Orbital's Antares Rolls Out to Pad as NASA Celebrates 54th Birthday
Today was a big day for the nation's civil space agency and for the commercial space cargo business it is helping to create.
Fifty four years ago, on October 1, 1958, NASA opened its doors. NASA was created by the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which passed through Congress in a mere nine months and was signed into law by President Eisenhower on July 29,1958.
The NASA Act has not been a static document. Congress has amended it a number of times. Two of those amendments, in 1984 and 1990, directed NASA to "seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space" and "encourage and provide for Federal Government use of commercially provided space services and hardware, consistent with the needs of the Federal Government."
It seems fitting, therefore, that today was also an important step forward for NASA's commercial cargo effort, with Orbital Sciences moving its Antares rocket to its launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia. Orbital is the second company building a commercial cargo system for NASA. It is somewhat behind SpaceX -- which completed its test program in May and will launch its first operational flight on October 7 -- chiefly because Orbital was selected for the program only after another company, Rocketplane Kistler, failed to meet its milestones.
A hot-fire test of the Antares first stage is expected in 4-5 weeks, followed by a test launch about a month later carrying a mass simulator of Orbital's Cygnus spacecraft, and then a demonstration mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Orbital did not announce a date for the demonstration mission, but says it plans to initiate operational flights to ISS in 2013.
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