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Orbital Antares Rocket "Nominal" on Third Attempt

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

April 22, 2013

Orbital Antares Rocket "Nominal" on Third Attempt

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Wallops Island, VA – A third launch attempt proved to be the charm for the first flight of the Orbital Sciences (News - Alert) Corporation Antares rocket. The A-ONE flight lifted off from Pad 0A of the Virginia MARS spaceport on Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 5 PM ET, successfully putting its test payload and a group of secondary cubesat satellites into orbit.

 “It's an amazing achievement for Orbital today, a great day for NASA, and another historic day for spaceflight for America.” NASA Commercial Cargo & Crew Manager Alan Lindenmoyer said at the post-launch press conference. "All expectations were beautifully met."

The launch had a number of firsts, including Orbital’s first flight of a liquid fueled rocket, the first use of Pad 0A at the Virginia MARS spaceport, first flight of the Aerojet AJ-26 engine and ATK's (News - Alert) Castor 30 solid rocket motor, and the first flight of Orbital’s largest payload shroud.

Wednesday, April 17 was the first try at launching the Orbital A-ONE mission. The launch was aborted minutes before liftoff time due to disconnect of an Ethernet cable providing communications between the rocket’s computer and launch control. The second attempt on April 20 was delayed and ultimately cancelled due to high velocity upper level winds from the southwest. 

The primary objective for the A-ONE mission was to demonstrate a successful launch of the Antares rocket and gather date on the ride to orbit with a “mass simulator” about the size and shape of Orbital’s Cygnus cargo vehicle. The mass simulator is nearly 8400 pounds, with a diameter of 114 inches and a height of almost 200 inches, and wired with accelerometers, microphones, thermometers, thermocouples, and strain gages.  It accomplished all of its objectives in the 10 minutes of flight from ground to orbit and is expected to deorbit and burn up within the next week.

Also on board were three 1U PhoneSat spacecraft built by NASA Ames Research Center and commercial a 3U spacecraft, the Cosmogia Dove 1. The PhoneSats were built using off-the-shelf components, including Google (News - Alert) Nexus smartphones running Android. Dove 1 is a 5 kilogram satellite being flown by Cosmogia to demonstrate a low cost earth observation satellite built with off-the-shelf COTS parts. All reports indicate the secondary cubesats were successfully deployed and talking to their respective operators.

The one hiccup to the flight was a brush fire started by the liftoff of the rocket. An Orbital executive said the fire appeared to be moving away from the pad and did not appear to have damaged any of its expensive equipment. 

Successful completion of the test paves the way for a mid-summer demonstration rendezvous and berthing of Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s COTS program.   Once COTS milestones have been met, it opens the door for Orbital to start regular cargo flights to ISS under NASA’s CRS program. Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract to deliver 20 tons of cargo to the space station between now and 2016.

Wallops Island, Virginia will become NASA's second U.S. spaceport for delivering cargo to the International Space Station, a capability the agency sought as it closed down the Space Shuttle program. With cargo flights anticipated happening every 3 to 6 months, there will be a steady stream of activity and onlookers that is expected to contribute to the economy of the Eastern Shore region of Virginia and Maryland.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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