Orbital Successfully Launches Antares Test Rocket From Wallops, Virginia
April 21, 2013

Orbital Successfully Launches Antares Test Rocket From Wallops, Virginia

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

NASA´s commercial space partner Orbital Sciences Corporation successfully test-launched its Antares rocket Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. EST after several days of scrubbed attempts. The rocket lifted-off from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

This afternoon´s test flight was the first for Launch Pad 0A and the first flight for Orbital´s Antares rocket, which successfully delivered a simulated payload into Earth´s orbit.

"Today's successful test marks another significant milestone in NASA's plan to rely on American companies to launch supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, bringing this important work back to the United States where it belongs," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

Bolden added that today´s successful test “inaugurates America's newest spaceport capable of launching to the space station, opening up additional opportunities for commercial and government users.”

The test flight began on April 6 when NASA rolled the rocket out onto the launch pad. After several days of preparations the rocket was ready for lift off on April 17. However, unfavorable weather conditions forced Mission Managers to push the launch back at least one day. NASA had a launch window that could have gone as far as April 29 if needed.

The launch was pushed back on Friday and then again on Saturday as high altitude winds made it difficult to forecast a safe launch. On Sunday morning, NASA gave the launch an 80-percent favorable weather rating, and gave the mission a green light by early afternoon.

The rocket lifted off at roughly 5 p.m. EDT and performed all engine burns and stage separations on time and without error. The launch, which was broadcast live on NASA TV, ended with a successful payload separation.

The completed flight now paves the way for a demonstration mission by Orbital to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) later this year.  Orbital´s contract with NASA will see it fulfill several resupply missions, which will include deliveries aboard the spaceflight company´s new Cygnus cargo spacecraft as part of NASA´s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.

"The growing potential of America's commercial space industry and NASA's use of public-private partnerships are central to President Obama's strategy to ensure U.S. leadership in space exploration while pushing the bounds of scientific discovery and innovation in the 21st century,” said John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. “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.”

Orbital is building and testing the Antares rocket and the Cygnus spacecraft under NASA´s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. After Orbital completes a demonstration mission to the Space Station, it will begin fulfilling its eight contracted resupply missions to the orbiting lab.

SpaceX has already demonstrated that commercial resupply missions to the ISS are feasible, as it has already launched three successful flights — an inaugural test flight in May 2012, and two successful resupply missions, one in October 2012 and the other in February 2013.

SpaceX has also made history as being the only cargo craft that can make return trips to the Earth, allowing returned experiments and old equipment to be recovered and studied. The only other currently used cargo craft, Russia's Progress resupply ship, disintegrate upon reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.