Orbital Completes Successful Hot Fire Test of Antares – UPDATE

Orbital Completes Successful Hot Fire Test of Antares – UPDATE

UPDATE, February 23, 2013:    Orbital has posted a video of the test on YouTube.

ORIGINAL STORY, February 22, 2013:  Orbital Sciences Corp. conducted a successful hot fire test of the engines for its Antares rocket tonight at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. 

This was the second attempt at the hot fire test.  The first was aborted seconds before the test last week.  Antares uses Russian NK-33 engines refurbished by Aerojet and renamed AJ-26.

Antares and its Cygnus spacecraft are competitors to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule.   Both are partially funded by the government through NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) program.   Orbital started about a year and a half after SpaceX, replacing another company (RocketPlane Kistler) that did not meet its milestones.

The test today was another step in readying Antares for its first flight test.   Antares is designed to launch the cargo-carrying Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station in competition with SpaceX’s Falcon 9/Dragon combination.  NASA wanted at least two competitors to keep prices in check.  It contracted with SpaceX for 12, and with Orbital for 8, commercial cargo flights to the ISS.  Unlike SpaceX, though, Orbital is not participating in NASA’s commercial crew program.  It is focused on cargo delivery only.

The test tonight fired the AJ26 engines for 29 seconds, the full duration.  The next step in the development of Antares is a test launch.  Orbital said today it would take place in about 6 weeks.

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