally seen the plants in the south USA. A Toyota plant opened up just outside my town a few years ago. Also, I think its important to note that since China and Japan aren't on completely good terms right now, I doubt we will see Japanese cars being built over there (officially). This means more jobs for the USA.


STemplar April 23, 2013 at 5:15 am

If you honestly think the problem with the economy rests with one president or party then you really don't have any idea of what went wrong in this country.


USS ENTERPRISE April 23, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Yeah. This whole, American rocket with Russian engines deal is quite sad. Its like back when Airbus used the Boeing Super Guppy transport aircraft. Oh, by the way, Apple>Microsoft ;).


USS ENTERPRISE April 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Yeah. Well, mostly. I mean, Kelly Johnson wasn't like that (he held probably the most important bits of Lockheed, so don't tell me he wasn't CEO or something). Its rare to find people like him, as companies hire business men to lead companies, rather than hard working engineers.


USS ENTERPRISE April 23, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I am not saying that. But I am saying that the Bush Administration is what perpetuated a lot of the current American problems.


blight_ April 23, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Frankly, I was waiting for them to tax interstate sales. Or to allow states to collect taxes across state lines. That would be fine by me.


blight_ April 23, 2013 at 9:37 pm

His title was Chief Engineer, wasn't it? He didn't lead the company and probably would've hated it. He wanted to design wonderful aircraft. He got his wish. He did mass production aircraft for WW2, but spent the Cold War on boutiques.


USS ENTERPRISE April 23, 2013 at 10:06 pm

He did have that title, but I believe he was leader of Skunk Works. And really, if were are honest, his ideas are what owned/defined the company. Whatever his role, he was a brilliant man.


blight_ April 23, 2013 at 10:23 pm

The titles were:

Chief Research Engineer
Chief Engineer, Burbank Plant
Vice President, Advanced Dev Projects
Lockheed Board of Directors
Senior Vice President

That's as far as he got. Not bad for a self-made man.


USS ENTERPRISE April 23, 2013 at 10:37 pm

He practically ran the company with his leadership. Not a CEO or anything, but just a good, smart, practical engineer. We need one those now…..


Guest September 7, 2013 at 12:55 pm

We would already be deep in WWIII over Syria if mitt was in, in all honesty.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: