Antares Ready for Launch Tomorrow, But Weather May Not Cooperate
Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket is ready for its first test launch tomorrow, but the weather forecast is only 45 percent favorable.
Low clouds and possible showers could force a postponement. Additional launch opportunities are available April 18-21, but decisions on when to reschedule would be dependent on a number of factors. At a press conference today, Mike Pinkston, Orbital's Antares program manager, said he anticipated a "dynamic decision process" if they need to reschedule. He expects that they would "almost definitely" try again on April 18, but whether they would slip from the 18th to the 19th is less certain. Not only is the forecast for April 19 especially poor, but the launch crew needs sufficient time to rest.
Assuming a successful test launch, the next flight would be a demonstration mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in about three months. That would carry the Cygnus cargo spacecraft; the launch tomorrow will carry only a 3,800 kilogram mass simulator. Antares and Cygnus were developed through NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program where the agency provided some of the funding for Orbital to develop the system on a commercial basis.
NASA already signed a $1.9 billion contract with Orbital for eight operational launches. Frank Culbertson, Orbital's Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Advanced Programs Group, said they expect to launch the operational missions every 3-6 months after the test program is completed. Under the contract, NASA and Orbital will jointly agree on when the eight missions take place, but he expects they will be completed around 2016.
Culbertson stressed that this is a test launch. Designated the A-One mission, the objectives are to successfully achieve launch and ascent events and collect launch vehicle and payload data. The target orbit is 250 kilometers by 303 kilometers inclined at 51.64 degrees. The 3-hour launch window opens at 5:00 pm ET tomorrow.
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