While Orbital ATK remains on track to return their Antares rocket to flight early next year, the company announced it will purchase a second Atlas-V rocket from United Launch Alliance (ULA) to fly an additional Cygnus mission next year in order to supplement two or three Antares-launched missions to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2016. After the loss of their Cygnus Orb-3 mission in October 2014, and the SpaceX CRS-7 mission in June, Orbital ATK plans to fully utilize the capability and flexibility of Cygnus to support NASA’s ISS cargo needs.
“We look forward to working with our outstanding mission partners on this second cargo mission,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “Our reliable Atlas V offers the performance needed for our customer’s Cygnus spacecraft to carry the maximum cargo load to service the space station.”
Meanwhile, at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the next Cygnus spacecraft is being readied for the OA-4 mission, which is scheduled to launch early-December. OA-4 will be Orbital ATK’s first CRS mission to be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on ULA’s Atlas V (401 configuration). This will also be the first Cygnus spacecraft to be flown in the enhanced configuration, featuring an extended Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM), manufactured by Thales Alenia, and new lightweight Ultraflex solar arrays. These upgrades to Cygnus will enable it to carry as much as 3,500 kg of pressurized cargo to the ISS, nearly as much as the last three Cygnus missions combined.
“These planned upgrades to our Cygnus spacecraft enable us to carry larger quantities of cargo that support the important work being performed aboard the ISS,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “Our ability to achieve these milestones on an accelerated timeline demonstrates our flexibility and responsiveness to customer needs.” The extended PCM arrived at KSC this week while the service module undergoes final testing at Orbital ATK’s satellite manufacturing facility in Dulles, Va. The service module will arrive at KSC in October, where it will be mated with the PCM. Cargo loading and fueling is expected to take place in November, before Cygnus is integrated with the Atlas V at Space Launch Complex-41.
At Wallops Island, Va., significant progress has also been made toward returning Antares to flight. The first set of the rocket’s new RD-181 engines arrived at Wallops in July from NPO Energomash in Russia. In the Horizontal Integration Facility, the new engines have already been successfully integrated with the rocket’s modified core stage, and new fuel lines and avionics will be installed to fully integrate the vehicle with its new propulsion system.
“The team continues to make great progress in the Antares return to flight efforts,” said Mike Pinkston, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Antares Program. “Significant progress has been made in the manufacture and test of the modified hardware components, avionics and software needed to support the new engines. The first set of flight engines have been delivered, and the second ship set is expected in the fall. The integration of our first launch vehicle is well underway and we are solidly on track to resume flying Antares in 2016.” The RD-181 engine provides more thrust and higher specific impulse than the AJ-26 that powered the original first stage of Antares. This, combined with the extra power of the Castor 30XL upper stage, will greatly increase the payload capacity of Antares, enabling Orbital ATK to achieve the cargo requirements of their CRS contact with NASA in fewer flights.
Repairs at Launch Pad 0A are underway and are scheduled to be completed by the end of September. An upgraded hydraulic system has been installed at the pad, which will be able to erect Antares in the heavier 230 configuration. The launch facility will be ready to support a static test firing of the upgraded Antares first stage by the end of the year. Read more about the reconstruction of the damaged launch facilities here.
Orbital ATK plans to complete the CRS contact with five more flights. At least two missions will fly on both Antares and Atlas V. The launch vehicle for the remaining mission will be chosen at a later date and will depend on the amount of cargo NASA will require. “We have not finalized the exact sequence of these missions yet, but the plan capitalizes on the flexibility of Cygnus to launch on either vehicle and provides better schedule assurance for our customer,” said Frank Culbertson. Orbital ATK is a contender for the second round of NASA commercial resupply contracts, which will be awarded later this year. “Our team and our partners are devoting maximum efforts to ensuring the success of NASA’s ISS commercial cargo program,” said David W. Thompson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orbital ATK. “We are committed to meeting all CRS mission requirements, and we are prepared to continue to supply the Space Station.” If awarded a CRS2 contract, Cygnus could continue delivering supplies to the ISS until 2024.
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