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Antares/Cygnus Updates

Antares “Hot Fire” Test Successful

February 2013

Orbital and the Antares team successfully conducted a "hot fire" test of the first stage propulsion system on February 22, 2013. The 29-second hot fire test at Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), was designed to verify that the pad's fueling systems and the Antares stage one test article functioned properly in a fully operational environment, that engine ignition and shut down commands operated as designed, and that the dual AJ26 first stage engines performed to specification in the twin-engine configuration. The test included a full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown and engine ignition operation. The pad's high volume water deluge system also performed as designed to protect the pad from damage and provide noise suppression.

Initial review of the test data indicate the primary objectives of the test were accomplished. The pad and fueling systems will undergo post-test inspections and any necessary reconditioning work will be performed. Orbital will then roll out the first complete two-stage Antares rocket to prepare it for its test flight mission, which is expected to take place in four to six weeks. Orbital will purge and clean the engines used in the hot fire test and return the first stage test unit to the integration facility for reconditioning and use in a later Antares mission.

Hot Fire
Hot Fire

Antares “Hot Fire” Test Update

February 2013

After a preliminary overnight review of the data from the hot fire test attempt on February 13, Orbital's Antares team has identified low pressurization levels of a "nitrogen purge" of the aft engine compartment as the reason the Antares flight computer, acting as designed, aborted the test with about 1.5 seconds left in the countdown. All other aspects of the countdown procedure, from the ground fueling system of the MARS launch complex to the Stage 1 test article, performed nominally. Orbital's Antares team expects to perform another test before the end of February, with an exact date for the test still to be determined.

Antares “Hot Fire” Test Abort

February 2013

The planned first stage propulsion system "hot fire" test of Orbital's new Antares medium-class rocket was halted in the final seconds of the countdown by the rocket's flight computer, which detected an anomalous condition. The Antares team will evaluate the data from the test to determine the nature of the abort. A new date for the test has not been determined.

The test hot fire test is being conducted at Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia. The major objectives of the hot fire test are to verify the that pad's fueling systems and the Antares stage one test article functioned properly in a fully operational environment, that engine ignition and shut down commands operated as designed, and that the dual AJ26 first stage engines performed to specifications in the twin-engine configuration.

Antares “Cold Flow” Test Complete. “Hot Fire” Test is Next.

January 2013

Orbital recently completed an extensive series of cold flow propellant tests, also known as wet dress rehearsals, at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch complex at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The series of tests were performed to confirm that the launch complex’s propellant handling systems were performing according to specifications and were fully compatible with the liquid fuel first stage of the Antares rocket. With the completion of these flow tests, the Orbital team will begin to prepare for a “hot fire” test of the first stage, which is the final ground test before the inaugural flight of the Antares rocket. This test is currently scheduled to take place in February.

For the hot fire, Orbital will conduct a 29-second hold-down operation of the Antares first stage and its dual AJ26 rocket engines. The primary goals of the test will be to ensure that the pad’s fueling systems and the Antares stage one test article function properly in a fully operational environment, that engine ignition and shut down commands operate as designed, and that the two AJ26 first stage engines perform properly in the dual engine configuration. The test will include a full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown and engine ignition operation. The pad’s high volume water deluge system will also flow throughout the entire period of the test to protect the pad from damage and to provide general noise suppression.

After the test is successfully completed, the first stage test article will be returned to the Horizontal Integration Facility where the core and two engines will be refurbished for a later flight.

Pad Aerial

Orbital updates its COTS and CRS milestone schedule:

January 2013

  • Completion of cold flow testing (aka wet dress rehearsals): The Antares team has completed all but one test. The last test is expected to be completed before the end of January.
  • "Hot Fire" test of Antares first stage: To be conducted at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), located at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. This is the last major ground test before the first Antares flight and is expected to be conducted in February.
  • Test Flight of the Antares rocket from MARS/Wallops: The mission will carry a heavily instrumented mass simulator for data gathering, not an operational Cygnus spacecraft. The test flight is expected to be conducted in March, approximately 4 to 6 weeks after the hot fire test.
  • COTS Demonstration mission to the ISS: This mission involves an Antares launch carrying a fully operational Cygnus spacecraft that will rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station (ISS) to demonstrate the full capabilities of the cargo resupply system. Orbital is working with NASA's ISS program to identify an available time window for Cygnus to arrive at the ISS. Current candidate slots are in May and June.
  • First CRS mission: Like the demonstration mission, the schedule needs to be coordinated with NASA's ISS program and is dependent on the completion of the previous milestones. Currently scheduled for the third quarter of 2013.

Successful AJ26 Acceptance Test

January 2013

On Friday, January 18, 2013, Orbital, Aerojet and NASA successfully completed a hot fire test of an Antares AJ26 engine at NASA's Stennis Space Center. The full-duration test was the eleventh AJ26 engine tested at Stennis. Initial review of the test data indicates that the test successfully met all of its requirements.

After further review of the test data, the AJ26 will be configured for flight and shipped to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility for integration with Orbital's Antares rocket. The AJ26 is a modified NK-33 engine originally designed and produced in Russia for the Russian N1 lunar launch vehicle. Aerojet purchased approximately 40 NK-33 engines in the mid-1990s and, under contract with Orbital, is modifying the engines specifically for Antares.

In addition to the certification testing, each AJ26 engine to be used on an Antares rocket will be routed through the Stennis facility for pre-launch acceptance testing prior to being integrated with the rocket.

AJ26 Hot Fire

Antares Cold Flow Testing Begins and Antares A-ONE Gets All Dressed Up

December 2012

The Antares team began cold flow testing with a first stage on the launch pad. The initial cold-flow tests validated the loading and unloading of liquid oxygen to the rocket. The top photo below is a still image captured by the pad video system.

Meanwhile, in the Horizontal Integration facility, the Antares to be employed for the test launch (mission A-ONE) has been dressed up with its logos (middle photo). The bottom image shows the first Antares payload fairing in the foreground with the cores for the A-ONE mission (left) and COTS demo mission (center) behind it.

Tanking Point 5
All Dressed Up
HIF

Three Cygnus Service Modules in Dulles

December 2012

As the year draws to a close there are now three substantially complete Cygnus Service Modules in Orbital's Dulles, Virginia Satellite Manufacturing Facility (see photo below). In addition to the integration and testing of the spacecraft, the program has achieved a number of key milestones in the last few months:

Three SMs

Mission Operations to Spacecraft Testing: The Orbital team successfully completed the first test of the Mission Operations to Spacecraft link. The COTS demo service module was attached via data and command lines to Orbital's Mission Operations Center in Dulles, Virginia, and the mission timeline from launch to berthing was exercised by the Cygnus team. This test required the team to operate in shifts, flying the spacecraft continuously for approximately 80 hours to simulate all required maneuvers to achieve ISS berthing, successfully executing all required procedures.

Safety Review: In addition, the Cygnus engineering and safety teams successfully completed the presentation of our final safety hazard assessment to the ISS Safety Review Panel, including design and operational controls to mitigate hazards to the Space Station or its Crew.

Joint Avionics Software Validation Testing: At the Johnson Space Center (JSC) Orbital connected its Cygnus "Flatsat" to a ISS "Flatsat" platform to validate the avionics that comprise the spacecraft and the Cygnus ground control system. Joint Test 4 (JT4) validated Cygnus interfaces to the ISS successfully demonstrating its ability to send commands and receive telemetry. Cygnus flight software also demonstrated nominal and off-nominal approaches, nominal departures, aborts, and a wide variety of responses to faults.

Joint Test 5, also known as the End-to-End-Test, used the same test configuration and included mission control centers in Houston, Texas, Dulles, Virginia, and Tskuba, Japan to validate the ability of the distributed ground control system to properly operate ISS and Cygnus. The team passed all test cases on the first pass with no issues.

Antares Post Hurricane Update

November 2, 2012

Following initial post-Hurricane Sandy inspections and a more thorough review conducted over the last two days, it appears the Antares first stage "weathered" the storm in good condition, as did the launch pad and supporting facilities on Wallops Island. The pre-storm precautionary procedures the team put in place were successful. Beginning today, the team is getting back to normal operations, leading to a series of three "wet dress rehearsals" (fueling and defueling the rocket to test the launch complex's systems) and a "hot fire" test during which the rocket's dual main engines will run at full thrust for about 30 seconds while the first stage is held down on the pad, projected to take place in November. Once these tests are complete and data is analyzed, a launch date for the test flight of Antares will be determined.

More Photos from Stage One Roll Out

October 2012

Antares Rolls Out To Wallops Launch Pad NASA Video

Antares First Stage Test Article Rolled Out to Pad

October 2012

Orbital and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) have completed checkout and performance testing of Launch Pad 0A and its associated Liquid Fueling Facility (LFF), paving the way to begin on-pad operations for the Antares Program at Wallops Island, VA. On October 1 an Antares first stage test article was transported from the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), where the Antares launchers are assembled, to the pad about a mile away.

At the pad, the test article will be used to verify the launch pad fueling systems through a series of "wet dress rehearsals" during which Antares is fueled and then defueled to test all launch complex systems. Later, Orbital will conduct a 30-second hot-fire test of the Antares first stage and its dual AJ26 rocket engines. After these tests are successfully conducted, the test article will be returned to the HIF and the stage and the engines will be refurbished for a later flight.

Approximately one month after the successful hot fire test, the maiden flight of the Antares rocket will occur. For this mission Antares will carry a simulated payload that will be heavily instrumented to gather data on the launch environment aboard the vehicle. In addition, four small "pico satellites" will also be deployed from two dispensers that will be integrated with the mass simulator.

In 2013 Antares will conduct a demonstration mission to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) under the company's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA. For this mission, a fully operational Cygnus spacecraft will be launched into orbit by Antares and, following an extensive series of in-orbit tests, will autonomously rendezvous and berth with the ISS. The first Cygnus will deliver approximately 550 kg of cargo upon its arrival and will remove about 1,000 kg of disposal cargo upon its departure from the Station.

Pathfinder on pad 1

Map of the Wallops Island, VA Launch Facilities

July 2012

In preparation for Orbital's cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, which will use our Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft, significant launch site development has taken place at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia. The aerial map below shows the location of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's (MARS) Pad 0A, from which our COTS and CRS missions will launch, as well as the Horizontal Integration Facility where the Antares Rockets are integrated, and Building H-100 Payload Processing Facility on the Wallops main base where Cygnus will be integrated prior to mating with the Antares rocket. The legend on the lower right of the map details all of the facilities that Orbital will utilize in support of the COTS and CRS missions (listed in red). Download a PDF of the map.

Antares Launch Site Map

Multiple Antares Rocket Components Being Readied for Flight Operations at Wallops Island

July 2012

Major systems of our Antares medium-class launch vehicle are approaching the final stages of processing and assembly at the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at Wallops Island, VA. The three Antares first stage cores shown in the photo below will be used for the key upcoming COTS program milestones, including the static fire test, the Antares Test Flight and the COTS demonstration mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

At the far right of the photo, the complete first stage for the static fire test is already aboard the transporter vehicle that will roll it out to the pad, located approximately one mile from the HIF. At the far left of the photo (in the background) is the Antares rocket that will carry out the Test Flight. The first and second stages are already mated, with the Cygnus mass simulator and fairing to be integrated during the month before launch. The Cygnus mass simulator is seen in a vertical configuration at the left foreground of the photo. Finally, in the center of the photo, is the first stage of the Antares rocket that will carry out the COTS demonstration mission to the ISS. It is being readied for engine integration. The nozzle of an AJ26 engine can be seen in the left foreground.

Antares Core Stages at Wallops

Updated COTS and CRS Schedules

July 2012

Orbital updated its COTS and CRS operational schedules, with plans to achieve four major operational milestones within the next year. They are as listed below:

  • Late August/Early September 2012 - Antares First-Stage Static Fire Test at Wallops
  • October 2012 - Antares Test Flight for COTS
  • December 2012 - COTS Demonstration Mission to ISS*
  • First quarter 2013 - CRS Mission #1 to ISS*

*Dates are subject to coordination with NASA's ISS cargo delivery schedule.

Orbital Antares Team Conducts Another AJ26 Engine Test

June 2012

The Orbital, Aerojet and NASA team conducted a successful test at the NASA Stennis Space Center in a firing of an AJ26 engine that had undergone hot fire testing previously. Among several objectives, the test allowed the team to collect additional engine data in advance of the planned Antares stage one hot fire test planned for later this summer at the Wallops Island, VA launch site in which the entire stage one core, with two AJ 26 engines, will be test fired. (NASA photo)

Engine Test

US Senator Mikulski Tours Wallops Island Facilities

June 2012

Orbital personnel supported a visit by Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland on Monday, June 25, who was at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility during a oversight tour of the facility Sen. Mikulski toured the launch pad, which is fully built and is being certified as safe and fully functional by a team of NASA, Orbital and Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) representatives and was briefed on the progress being made toward completing the certification of the launch complex from which Orbital's cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station will originate. MARS is responsible for the construction and operation of the launch pad complex.

Orbital also briefed the Senator on the company's preparedness for carrying out a test launch of the Antares rocket and the demonstration cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station in the third and fourth quarters of 2012, respectively. These flight milestones will be the culmination of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) joint research and development program that was initiated between NASA and Orbital in late 2008. (NASA photo)

Mikulski Tours Wallops

Orbital's COTS Program Featured in NASA Video

June 2012

NASA's COTS Project Executive Bruce Manners is interviewed about Orbital's COTS activities in this video clip posted to NASA's COTS website at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?collection_id=28371&media_id=146401651

Orbital Begins Cryoshock Testing at MARS Launch Pad

May 2012

Orbital recently completed two incremental steps leading to the certification of the launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at Wallops Island, Virginia. In early May, an Orbital and MARS team completed a review of all construction documentation related to the design, development and construction of the launch pad infrastructure, including the pad itself and the surrounding propellant handling systems and tank farm. While this isn't a step that can be “seen” it is nonetheless important as it allows the certification process to proceed to a more “operational” level.

The second step recently accomplished certainly falls into the “operational” category, with the completion of the liquid nitrogen cryogenic pumping tests accomplished over a several day period. The extreme cold temperatures of the liquid nitrogen provide an environment where the robustness of the system can be tested at cryogenic temperatures. These extreme temperatures cause material contraction that stress the piping support systems and the valve systems, and they also introduce icing on exterior surfaces that can cause leaks and other issues. Orbital and MARS are intent on finding any problems using liquid nitrogen before Liquid Oxygen is introduced to the launch facility, which is the next planned testing milestone in the certification process. The introduction of liquid oxygen is the final step required before the beginning of end-to-end performance testing of the liquid fueling facility.

Another Successful AJ26 Hot Fire Test

May 2012

On May 3, 2012 an Orbital, Aerojet and NASA team successfully conducted a hot fire acceptance test of an AJ26 engine at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center. The engine was the eighth AJ26 to undergo hot fire testing for the Antares program at NASA/Stennis. After a thorough post-test inspection, the engine will be shipped to the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The engine is slated to be one of two AJ26 engines that will power Orbital's Antares rocket for the first operational mission to deliver cargo to the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) agreement with NASA. The first CRS mission, known as "ORB-1," is currently scheduled to occur in early 2013.

AJ26 Hot Fire Test

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo were on hand to watch the hot fire test. (NASA photo)

NASA Administrator Bolden Visits Wallops

May 2012

On Thursday, May 17, Orbital’s Senior Vice President Frank Culbertson briefed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on our progress on the COTS and CRS programs as he visited NASA Wallops Flight Facility. The first Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) that will fly aboard the COTS program demonstration mission later this year is on-site at Wallops, where it will be integrated with the Cygnus Service Module (SM), which is being built and tested at our Dulles production facilities (see several updates on the SM below). Mr. Culbertson briefed the Administrator on Orbital’s progress in developing the Cygnus vehicle, as well as the company’s momentum toward launch pad “certification,” which will enable Orbital to conduct full operational activity for pre-flight tests and the first two Antares missions later this year.

administrator Cygnus group

(left to right) Bill Wrobel, Director, Wallops Flight Facility; Chris Scolese, Director, Goddard Space Flight Center; Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator; and Frank Culbertson, Senior Vice president for Human Spaceflight Systems, Orbital. (NASA photo)

Administrator group looking into Cygnus

Administrator Bolden gets a close look at the Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (NASA photo)

Updated COTS & CRS Schedules

April 2012

Orbital updated its COTS and CRS operational schedules, with plans to achieve four major milestones over the next year. They are as listed below:

Third quarter 2012 - Antares First-Stage Static Fire Test at Wallops

Third quarter 2012 - Antares Test Flight for COTS

Fourth quarter 2012 - COTS Demonstration Mission to ISS*

First quarter 2013 - CRS Mission #1 to ISS*

*Orbital's operational dates are subject to coordination with NASA's ISS cargo delivery schedule

Antares First Stage Goes Vertical

April 2012

Orbital has now fully erected the first stage of the Antares rocket into a vertical position at the MARS launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia. We are continuing the pathfinder operations for the rocket's roll out to the pad from the Horizontal Integration Facility that began late last week. NASA photographer Patrick Black captured this image of the upright first stage on the pad.

Antares Up

More Photos of Antares Pathfinder

April 2012

More images of the Antares pathfinder from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) pad cameras.

Pathfinder on pad 1
Pathfinder on pad 2
Pathfinder on Pad 3

Orbital Begins Antares First Stage Roll Out Pathfinder Operations

April 2012

For the next several days, Orbital will be conducting "pathfinder" operations for the critical process of rolling out and erecting the Antares rocket at the MARS launch Pad 0A at Wallops Island. In the top photo below, the Antares first stage has just left the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), beginning its one-mile trip to the launch pad aboard the specially designed Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL). In the lower photo the first stage ascends the ramp leading to the pad. (NASA Photos)

Expect to see more photos and video from Orbital and NASA in the coming days as the rocket begins its fit check operations at the pad, after it is erected to a vertical position at the launch pad.

Pathfinder HIF
Pathfinder on ramp

Updated COTS & CRS Schedules

April 2012

Orbital updated its COTS and CRS operational schedules, with plans to achieve four major milestones over the next year. They are as listed below:

Third quarter 2012 - Antares First-Stage Static Fire Test at Wallops

Third quarter 2012 - Antares Test Flight for COTS

Fourth quarter 2012 - COTS Demonstration Mission to ISS*

First quarter 2013 - CRS Mission #1 to ISS*

*Orbital's operational dates are subject to coordination with NASA's ISS cargo delivery schedule

Cygnus Service Module for COTS Mission Completes TVAC Testing

March 2012

The Cygnus service module to be used in the Commercial Orbital Transportation System (COTS) demonstration mission successfully completed thermal vacuum testing, a major milestone in the test phase of the COTS development program. The spacecraft underwent two weeks of testing to simulate the extreme temperature variations and vacuum of the space environment. The service module will undergo additional testing at Orbital's Dulles, Virginia satellite manufacturing facility prior to shipment to the Wallops Island, Virginia launch. At Wallops, the service module will be mated to the Pressurized Cargo Module that will be used for the COTS demonstration mission scheduled for later this year.

Orbital's second Cygnus service module, to be used on the first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, is also fully assembled and ready for its environmental test program. Orbital's third service module is being assembled and will begin testing this Spring. The Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) for the COTS Demonstration mission has already been delivered to Orbital and is located at the Payload Processing Facility at Wallops Flight Facility. The PCM for the first CRS mission is has been completed as well and will be shipped from Turin Italy to Wallops this Summer.

COTS Leaving TVAC Crop

Updated 2012 COTS & CRS Schedules

February 2012

Today, Orbital updated its 2012 COTS and CRS operational schedules. Gone is our colorful Development and Flight Milestones chart, now that we're in the homestretch to our four major milestones for the year, which are as follows:

May - Antares First-Stage Static Fire Test at Wallops

June - Antares Test Flight for COTS

Third quarter - COTS Demonstration Mission*

Fourth quarter - CRS Mission #1*

*Orbital's operational dates are subject to coordination with NASA's ISS cargo delivery schedule

Progress Update on Orbital's Cygnus and ISS Cargo Resupply Activities

February 2012

Frank Culbertson, Orbital's Senior Vice President and head of our human space systems business, gave a presentation to the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC on February 16 with an update on our Cygnus and ISS Cargo Resupply Activities. His presentation, which contains some new photos and updates, is posted below.

Culbertson FAA Conference 2012

Click to view PDF

Orbital Hosts NASA Deputy Administrator at Wallops

January 2012

Orbital was pleased to host NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver on Thursday, January 19 at our Wallops operations where the Antares rocket is being prepared to support our COTS and CRS launches scheduled in 2012. Ms. Garver (center) was briefed by Orbital's Senior Vice President Frank Culbertson (left) and was accompanied by NASA Wallops Center Director Bill Wrobel (right). The group toured the Horizontal Integration Facility, also known as "the HIF", and surveyed the launch pad complex that is nearing completion.

AJ26 Test Fire

Integration and Testing of Cygnus Service Modules

January 2012

Integration and testing of Cygnus spacecraft service modules continues at our Dulles, VA Satellite Manufacturing Facility (SMF). The service module on the left in the photo below will be used for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flight to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year. The service module on the right will carry out the first of eight cargo resupply missions under Orbital's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, also scheduled for later this year. A third Cygnus service module (not shown) is also undergoing integration in a separate clean room facility in the facility.

The two service modules shown below are being integrated and assembled in a class 100,000 clean room prior to the beginning of environmental testing, the last major phase of the spacecraft development and testing prior to shipment to the Wallops Island, VA launch site, where it will be integrated with the Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) that was delivered in 2011. The Cygnus service module on the left will begin its thermal vacuum testing in February, followed by mechanical environmental tests one month later. The banner seen on the wall above the Cygnus service modules is a full-scale depiction of the complete Cygnus system with its solar arrays deployed.

To view other photos, images and video animation of the launch sequence of Orbital's Cygnus spacecraft and the Antares launch vehicle that will carry the Cygnus into orbit, click on the Images Multimedia link above.

Introducing Antares™

December 2011

Taurus II is now Antares! Orbital announced on December 12 that Antares will be the permanent name of the medium-class launch vehicle under development by the company over the last four years.

Why?

To clear up any marketplace confusion and provide clear differentiation between this new launch vehicle and our Taurus XL rocket. Antares is significantly different - it serves the medium-class space launch market and its liquid fuel first stage technology is a major departure from previous Orbital space launch vehicles. In addition, a project of this scale and significance deserves its own name like Orbital's Pegasus®, Taurus® and Minotaur rocket programs that have come before it.

Why Now?

We view 2011 as the symbolic end to the development phase of the Taurus II project. The design and development of the rocket is complete and we are now in the testing phase, which will culminate with two important tests in the first half of 2012 - a stage one static fire test and the first Antares test flight, both to occur at our new Wallops Island, Virginia launch facility.

Why Antares?

Antares is one of the brightest stars in the skies and we expect the Antares rocket to be one of the brightest stars in the space launch vehicle market. Orbital selected the name in keeping with the company's tradition of using Greek-derived celestial names for launch vehicles.

Antares Logo

First Main Engine System Mated to Taurus II

November 2011

The mate of the dual engine main engine system (MES) was accomplished for the first time on November 20, 2011 moving the Taurus II program closer to the integrated stage 1 hot fire on the launch pad early next year. The MES is comprised of two Aerojet AJ-26 engines, the thrust frame which connects the MES to the stage 1 airframe and liquid propulsion tanks, and the hydraulic actuator steering control system that is mounted on the thrust frame. The mate operation went very smoothly and confirmed the operation of the ground support equipment and the manufacturing tolerances for the myriad of components which fit together in the structures. The stage 1 assembly will now proceed into simulation testing of the on-pad hot fire and is forecasted to be ready in January to be able move to the launch pad. With the launch pad checkout and certification quickly approaching, the hot fire test will be conducted early in 2012, clearing the way for the first launch mission a short time later.

Main engine system
Main engine system

Cygnus Enhanced Spacecraft to Use Ultraflex™ Solar Arrays

November 2011

Orbital has selected lightweight ATK Ultraflex solar arrays to power its enhanced Cygnus cargo logistics module beginning with the fourth mission under Orbital's Cargo Resupply Services agreement with NASA to provide cargo logistics services to the International Space Station. The enhanced Cygnus variant incorporates a larger pressurized cargo module that can carry up to 2700 kg of crew supplies, spares and scientific experiments to the ISS. Measuring more than 11 feet in diameter, the Ultraflex arrays will provide the same power as the arrays to be used in the first three Cygnus missions but with significantly reduced mass.

CygnusE ISS Approach

Another Successful AJ26 Engine Test

November 2011

On November 17, 2011 Orbital, Aerojet and the NASA Stennis Space Center conducted another successfully acceptance hot fire test of an AJ26 flight engine. The test gauged the engine's performance to ensure its operation during an actual launch. The engine will now go to the Wallops Island Flight Facility launch site in Virginia where it will be integrated with the Taurus II first-stage core, as a main engine assembly. There are currently three first-stage core structures at Wallops Island.

AJ26 Engine Test

Updated Taurus II & COTS/CRS Development & Flight Milestones

October 2011

Orbital has released an updated milestones chart to the reflect the most current projections for the integration, testing and operations of its Taurus II and Cygnus spacecraft for the COTS and CRS programs.

Click here to view pdf

Taurus II and Cygnus Milestones

Virginia Governor Tours Taurus II Wallops Launch Complex

October 2011

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell visited the Wallops Flight Facility on October 17, 2011 for a tour of the Horizontal Integration Facility where the first two Taurus II launch vehicles are currently being assembled, as well as Pad 0A where Taurus II will be launched. Orbital Chairman and CEO Dave Thompson and Orbital's site manager Les Kovacs provided insight to the governor during his visit. They were joined by NASA Wallops Flight Facility Director Bill Wrobel, Goddard Space Flight Center Deputy Director for Science and Technology Christyl Johnson and Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton among others.

Top photo: Orbital Chairman and CEO Dave Thompson describes the Taurus II vehicle to the Governor. Bottom photo: Orbital site manager Les Kovacs provides insight on the Taurus II second stage Castor 30 motor. (NASA photos)

McDonnell Visit
McDonnell Visit

TEL Pathfinder Rolls Out, Main Engine System Processing Continues

October 2011

As the program counts down to the first stage one hot fire test on the pad later this fall, there is plenty of activity at Wallops. A simulated stage one "pathfinder" rolled out of the HIF on the Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) and made the one mile journey to the pad where it will be fit checked and raised to the vertical position in a test of the hydraulic actuators. The team will then mate the pathfinder with the pad to fit check the electrical, fuel, and air conditioning connections and test the rapid retract system for launch. Finally, the pathfinder will be filled with water and rotated as a structural proof test of the TEL and hydraulic systems.

Meanwhile, inside the HIF, work continues on the integration of the stage one core for the hot fire test. The AJ26 engines to be used for the test have been mated to the thrust frame to create the Main Engine System (MES). The MES will then be rotated and mated with the stage one core in the coming weeks followed by integrated stage level verification testing. Processing also continues in parallel on the Taurus II vehicle that will be used for the Test launch, while the ship carrying the third stage one core to be delivered from the Ukraine is due in port late in the week of October 3.

On the launch pad itself, final construction activities are completing and pad system checkouts are commencing. The water deluge system used for acoustic suppression and pad cooling has been tested twice using 148,000 gal of water in each test, which has allowed for tuning of the water flow orifices and nozzles. The large water tank at the launch pad is oversized for the launch event in order to accommodate the 27 second stage test planned on the pad. The adjacent liquid fueling facility has also been the focus of much work including final connections of piping and subsequent pressure integrity tests. Each fueling system will undergo rigorous functional testing to verify proper operation under remote control prior to connection to the test vehicle.

Transporter Erector Launch
Pad Tel
Thrust frame 2 - AJ26

The Latest on Taurus II and Cygnus

October 2011

Here are the latest scenes from our operations at Wallops Island launch site:

DWT Aerial

Our latest aerial view of the launch complex at Wallops Island. This photo was taken by CEO Dave Thompson as he traveled to Wallops to meet with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

 

Transporter Erector Stronback

A recent test of the Transporter Erector Strongback tilted a stage one mass simulator to a vertical position on the pad.

 

Labeld HIF

Hardware in the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at Wallops - virtually all the hardware required to carry out the static fire test and Taurus II test flight is already on site.

 

Cargo Module

The first pressurized cargo module (PCM) is being prepped for the COTS demonstration flight. In addition, other PCMs, for the first three CRS missions are well along at the Thales Alenia manufacturing plant in Italy.

And at our Dulles satellite production and test facility:

COTS

The first Cygnus spacecraft is about to enter system-level environmental testing, following its development and integration process.

 

3rd & 4th Cygnus Spacecraft

The second, third and fourth Cygnus spacecraft for upcoming CRS missions are also underway at the Dulles plant.

AJ26 Engine Acceptance Test Successful

September 2011

On September 26, 2011 Orbital, Aerojet and the NASA Stennis Space Center successfully conducted an acceptance hot fire test of one of the two AJ26 flight engines that will power the first stage of the Taurus II launch vehicle on its inaugural mission later this year. The test gauged the engine's performance to ensure its operation during an actual launch. The engine will now go to Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia where it will be integrated with the Taurus II first-stage core, as a main engine assembly.

Meanwhile, the two AJ26 engines that will be used for the stage one hot fire test on the pad later this fall, are in the Taurus II Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) and are in the process of being integrated with thrust frame structure that will then be mated to the first stage core. The hotfire test at Pad 0A is scheduled to occur later this fall.

Testing of the various systems at Pad 0A continue as well, including the water deluge system, the fuel tanks and feed lines. A pathfinder test to transport a representative stage one core on the one mile journey from the HIF to the Pad and erect it in launch position will occur in early October.

AJ26 Hotfire

First Pressurized Cargo Module Arrives at Wallops

August 2011

Ferried aboard an Antonov An-26 aircraft, a cargo container containing the first Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) arrived at the Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia on Thursday, August 24. The PCM was transported to NASA's H-100 payload processing facility where it will be mated to the Cygnus service module. Together, the PCM and the service module will form the first operational Cygnus that will be launched to the International Space Station to carry out a demonstration mission under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) joint NASA and Orbital research and development program. The COTS demonstration mission is currently scheduled for early 2012. Designed to carry approximately 2,000 kg of cargo, the PCM was manufactured by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy. Integration and testing of the service module continues at Orbital's Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Dulles, Virginia.

PCM Offload

Container Containing the first Cygnus PCM arrives at Wallops (NASA photo)

PCM Offload

After the container was offloaded, it was transported to NASA's H-100 payload processing facility (NASA photo)

PCM in Turin

PCM prior to shipment from the Thales Alenia Space facility in Turin (Thales Alenia photo)

Updated Taurus II & COTS/CRS Development & Flight Milestones

July 2011

Orbital has released an updated milestones chart to the reflect the most current projections for the integration, testing and operations of its Taurus II and Cygnus spacecraft for the COTS and CRS programs.

July milestone

Click her to view PDF

First Cargo Module Ships. Service Module Integration Continues.

June 2011

The first Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) for Orbital's COTS demonstration mission completed Qualification and Hardware Acceptance Reviews at Thales/Alenia's facility in Turin Italy. The PCM and its Ground Support Equipment will now be prepared for shipment from Italy to the Wallops Island Virginia launch site. Read about the PCM in this news release from Thales/Alenia.

As the PCM makes its way to the launch site, integration and testing of the Cygnus Service Module for the COTS demonstration mission continues in Orbital's Dulles, Virginia Satellite Manufacturing Facility. The Service Module completed its Open Panel assembly activities and will transition to its Initial Integrated Systems Testing.

Upon completion of all its testing, the Service Module will be shipped to Wallops Island, where it will be mated to the PCM. The fully assembled Cygnus spacecraft will then be attached to Orbital's new Taurus II rocket and launched to the International Space Station to demonstrate the delivery of supplies and payload items. See the Taurus II Microsite for more progress updates.

PCM TAS (15)

PCM production in Turin, Italy (Thales/Alenia photo)

 

PCM TAS 19

View of the interior of the PCM (Thales/Alenia photo)

 

Cygnus SM

Cygnus Service Module Integration

Taurus II Program Update

May 2011

Taurus II Briefing

Click to view PDF

Updated Taurus II & COTS/CRS Development & Flight Milestones

April 2011

Orbital has released an updated milestones chart to the reflect the most current projections for the integration, testing and operations of its Taurus II and Cygnus spacecraft for the COTS and CRS programs.

April Milestone

Click here for the PDF

Taurus II Program Update

March 2011

A formal dedication ceremony of the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) where Taurus II rockets will be assembled, tested took place on March 22, 2011. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Maryland U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Orbital Chairman and CEO David Thompson, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Gerstenmaier, Goddard Space Flight Center Director Robert Strain and Wallops Flight Facility Director William Wrobel were on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony. Even before the official dedication, operations at the HIF were in full gear with the stage one core to be used for hot fire testing and the Transport Erector, Launcher (TEL) undergoing integration and testing.

The TEL fixture will serve as the support structure of the Taurus II rocket as it is transported in a horizontal orientation along the approximately 1 mile route from the HIF to Pad 0A. At the pad, hydraulic erection actuators will rotate the TEL and the rocket to a vertical position, where the TEL will function as the umbilical support structure. Transport of the disassembled TEL required six trucks for the cross-country trip from the fabrication facility in California to Wallops.

Meanwhile at our Chandler Arizona facility, the fairing and adapter ring have been mounted on a test stand in advance of protoflight testing that will occur later this month. Amanda Davis, Engineering Manager for the upper stack of the vehicle is pictured to provide scale.

Finally, with all the concrete poured at the pad site (6600 cubic yards or approximately 21.7 million pounds), and installation of the fuel farm ongoing, we produced a composite image of an aerial photo of the actual pad and an artist’s rendering of the rocket and TEL to provide an idea of how the pad and rocket will appear prior to launch.

Ribbon Cutting

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Cut the Ribbon at the HIF (NASA photo)

The Taurus II Stage One Core and TEL in the HIF

The Taurus II Stage One Core and TEL in the HIF

Full Fairing

The Fairing and Adapter Ring on the Test Stand at Chandler

Composite Image of an Aerial Photo of Pad 0A and an Artist's Rendering of Taurus II

Composite Image of an Aerial Photo of Pad 0A and an Artist's Rendering of Taurus II

Updated Taurus II & COTS/CRS Development & Flight Milestones

February 2011

Orbital has released an updated milestones chart to the reflect the most current projections for the integration, testing and operations of its Taurus II and Cygnus spacecraft for the COTS and CRS programs.

Feb Milstones

Click here for the PDF

Cygnus Mission Overview Video

AJ26 Engine Acceptance Test Successful

February 2011

On February 7, 2011 personnel from Orbital, Aerojet and the NASA Stennis Space Center successfully conducted an acceptance hot fire test of engine #2 (or E2) AJ26 flight engine that will power the first stage of the Taurus II launch vehicle.

The 54-second test gauged the engine’s performance to ensure its readiness to support continued testing and operations, up to and including launch. The engine firing included Pitch and Yaw excursions to 4 degrees amplitude using the hydraulic Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system. A preliminary analysis of the engine and TVC data shows that all test objectives were met. In late December, engine #1 successfully completed acceptance testing. Engines #1 and #2 will now ship to the Wallops Island Flight Facility where they will be integrated with a Taurus II 1st stage booster, which is already at Wallops. The fully integrated booster will then be readied for an on-pad hot-fire static test which is currently scheduled for Summer 2011.

Orbital plans to perform an acceptance test firing at Stennis of each AJ26 engine prior to use on the Taurus II Launch Vehicle.

Video

Hot Fire Front

Close up of the AJ26 engine hot fire

Hot Fire Test Stand

A view of the Stennis E-1 stand during the test

Hot Fire End Of Test

End of test

Upper Stack Pathfinder and Stage One Thrust Frame Testing Wrap Up at Chandler, AZ Facility

January 2011

As operations at Orbital’s Wallops, Virginia launch processing facility ramps up, testing of two key elements of the Taurus II rocket achieved key milestones at Orbital’s Chandler, Arizona facility.  Pathfinder operations for the upper stack assembly were completed to load test and verify the composite adapter cones between the first stage core and the second stage rocket motor and between the second stage motor and the Cygnus spacecraft.  A 3800 kg Cygnus mass simulator and an inert 2nd stage motor were employed in the testing, and the composite adapter cones used in the testing were flight hardware to be used in the first Taurus II launch.  This test also certified the ground support equipment and procedures which will be used for vehicle operations at Wallops.  These tests were completed on schedule in late December and clear the way for field operations to begin in Wallops on the Taurus II Upper Stack Assembly.

Orbital also has begun acceptance testing of the thrust frame assembly on which the Taurus II main AJ26 engines are mounted and which transmits the thrust and gimbal loads to the stage one core structure.  This testing is being conducted at Orbital’s Chandler facility using a custom designed test frame built to support the thrust frame interfaces and a first stage core simulator.  When load testing on the structure is complete, the thrust frame will be sent to Wallops to support testing of the integrated stage one core later this year.

Upper stack pathfinder testing

Upper stack pathfinder testing

Thrust frame acceptance testing

Thrust frame acceptance testing

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver Visits Orbital Dulles, Virginia Facility

January 2011

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Jim Kohlenberger, Chief of Staff of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently visited Orbital’s Dulles, Virginia campus. After a brief overview of the company and its programs, Ms. Garver, Mr. Kohlenberger and other NASA guests took a tour of Orbital’s mission operations center where it will direct its commercial logistics missions to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.  The group also toured the company’s satellite manufacturing facility where they viewed a mock-up of the Cygnus spacecraft which will carry supplies to the Space Station, as well as work in progress on the first Cygnus spacecraft.  In addition, the guests were briefed on Orbital’s manufacturing and test facilities and viewed several satellites in production – both NASA scientific spacecraft and commercial communications satellites.

Garver Visit
Garver Visit

Second Taurus II AJ26 Test Fire Successfully Conducted

December 2010

An Orbital, Aerojet and NASA team successfully carried out the second test firing of the liquid fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of the company’s Taurus® II space launch vehicle. The test was conducted on Friday, December 17, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi at the recently refurbished E-1 test stand.

The AJ26 engine test ran for 55 seconds, during which the engine was purposely stressed to 109% of its baseline thrust level. The test of the engine’s primary control functions accomplished all primary objectives, including engine startup, valve commanding, thrust vector control and shutdown sequence. Preliminary review of the test data indicated that all test objectives were met. The data collected from Friday’s test will be used to fine tune the engine system and prepare it for a third and final firing in mid January which will verify tuning of engine control valves. This test marks an important milestone for the program as it was the first AJ26 engine test that featured thrust vector motion of the engine.  The addition of a gimbal block permitting 2-axis thrust vector motion is one of the modifications Aerojet makes in converting the NK-33 engine to the AJ26 configuration.

As the Taurus II program enters its production phase in 2011, each AJ26 engine will be subjected to rigorous acceptance testing at Stennis prior to being shipped to the Taurus II integration site at Wallops Flight Facility in Eastern Virginia.

Video

2nd Hot Fire

Stage One Core Arrives at Wallops,
Launch Site Development Update

December 2010

The core structure of the Taurus II first stage arrived at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Eastern Virginia on Dec 3, 2010. The core structure was manufactured in Ukraine by Orbital's subcontractor Yuzhmash. After arrival by a transoceanic cargo ship at the Port of Wilmington, DE, it was transported by overland to the NASA Wallops launch site and was off-loaded into Building H-100 where it will undergo checkout and integration testing. The initial stage 1 core structure is scheduled to be used for a series of tests at the launch pad, including propellant flow operations to demonstrate the filling of the vehicle’s tanks, for ground tests that simulate the in-flight propellant flow to the dual AJ-26 engines that provide the propulsion for Stage 1, and for a hot-fire demonstration during the final lead up to the first launch scheduled in the third quarter of 2011.

In addition to the progress being made on the Taurus II rocket, construction continues at a brisk pace at the Wallops Island launch site. Installation of interior infrastructure at the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), where Taurus II will be assembled and tested, nears completion with occupancy of the facility slated for January 2011. At the launch pad, the majority of the concrete has been poured and installation of fuel storage tanks and feed lines continues. Prominent features visible in the photos below include the flame deflector, the launch mount and two of the pad's four lightning towers.

Video

roll In
Arrival of the core at NASA/Wallops
 
Core In
The Core in buliding H-100
 
HIF construction continues for January 2011 occupancy
HIF construction continues for January 2011 occupancy
 
Aerial view of Pad 0A
Aerial view of Pad 0A
 
The HIF is approximately 1.1 miles north of Pad 0A
The HIF is approximately 1.1 miles north of Pad 0A
 
Detail of Pad 0A construction
Detail of Pad 0A construction

Orbital Completes Cargo Integration Demonstration

December 2010

A team of Orbital and Thales Alenia Space (TAS) engineers and technicians recently completed a COTS program milestone when it successfully performed a Cargo Integration Demonstration in Turin, Italy, where the Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Modules (PCMs) are being built and tested. The demonstration was one of the milestones in Orbital’s Space Act Agreement with NASA and marked another significant achievement for the program.

TAS technicians performed the demonstration, which was witnessed by Orbital and NASA engineers, managers, astronauts and flight controllers. The demonstration was performed using a PCM flight unit, production Ground Support Equipment (GSE) and simulated pre-packed cargo bags and cargo volume mock-ups.

The process included a complete volumetric loading of a standard PCM to demonstrate access to every cargo stowage location using a variety of different sized cargo transfer bags. The demonstration milestone called for the installation of at least one cargo bag of the maximum allowable mass in the least-accessible-location in the cargo module to validate the most extreme cargo capabilities anticipated, as well as a “virtual reality” demonstration of cargo module unloading during operations on orbit, an activity that cannot be adequately simulated in the Earth-gravity environment. In addition, the assembly of an internal stowage structure was performed using tools typically found on the ISS.

The demonstration was a 100% success, with all bags and simulators installed, strapped and tensioned. This demonstration gave the Orbital-NASA team confidence that the cargo accommodation system developed for ground and space operations will meet the strict operational requirements of human spaceflight.

The photos below show the Cygnus PCM packed with simulated cargo in the types of bags actually used in ISS operations.

Team

Load

Upper Stage Modal Survey Completed

November 2010

On Nov 12 Orbital completed the modal survey of the upper stage structure of the Taurus II Launch Vehicle. The modal survey is a standard development test for launch vehicles to determine the various natural frequencies of the structures in order to properly design the launch vehicle guidance and control system. The test was conducted with the structure resting on air bearings to isolate it from the floor and small shaker devices were used to impart vibration loads at different locations on the structure. The picture shows the composite structures in the upper stage that extend from the interstage forward of the stage 1 (the furthest aft composite structure in the picture) up to the upper most composite structure known as the payload cone that supports the payload being launched into orbit. In the flight configuration, the entire upper stage structure forward of the interstage is shrouded inside the Taurus II 3.9 meter fairing to protect the payload from the environment during the ascent trajectory. In the middle of the upper stage structure, the picture shows an inert Castor 30 motor that was provided by ATK for the test.

Upper Stack modal Survey

NASA Administrator Visits Orbital for Mission Operations Center Dedication Ceremony

November 2010

NASA Administrator Charles E. Bolden, Jr. joined Orbital's Chairman and CEO David Thompson in a ceremonial ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the completion of a new facility that will serve as the Mission Operations Center (MOC) for the company’s cargo logistics missions to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA that begin in 2011.

The Mission Operations Center will be dedicated to the COTS and CRS programs, providing command and control systems for the ISS logistics missions.  The MOC features with direct connectivity with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX for full interoperability between Houston and the ISS.

While at Orbital’s Dulles, VA facilities, the NASA delegation toured Orbital’s satellite manufacturing facility where they viewed the service module for the first Cygnus spacecraft that will demonstrate commercial cargo delivery services to the ISS, and a full-scale mock-up of the Cygnus spacecraft.  During the tour the delegation also viewed several of the 15 spacecraft currently in production in the facility that will be launched in the coming years.

Ribbon Tour
Group Pic
Cygnus
Cygnus Core Banner

AJ26 Hotfire Test Successful

November 2010

Orbital successfully test fired the liquid fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of its Taurus II space launch vehicle at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The test, the first in a series of three firings, lasted approximately 10 seconds and served as a short-duration readiness firing to verify AJ26 engine start and shutdown sequences, the operation of the Stennis E-1 test stand, and ground test engine controls.  The AJ26 test firings at Stennis are being conducted to verify the upgrades engine-supplier Aerojet has made to the baseline NK-33 engine and overall engine performance. Click here to view the video.

Preliminary data review revealed that all test objectives were met.  The test was conducted by a joint operations team of Orbital, Aerojet and Stennis engineers, with Stennis acting in the role of test conductor.  The joint operations team, in conjunction with other NASA engineers, will conduct an in-depth data review of all subsystems in preparation for the upcoming 50-second hot fire acceptance test to be performed in several weeks.  A third hot fire test is also planned for the engine to verify tuning of engine control valves.

The E-1 stand used for the test is located in the E complex at the Stennis Space Center and was modified by Stennis over the past year to accommodate the AJ26 engine and the Taurus II program.  Modifications included conversion from horizontal test orientation to vertical orientation through construction of a below-grade flame duct, and the addition of subcooled liquid oxygen supply capability.  Each engine pulled from Aerojet’s stock in Sacramento, CA, and subsequently modified to the AJ26 configuration, will be Acceptance Tested at Stennis prior to being shipped to the Taurus II integration site at Wallops Flight Facility, VA. (Images and video courtesy of NASA)

Hot Fire

Hot Fire

Updated Taurus II & COTS/CRS Development & Flight Milestones

October 2010

Orbital has released an updated milestones chart to the reflect the most current projections for the integration, testing and operations of its Taurus II and Cygnus spacecraft for the COTS and CRS programs.

Milestone

Click here for a PDF

Stage One Core Ships from Ukraine

October 2010

The first Taurus II stage 1 core vehicle was shipped today (Oct 8, 2010) from Dnepropetrovsk in the Ukraine. It will be transported by rail to the Black Sea port of Oktyabrsk, where it will be transferred to the ship that will carry it to the US and its final destination at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, VA. The stage 1 core is supplied to Orbital by two cooperating companies in Ukraine. The design subcontractor is Yuzhnoye and the manufacturing subcontract is Yuzhmash. The stage 1 core vehicle is comprised of a liquid oxygen tank, a kerosene fuel tank, an intertank assembly and an aft bay where the main engine system interfaces with the booster. The stage 1 core vehicle is 90 feet in length and has a diameter of 12.8 feet. It weighs 29,000 pounds when empty with no propellant in the tanks. Prior to shipping, the stage 1 core underwent extensive acceptance testing and a hardware acceptance review conducted by Orbital. The core vehicle will undergo testing at the Wallops Flight Facility in advance of processing for the first Taurus II launch scheduled for the middle of 2011.

Core in Ship
Core with Transportation Covers

Cygnus Primary Structure Completes Static Load Testing

October, 2010

The Cygnus Service Module primary structure successfully completed its static load testing in October at Applied Aerospace Structures Corp. in Stockton CA. The test program applied loads to the structure to simulate the forces that it will experience during a Taurus II launch while carrying a fully loaded Pressurized Cargo Module on top. For the load case that simulated the maximum axial acceleration of the rocket, almost 90,000 lb were applied to the cargo module interface ring, which is equivalent to supporting a dry Boeing 737 on top of the structure. Other load cases applied about 35,000 lb to the sides of the structure. The structure performed well during the test and is now being prepared for shipment to Dulles to start integration and test.

Static Test

Image courtesy Applied Aerospace Structures Corp

Stage One Test Engine Delivered, Launch Vehicle and Launch Site Development Continue, Pressurized Cargo Modules in Full Production

September 2010

Across the globe, significant elements of the Taurus II and COTS/CRS programs are coming together as the projects progress toward key testing milestones. In Mississippi, the first production Taurus II AJ26 engine was delivered to NASA/Stennis Space Center in late September. The engine was installed on the test stand and short duration hot fire testing will commence in the coming weeks. This engine will be the first full-up Taurus II engine to be tested and will be used for three hot fire tests at Stennis: short duration firing, acceptance test procedure, and verification test procedure. All subsequent engines get only one ATP firing at Stennis before going to the Wallops Island, Virginia launch site for integration.

Meanwhile, development at the Wallops Island launch site continues at a brisk pace. The Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), where Taurus II will be assembled and mated with the payload, is totally under roof. At Pad 0A, tons of concrete are being poured to finish the launch pad structure and flame trench. The main Liquid Oxygen (LOX) storage tank completed a three-month-long journey from its manufacturing facility in Mexico and was installed at the site in August. The RP-1 storage tank had a much shorter voyage, coming from North Carolina and was installed in August as well. In addition, workers are busy finishing the ramp the launch vehicle will travel on its way to the launch pad, as well as preparing the site for installation of the numerous smaller gas storage tanks used for pressurization and other pre-launch functions.

Although not associated with Taurus II, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) is also extending the height of the mobile gantry at Pad 0B, just south of the Taurus II Pad 0A. The gantry is being expanded to accommodate Orbital’s Minotaur IV and V launch vehicles. The pad will host the inaugural Minotaur V mission that will launch NASA’s Lunar Atmospheric Dust Environment Experiment (LADEE) spacecraft into a trans lunar orbit.

Meanwhile, the first Taurus II payload fairing has completed autoclave cure, paving the way for structural loads testing of the fairing. The composite 3.9 meter fairing was manufactured by Applied Aerospace Structures in Stockton, California.

Finally, in Turino, Italy production of the Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) is in full gear, with multiple PCMs in production at the Thales/Alenia Space facility. The standard configuration PCMs pictured below will carry up to 2,000 kg of supplies for the International Space Station and will be employed during the COTS demonstration mission and the first two CRS missions. An enhanced PCM capable of carrying up to 2,700 kg of cargo will be employed for the balance of the CRS missions through 2015.

Engine Lift

The first AJ26 production engine being lifted for installation on the test stand at NASA/Stennis

Roof painting

The high bay of the HIF is totally under roof and getting a fresh coat of fire resistant paint

Lox tank install

The massive LOX storage tank is lifted into place at Pad 0A

Ramp tanks

The ramp leading to PAD 0A progresses while Helium tanks await placement on their foundations

Pad 0B

Workers add to the movable gantry at Pad 0B to accommodate future Minotaur IV and V launches

Fairing Core

The first Taurus II payload fairing at its production facility in California

Two PMCs in production

Two PCMs in production in the Thales/Alenia Space production facility in Turino, Italy (Thales/Alenia photo)

Major Software Integration Milestone Completed, PCM Production in Full Gear

September 2010

Over the course of three weeks in August and early September, the NASA/Orbital Joint Avionics Test #2 (JT2) was held at the NASA Station Development and Integration Laboratory (SDIL) near Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This early integration test of the International Space Station (ISS) and Cygnus flight software involved personnel from NASA, Orbital, Boeing and Mitsubishi Electric Company, and Orbital’s processor-in-the-loop testbed (pictured below left).

The purpose of the test was to ensure that Cygnus and ISS flight software were capable of communicating via both berthed and proximity communications system links. The primary objective of the test was to demonstrate basic command and telemetry data routing between the ISS and Cygnus flight software. A number of secondary objectives were included as well.

During the course of the test, Orbital engineers were able to fully demonstrate 16 out of the 21 design verification objectives required to satisfy NASA requirements. This was a remarkable accomplishment given that this was the first time the NASA, JAXA, and Orbital hardware and software had been physically integrated into a working system. Orbital will return to the SDIL in November 2010 with final integration testing slated for March 2011.

Meanwhile, at Thales/Alenia Space in Turino Italy, production of the Pressurized Cargo Modules (PCM) continues at a robust pace as evidenced by the image below right of two PCMs on the production floor. Structure welding on the last standard configuration PCM was completed in late September. Delivery of the first PCM to Orbital is currently planned for Q1 2011. (image courtesy of Thales/Alenia Space).

Joint Avionics Test 2 PCM Narrow

Bird’s Eye Views of Wallops Island Launch Development

August 2010

Thanks to resident shutterbug, Sr. VP and APG Deputy General Manager Frank Culbertson, below are aerial images showing the extent of the work and the substantial progress that has been made on the Taurus II launch facilities.  In addition to what we’re told is the world’s tallest water tower, the top photo shows Pad 0B where we launch Minotaur rockets in the foreground, the construction of Pad 0A for Taurus II, and the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) where the Taurus II stages will be integrated and mated to the payloads in the background.  The bottom photo shows the HIF superstructure in place.  For reference, the HIF is nearly a football field long.  The main bay area is about 100 feet wide and over 60 feet high, and is designed to accommodate the processing of two Taurus II vehicles at a time.

Video of the AJ26 engine installation at NASA/Stennis
(Courtesy of NASA)

Wallops Culbertson
HIF Aerial Shot

Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module Completes Proof-Pressure Testing

August 2010

The first Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module successfully completed proof-pressure testing (top photo) at the Thales/Alenia production facility in Italy. Testing went as planned with no anomalies noted. The interior pressure of the PCM was increased up to 1.4 times normal value for the test.

The PCM hatch (middle photo) was mated to the PCM cargo module in preparation for proof pressure testing. The internal hatch view (bottom photo) shows the hatch rails that will be used to restrain the hatch when crews open the hatch on orbit. The PCM hatch also recently completed qualification tests at Thales. The PCM hatch has a strong resemblance to the current hatches used on the US-segment of the ISS. However, at 37 inches on each side, it is somewhat smaller than the 50 inch ISS hatch. The hatch size will accommodate all cargo currently planned by NASA for the Cygnus vehicle.

PCM Pressure Testing
Hatch 1
Hatch 2

AJ26 Engine Installed for Chilldown Testing

July 2010

The AJ26 engine delivered on July 15th was installed on the test stand at the NASA Stennis E-1 test facility which has been modified for AJ26 testing. In addition to upgrades to the stand to accommodate the AJ26 engine itself, work included construction of a 27-foot-deep flame deflector trench. Now that installation is complete, the engine will begin "chilldown" testing (see below for a detailed summary of the chilldown test regimen). Once that testing is done, this engine will be removed and replaced with the first actual flight engine which will undergo "hotfire" testing.

AJ26 Install
AJ26 Install

AJ26 Cold-Flow Test Engine Arrives at Stennis

July  2010

Orbital’s Taurus II Propulsion Engine Test Program continues with the delivery by Aerojet of a AJ26 cold-flow test engine to NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on July 15, 2010. For all the details you could ever want to know about cold flow rocket engine testing, the following description comes courtesy of the liquid engine experts at our Southern California Engineering Center:

The AJ26 cold-flow test engine will validate requirements for liquid oxygen (LO2) bleed-in, chill-down and propellant off loading of the Taurus II Main Engine Assembly (MEA).  Main objectives for this test series are to finalize chill-down procedures on the Stennis E-1 test stand for Taurus II launch operations (flight configuration) and demonstrate chill-down test requirements prior to each engine hot fire verification test (ground test configuration). The chill-down test series will validate the time-based sequence for chilling down the MEA to the required LO2 temperatures and record LO2 consumption during engine high flow chill-down.

Other objectives for this test series are to quantify flight pressure transducer response in an extreme LO2 cold environment, to validate feed line interface thermal shrinkage, to obtain LO2 pyro-valve initiator thermal environments and to obtain feed line bellows icing data.

The RP-1 engine bleed-in process will also be demonstrated by measuring volume of trapped gas in the Thrust Control Valve high point bleed at the end of a set duration with nominal MEA inlet pressure.

Orbital worked with NASA Stennis and Aerojet to recently complete facility upgrades to accommodate AJ26 testing. In addition to AJ26 certification testing, each AJ26 engine to be used in the Taurus II program will come through the Stennis facility for pre-launch acceptance testing prior to being integrated with the rocket.  Initial testing with this cold-flow test engine is the next step towards engine performance characterization and certification, as well as efficient test process development. 

Following successful cold-flow testing and test stand validation, the first flight engines will be delivered to Stennis and be subjected to “Hot fire” testing prior to their shipment to the launch site.

July Delivery
July Delivery

Updated Taurus II and COTS/CRS Development & Flight Milestones

July 2010

Orbital recently completed a re-planning exercise for the Taurus II and Cygnus programs, with several notable changes anticipated. The company has maintained its schedule to launch the first Taurus II rocket in late June 2011; however, the mission will likely be a new risk-reduction test flight, not the first COTS demonstration mission. This new flight on the manifest is included in NASA's budget request to add $312 million in additional funding to the COTS program, which is now making its way through the Congressional approval cycle. For the risk reduction test flight, Taurus II would not carry a full-fidelity Cygnus spacecraft – instead, a payload simulator would be launched to verify the design and flight performance characteristics of Orbital's new medium class launcher.

If the Test Flight funding is approved and an additional mission is inserted into the schedule, the original COTS demonstration mission would be carried out later in 2011. In this COTS demonstration mission, a fully functional Cygnus spacecraft will be launched by Taurus II and will rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station, performing the identical operations as a CRS mission and fully demonstrating the cargo delivery service.

Finally, if the Test Flight is approved, the updated launch schedule pushes the first operational CRS mission to the beginning of 2012, as reflected in the chart below.

TII & Cygnus Flight Milestones

Click here for a PDF

Upper Stage Completes Structural Testing While Wallops Launch Facilities Take Shape

June 2010

In mid-June, the first flight structures that will fly on the COTS demonstration mission next year underwent structural testing at Orbital’s Chandler, Arizona facility. The avionics cylinder and payload cone (upper left) are part of the upper stack assembly of the 3.9 meter diameter launch vehicle.

Across the country at Wallops Island, Virginia, the water tower for the flame suppression system for the Taurus II launch pad was topped off last week (top right). Rising 250 feet above the ground, the tower features a 200,000 gallon tank. Far below the welders on the tower, workers continue to bend rebar and pour concrete. The ramp leading to the launch stand that the Taurus II transporter will travel to deliver the rocket to the pad is rising from the roadway (middle), while concrete for the flame trench, flame deluge water pond and pads for the various fuel tanks has been poured. In all, over 2,500 cubic yards of concrete have been poured to date on the launch pad alone. When complete, the pad will use at total of 6,600 cubic yards, or approximately 13,200 tons of concrete. Meanwhile, a little over a mile from the pad, the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) where the rocket will be assembled and mated with the payload is taking shape as well (bottom). The foundation and floors have been poured and walls are going up.

Upper Stack Structures Test Looking Up Ramp
Looking Up Ramp
HIF Looking South

The First Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module Takes Shape in Italy

May 2010

The first Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) is taking shape at the Thales/Alenia Space facility in Turin, Italy. The standard PCM configuration shown in the photos will be utilized in the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration mission slated for Spring 2011. Capable of transporting up to 2,000 kg to the International Space Station, this PCM will serve as the pathfinder for identical modules that will utilized in the first two Cargo Resupply Services (CRS) missions in 2011 and 2012 (see mission manifest for a complete listing).

The First Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module Takes Shape in Italy The First Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module Takes Shape in Italy
The First Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module Takes Shape in Italy The First Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module Takes Shape in Italy

(Images Courtesy Thales/Alenia Space)

Taurus II Engine Test Stand Gets Real Cool (-317 F)

May 2010

NASA Stennis Space Center recently conducted the first Sub-Cooled Liquid Oxygen Cold Flow Activation Test on the modified E-1 Test Complex in support of Orbital’s Taurus II Propulsion Engine Test Program. The cloud of sub-cooled (-317F) liquid oxygen seen in the front of the engine test stand simulates the propellant flow rates that are necessary to properly supply the AJ26 engine during acceptance testing which is scheduled to begin June 2010.

NASA Stennis Space Center

(Image courtesy NASA)

Updated Taurus II and COTS/CRS Development & Flight Milestones

April 2010

Orbital recently updated its Taurus II and Cygnus development and flight milestones leading to the first launch, which will be the COTS demonstration mission. The revised time line is posted below. Note that the time line is intended to offer general insight into the programs' major milestones and is subject to change.

Taurus II and COTS/CRS Development & Flight Milestones

Stage one Core Testing Continues as Launch Site Construction Progresses

April 2010

In the Ukraine, stage one manufacturing and testing is progressing. Testing is underway (top image) to verify the loads the booster will see during both launch site transportation and erection of the booster onto the launch mount.

Meanwhile at the Wallops Island, Virginia launch site, crews are busy with the construction of the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) where the stages will integrated with the payload. The massive concrete footers (middle image) are for the columns that will bear the weight of the overhead crane.

Crews also continue make progress on construction of the launch pad (bottom). Pilings and scaffolding for the ramp leading up to the pad can be seen on the left hand side of the photo, while workers prepare for assembly of the water tower (tubular legs can be seen at the bottom center with sections of the tank at the far right). Toward the rear of the right side of the image, workers continue to drive pilings for the pad itself (framed by orange construction fencing).

Stage one manufacturing and testing is progressing
Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF)
Crews also continue make progress on construction of the launch pad

Orbital Unveils Full Scale Cygnus Model

April 2010

Earlier this month, Orbital displayed a full-scale model of the Cygnus cargo delivery spacecraft at the National Space Symposium (NSS) that took place in Colorado Springs, CO from April 12 to 15. The NSS is one of the space industry’s marquee events each year, attracting thousands of professionals involved in defense and intelligence, civil government and commercial space programs. Silhouetted against a fireworks illuminated sky, Cygnus truly was the star of the show this year.

Orbital Unveils Full Scale Cygnus Model Orbital Unveils Full Scale Cygnus Model

Orbital Sr. VP Frank Culbertson's Testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Science and Space

March 18, 2010

Good afternoon Chairman Nelson and Ranking Member Vitter, and members of the subcommittee.  I appreciate this opportunity to participate in this hearing regarding the potential of commercial crew delivery capabilities to low Earth orbit to enhance our nation’s progress in space exploration and development. 

I am honored to sit on this distinguished panel with industry colleagues Michael Gass and Gwynne Shotwell, and former NASA colleagues George Nield, now with the FAA, and Malcolm Peterson, formerly NASA’s comptroller.  Needless to say, it is also an honor to sit alongside two fellow astronauts whom I hold in the highest regard: Lt. General Thomas Stafford, who commanded the vital Apollo 10 lunar landing dress rehearsal mission and 35 years ago blazed a trail for U.S.-Russian cooperation in space while commanding the American side of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, and Bryan O’Connor, a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions and since 2002 the NASA leader and agency conscience on all matters regarding mission safety. 

For those of us who have had the great privilege to fly into space wearing the U.S. flag on our space suit—including the chairman of this subcommittee—I think it is fair to say that we are oriented toward achieving mission success through thoughtful risk taking.  Every time I have entered the Space Shuttle preparing for flight it was with the utmost confidence that the dedicated men and women of NASA and its contractor teams had done everything humanly possible to ensure my safety, and I’m certain my colleagues share this view about their experiences.

My job at Orbital Sciences Corporation includes oversight of all programs relating to Human Space Flight Systems, including not only our Cargo Resupply Services contract and the Cygnus Spacecraft, with a close connection to our Taurus II Launch Vehicle, but also the development of the Orion Launch Abort System under the auspices of the Constellation Program.  In addition to our 28 years of work in other areas of spaceflight, such as satellites and launch vehicles, our company is totally committed to supporting the future of human space flight in this country, as well as to exploring business approaches that will continue to make space more accessible and productive for all potential users.

The recent CCDev procurement competition, with 36 bidders listed, indicates that a number of U.S. companies, large and small, with outstanding track records of providing NASA with launch and space services have an interest in supporting commercially provided crew transportation services.

NASA’s proposed funding of about $6 billion over the next five years, together with the addition of appropriate private capital, should be sufficient to enable at least one and probably two U.S. commercially-provided crew systems to be demonstrated by the year 2015. 

I am confident that NASA can work with commercial providers to establish the proper safety and performance standards and oversight measures, the fundamentals of which are already well-established, that will enable industry to continue this successful era of U.S. human space flight for both U.S. government missions, and for other markets as they develop.  I would also expect that industry will make proper use of NASA’s manpower, expertise, and physical infrastructure to not only enhance safety and mission success, but also to help maintain and build our national competence in these areas.  Preeminence in exploratory and technical accomplishments remains as important as ever if we are to maintain our global leadership in space and continue to motivate future generations to do the hard work required to carry that banner.

Given your appropriate concern as to whether the commercial space industry is robust enough to develop reliable commercial launch services for crew to low Earth orbit within a reasonable time, at a fair cost, and, most importantly, with the requisite safety margins, let me clearly state again my response to the fundamental question of whether this model can work.  Orbital believes, as do I, that U.S. industry, given the right conditions, relationships, and investments, should be able to develop and demonstrate safe and reliable crew transportation systems for International Space Station support by 2015. 

Two of the important elements of ensuring safety in future transportation systems are close cooperation with NASA in developing a clear understanding and full  implementation of Human Rating Standards, especially at the system level, and a robust, reliable crew escape system.  Furthermore, once such a service is developed, tested, and certified, I would be happy to volunteer to strap in once again for a mission to the International Space Station.  If I am not willing to join the first mission of an Orbital developed spacecraft that I share responsibility for, then no one should be on that flight. 

I would also like to emphasize the importance of partnership to the success of a commercial crew transportation program.  For programs of this nature to work, especially in the NASA context, what’s required is a sound, trusting relationship between - and open, honest communication amongst - the appropriate government, industry, and international partners.  This is not a simple or easy task, as evidenced by the major space programs of the last 50 years, but it can be done and results in powerful accomplishments, such as Apollo, Shuttle, and the International Space Station.  

I do not envisage commercially provided crew services being conducted entirely by industry with a hands-off approach from NASA.  Nor can these commercial services be provided efficiently with traditional levels of government involvement and oversight at every turn.  Rather, to be successful, commercial suppliers must work closely with NASA and other potential customers at key milestones, tests, and reviews, providing insight to the program and demonstrating the willingness to listen to the technical judgment and leadership of NASA’s seasoned government and contractor human spaceflight team in a mutually productive relationship.  In addition, the FAA relationship must continue to grow and mature in order to establish a proper regulatory regime for commercial crew activities.  In this serious business there is no substitute for open lines of communication and the appropriate balance of insight and oversight that will lead to shared progress in 21st century space activities. 

Just as the Shuttle-Mir Program was an excellent developmental program for producing the collaboration and joint operations being used so successfully in the International Space Station Program, the Commercial Orbital Transportation program and related Commercial Resupply Services program or COTS/CRS, are providing superb learning experiences for not only developing new hardware that can fly to the Station safely, but also the operations concepts, relationships, and lines of communication that will enable all sorts of commercial endeavors in the future.

Though the willingness of industry to invest their own technical and financial resources in an incipient space project is not new, just as Orbital is now doing on the COTS/CRS programs, the levels of investment and financial risks are moving in new directions.  We see the opportunity for commercially provided crew transportation as an extension and strengthening of NASA’s current initiatives in commercial cargo delivery that will lead to exciting new partnerships with private industry.  The challenge is to develop and operate commercial low Earth orbit transportation systems that will service not only the government but also the other markets that can be imagined.

Since 2008 Orbital has been fully engaged as one of two companies contracted to provide the delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station.  Although this has been a huge development program for a company of our size, and unprecedented in scope for a purely commercial venture between a private company and NASA, I am very pleased to report that from Orbital’s perspective, and that of our shareholders, we have made steady and valuable progress.  We expect to have achieved all but 3 of 21 NASA program milestones by the end of this year, including successful completion of the critical Phase One and Phase Two Safety Review milestones.  We are on pace for first launch of the Taurus II rocket from Launch Pad O-A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, next year.  This progress is possible because of the hard work and cooperation of many talented people at NASA Headquarters and several NASA centers, as well as the FAA, the support of Virginia and Maryland through the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Authority, the efforts of our teammates, suppliers, and international providers, and the internal corporate support we receive to resource this program.

I mention all of those players to highlight the point that it truly takes a complex mix of organizations to execute space missions, especially with crew involved.  The mix and complexity have evolved over the last five decades, but this is still one of the most difficult and exciting endeavors known to humans, and I believe will be for some time to come.  The addition of local and state agencies and organizations in new roles and levels of investment will only serve to enhance commercial opportunities for success.  Executing parts of the development and operation in new and imaginative ways, while keeping the focus on safety and mission success, is our challenge for the near term, so that we not only expand our frontiers, but also give our children a space program that they can build upon – not be forced to rebuild.

For Orbital, we see the extension of the International Space Station as one of the cornerstones for a sound future in space, both scientifically and commercially, as we strive for more distant destinations and new technologies continue to be developed.  Looking forward, we believe the ability to provide cargo and crew services to the International Space Station is absolutely critical given the pending retirement of the Space Shuttle and the Administration’s wise decision to continue the International Space Station’s mission from 2015 to 2020 (or beyond!), thus enabling our scientists and researchers to pursue a more aggressive program of scientific research and utilization at this multi-national orbital facility.  I applaud its designation as a National Laboratory.  In addition, based on my personal experience on board the Station, I firmly believe that the ISS is an ideal platform for developing and simulating the operations, technologies, and techniques for executing more ambitious missions and lengthy missions to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations. 

I often tried to imagine what we would need if the station were en route to Mars or were somehow placed on the moon, besides what we already had or expected to have in the future - such as regenerative life support and radiation protection – and one of the major requirements was a reliable supply line – and/or a lot more room!  We at Orbital intend to be a key element in that supply line.  It is indeed important to recognize that this new approach to meeting our nation’s commitment to fully utilize the International Space Station, including the designated National Laboratory portion of the facility, is part of a broader policy to advance American progress in space on a number of productive fronts.

By now turning anew to America’s innovative private sector to provide crew transport to low Earth orbit, NASA will be able to invest new resources in transformative technologies that will speed our exploration path to the Moon, Mars, asteroids and other deep-space destinations.  New launch vehicle propulsion, in-space operations technologies and related robotic precursor missions are just a few of these.   This approach will also enable increased funding for NASA’s other critical missions in earth and space sciences, thus helping us better protect life on our home planet through accelerated and expanded climate change research missions, and extend through our robotic emissaries and telescopes the profound search for evidence of life in and outside the solar system.

In closing, please allow me to mention that as an astronaut I have had the privilege of working on missions that have helped to enhance our national security, extend international cooperation in space science, and increase the capabilities of the International Space Station facility, which has just been given a new lease on life.  Clearly, the NASA budget that was recently delivered by the Administration has generated a firestorm of discussion that is rarely seen on the topic of space exploration.  I sincerely feel the pain of some who are at the center of the storm, as well as those who feel threatened by parts of the budget, but I welcome the fact that finally we are having a broad and fervent debate on the subject.   I know that  a lot of energy is being expended at NASA to provide increased specificity of the goals, so I am hopeful that a more thoughtful and thorough examination of the available paths forward will result in an ambitious, sound set of programs that will fill us all with pride.  Just as you are doing by holding this hearing, promoting meaningful dialogue within the relatively small but passionate group of people who truly understand and care about what it actually takes to execute what so many take for granted - that is, reliable access to space - will help move us in the right direction.  I expect that U.S. industry will support challenging national space endeavors as it always has –with professionalism, excellence, and innovation.

Our nation continues to inspire people throughout the world for our commitment to freedom, creativity, exploration, and commerce.  Opening the right doors for industry to participate more broadly on a commercial basis will help maintain and enhance America’s leadership on the space frontier.  

Thank you again for inviting me to appear before this important hearing today.

Orbital and Aerojet Complete Taurus II Main Engine Lifetime Testing

March 2010

Orbital and Aerojet, along with Aerojet’s Russian partner, United Engine Corporation/SNTK, successfully completed a series of NK-33 rocket engine tests conducted in Samara, Russia in support of Taurus II development. Read the press release here.

engine start-up
Top images: engine start-up; middle image: full throttle run; bottom images: throttle tail off and engine shut down (Aerojet image)

Orbital Sr. VP Frank Culbertson Featured on This Week in Space with Miles O’Brien

March 2010

Frank Culbertson, Senior Vice President for Human Space Systems was a featured guest on This Week in Space with Miles O’Brien on the Spaceflight Now web site. In the eighth edition of the popular podcast of the space-related news program, Culbertson discussed the challenges associated with human rating a commercial spacecraft, the potential for the commercialization of U.S. human spaceflight, and the Obama administration’s new space policy.  To view the podcast, click on either of the links below.  For those who wish to skip directly to the interview, advance the podcast to the 13:42 mark.

Click here to view the podcast on iTunes

Click here to view the video on YouTube

This Week in Space with Miles O’Brien

AJ26 “Pathfinder” Engine Arrives at Stennis

February 2010

The Taurus II AJ26 rocket engine testing process officially kicked-off with the delivery of a “pathfinder” engine to NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on February 23, 2010. The first stage of each Taurus II launch vehicle will be powered by two Aerojet AJ26 liquid-fuel engines. The pathfinder engine will be used to verify test stand interfaces, engine handling processes, and test configurations prior to the commencement of a series of “hot fire” tests planned to begin in April at the Stennis E-1 test stand.

Orbital has been working diligently with NASA Stennis and Aerojet to develop and install facility upgrades to accommodate AJ26 testing. Each AJ26 engine to be used in the Taurus II program will come through the Stennis facility for pre-launch acceptance testing prior to being integrated with the rocket.

The AJ26 is a commercial derivative of the engine that was first developed for a Russian rocket that would have taken cosmonauts to the moon. As the world’s first oxidizer-rich, staged-combustion, oxygen kerosene engine, it achieves very high performance in a lightweight, compact package. This engine received extensive development, representing about a $1.3 billion investment over a 10-year period. More than 200 engines were built and 575 engine tests were conducted, accumulating over 100,000 seconds of test time. Aerojet has been developing design modifications to make the engine suitable for commercial launchers since 1993, and will obtain additional test data at the Stennis facility.

J.R. Thompson, Orbital President and COO (left), NASA Stennis Center Director Gene Goldman (center), and Aerojet President Scott Seymour in front of the pathfinder AJ26 engine (NASA photo) AJ26 Pathfinder Engine Arrives at Stennis
J.R. Thompson, Orbital President and COO (left), NASA Stennis Center Director Gene Goldman (center), and Aerojet President Scott Seymour in front of the pathfinder AJ26 engine (NASA photo) AJ26 Pathfinder Engine Arrives at Stennis

Taurus II Program Summary Review Successfully Completed

February 2010

In late January 2010 we successfully conducted the Taurus II Program Summary Review (PSR), a comprehensive evaluation of the rocket program’s development status.  The PSR included verification of engineering milestones and schedule progress after nearly two and one half years since Orbital formally began work on the program in mid-2007.  Participants in the PSR included representatives from NASA, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the National Reconnaissance Office, Orbital’s Taurus II program management team, and an Independent Readiness Review Team comprised of experienced space industry professionals who have managed large-scale launch vehicle programs in the past.

The findings of the evaluation team confirmed that the Taurus II program has successfully completed the design, engineering and procurement phases of the development process and is prepared to embark on an aggressive manufacturing and testing campaign in 2010 and early 2011 during which major subsystem elements will be subjected to rigorous, operationally-representative conditions.  Major systems to be tested include the rocket’s first stage engines, the first stage booster core, the second stage structure, avionics, fairing, and all related ground infrastructure at the Wallops Launch Site and the Stennis Space Center main engine test facility.

In addition to reviewing overall program schedules and development status, Orbital engineers and representatives from the company’s major suppliers delved into the primary technical areas of the program, including systems engineering, the liquid fuel first stage and AJ-26 engines, the upper stack avionics and second stage motor, predicted launch vehicle and payload environments, new launch facility development activities at Wallops Flight Facility, and adherence to safety and mission assurance standards.

Among the items evaluated at the PSR were the stage one core structures shown here being manufactured at the Yuzhmash fabrication facility in the Ukraine. Among the items evaluated at the PSR were the stage one core structures shown here being manufactured at the Yuzhmash fabrication facility in the Ukraine.
Among the items evaluated at the PSR were the stage one core structures shown here being manufactured at the Yuzhmash fabrication facility in the Ukraine.

Taurus II Hardware Production and Facilities Construction in Full Gear

February 2010

Taurus II components and facilities are coming together at suppliers and locations across the globe. In the Ukraine, elements of the stage one core test articles as well as the first flight unit are being assembled.  In Samara Russia, hot fire tests of stage one engines have been conducted, while construction of the U.S. stage one test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, where Taurus II engines will be acceptance tested, is nearly complete. The first test of an AJ-26 engine at Stennis is anticipated in the 2nd quarter of the year. Tooling for the 4 meter payload fairing has been delivered to Applied Aerospace Structures Corporation in Stockton, California and delivery of the first test items of other Applied Aerospace structures has occurred.

Construction is ramping up at the Wallops Island, Virginia launch site as well.  Initial infrastructure is being laid at the launch pad site, and 800 pilings are being driven for the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) where the launch vehicle will be integrated and mated with its payload before traveling to the launch pad.

AJ-26 Engines (Aerojet Photo)
AJ-26 Engines (Aerojet Photo)

Upper stage structural test fixture completed in Arizona
Upper stage structural test fixture completed in Arizona

Stennis Stage One Engine
Stennis Stage One Engine Test Stand
 

Fairing Lay Up Tooling in Autoclave
Fairing Lay Up Tooling in Autoclave

Avionics Module Test Unit
Avionics Module Test Unit
 

Pilings for Wallops Island HIF
Pilings for Wallops Island HIF being driven

Fabrication of Cargo Module for COTS Demonstration Mission Progressing

February 2010

Fabrication of the pressurized cargo module (PCM) for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) mission is progressing at the Thales Alenia Space - Italia production facility in Torino, Italy. The Cygnus PCM is based on the Thales Alenia Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) design which has proven track record of ferrying supplies to the International Space Station via the Space Shuttle.  Delivery of the first flight PCM is scheduled for the 4th quarter of 2010.  Members of the Orbital COTS/CRS program recently traveled to Italy for an update on the PCM manufacturing process.

Mark Ferguson standing in front of the forward cylinder of the Demo Mission PCM Primary Structure
Mark Ferguson standing in front of the forward cylinder of the Demo Mission PCM Primary Structure

The aft bulkhead for the Demo Mission PCM
The aft bulkhead for the Demo Mission PCM

Members of the Orbital and Thales Alenia Italia PCM team with the Demo Mission PCM Forward Bulkhead
Members of the Orbital and Thales Alenia Italia PCM team with the Demo Mission PCM Forward Bulkhead. Pictured, from left to right, are Flavio Bandini, Roberto DeAmicis, Walter Cugno, & Marco Musso, (Thales Alenia Italia); and Mark Ferguson, George Dorsey & Keith Davies, (Orbital)

Systems Testing for Taurus II Begins – First Test of 2nd Stage Motor Successful

December 2009

The Taurus II program officially moved from the engineering design and supplier procurement phase to the testing phase with the successful testing of the Taurus II second stage motor. The solid-fuel Castor 30 motor, which is supplied to Orbital by ATK Space Systems, was test fired at the U.S. Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) in Tennessee. The test lasted a little over 150 seconds and the motor produced about 72,000 lbs. of maximum thrust.  The Castor 30 motor is designed to ignite at altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet, and to accurately test the motor performance, the static fire test was conducted at AEDC using a vacuum chamber specially designed to simulate upper atmospheric conditions.   In addition to the second stage testing, we will soon begin the testing process of the liquid fuel propulsion system for the rocket’s first stage at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

First Test of 2nd Stage Motor

ATK Photo

First Test of 2nd Stage Motor

AEDC Photo

Cygnus Solar Array Contract Signed

November 2009

Continuing the international flavor of the COTS/CRS program, we signed a contract with Dutch Aerospace to supply the solar arrays that will help power the Cygnus spacecraft during its mission to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. This is the second Orbital program that Dutch Aerospace has provided solar arrays for. The first was the Dawn interplanetary probe which is currently approximately 93 million miles from Earth and recently entered the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter en-route to its 2011 rendezvous with the asteroid Vesta. 

Back here on Earth, Orbital Vice Chairman, President and Chief Operating Officer J.R. Thompson, and Bart Reijnen, Chief Executive Officer of Dutch Space officially signed the Cygnus solar array contract at Orbital’s, Dulles, Virginia headquarters as representatives of Dutch Space, the Netherlands Space Office and Orbital looked on. Mr. Reijnen also presented a commemorative delft plate depicting Cygnus approaching the International Space Station to Orbital Chairman and CEO, David Thompson.  How cool is that?

Cygnus Solar Array Contract Signed Cygnus Solar Array Contract Signed

Progress Continues in the Development of Cygnus and the COTS System

October 2009

The past few months have seen a flurry of preliminary and critical design reviews (PDRs and CDRs) as we begin the transition from the design phase to initial manufacturing.  Several key reviews remain while machining and tooling for the first pressurized cargo modules has begun (see photos below). 

Pressurized Cargo Modules Pressurized Cargo Modules

As the year comes to a close, a number of key activities are scheduled to occur including:

  • Avionics CDR
  • Cygnus CDR
  • TAS-I Hatch Review
  • Proximity Link System (PLS) CDR and JAXA TIM

We awarded a contract to the Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (MELCO) to supply Proximity Link System (PLS) components to guide Orbital's Cygnus Spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on nine re-supply missions for NASA.

The PLS components were originally developed for the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) program by Mitsubishi Electric under contract with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). See the September entry below to read more about Japan’s recent HTV mission to the ISS.

The PLS components, composed of transponders, diplexers, and data handling processors, are essential for rendezvous control between re-supply spacecraft and the ISS. When the re-supply spacecraft approaches the ISS, the on-board PLS initiates a signaling exchange with the PROX (Proximity Communication System), which is built into the ISS as a part of the Japanese Kibo Experimental Module, and guides the spacecraft in rendezvous and berthing with the ISS.

The development and manufacture of the PLS components will be carried out at Mitsubishi Electric's factory in Kamakura, Japan. Mitsubishi Electric will deliver the PLS components to Orbital between 2010 and 2014.

Signing the contract for 9 shipsets of the Proximity Link System

Orbital Vice President Carl Walz and MELCO Space Systems Division General Manager Hiroyuki Inahata sign the contract for 9 shipsets of the Proximity Link System

Taurus II Development Continuing at a Rapid Pace

October 2009

The pace of activities in the development of Taurus II has quickened as the year has progressed and the system has moved from the design and review stage to initial production. In our first update, we highlighted the groundbreaking ceremony for the Wallops Island, Virginia launch facility. Since then Orbital employees have literally circled the globe interacting with suppliers, developing qualification and flight hardware and overseeing construction projects.  A variety of activities have occurred including:

  • Wind tunnel testing completed
  • Manufacturing of the stage one core started
  • Completion of the stage two static fire motor
  • Completion of the structures tooling for the launch vehicle's upper stack
  • Finalization of the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) design where the launch vehicle will be assembled at Wallops Island
  • Construction of the engine test stand flame duct at the Stennis Space Center where the stage one engines will be tested
  • Commencement of manufacturing of the Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL) that will transport the launch vehicle from the HIF and erect it on the launch pad
  • Completion of the launch pad preliminary design, with construction to start in November
  • Driving of the initial test pilings for the HIF

In addition to the accomplishments above, a number of activities are scheduled through the end of the year. These include:

  • Start of construction of the Wallops Island HIF
  • Stage one core flight systems Critical Design Review
  • Taurus II ground systems Critical Design Review
  • Commencement of launch pad construction
  • COTS system Critical Design Review
  • Stage two motor "hot fire" test
  • Completion of stage one engine test stand construction at the Stennis Space Center
  • Delivery of the first cryogenic tank to Wallops Island

Stennis

Stennis Space Center Engine Test Stand Flame Duct

TEL

Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL) Design Finalized

Stage 2 motor

Stage 2 motor "Hot Fire" Test on Schedule for December 2009 (ATK Photo)

Pad 0A prior to ground breaking

Upper Stack Structures Tooling Completed

Japanese HTV Successfully Demonstrates Technologies to be Employed by Cygnus, Phase II Safety Review Nears Completion

September 2009

We watched attentively as JAXA’s HII Transfer Vehicle (HTV) successfully performed a rendezvous and berthing with the ISS on September 17, 2009.  The HTV is designed to provide internal and external cargo to the ISS.  The HTV and Cygnus share several systems in common including the Space Integrated GPS/INS (SIGI), Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system, and the Proximity Link System (PLS).  These systems provided vital guidance and navigation information to the spacecraft.   They worked well during the HTV Flight and their performance reduces program risk for Cygnus.  We congratulate Japan for its success in its first HTV flight!

JAXA’s HII Transfer Vehicle (HTV)

European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne monitored the unpiloted Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) as it approached the International Space Station. Once the HTV (visible on the computer screens) was in range, the ISS crew used the station's robotic arm to grab the cargo craft and attach it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node. Visible in the lower center is the HTV Control Panel (HCP), which allows astronauts to send commands to the HTV and Cygnus through the Proximity Link System (NASA image)

Also this month we presented our Phase II documentation to Johnson Space Center’s Safety Review Panel (SRP) during a weeklong meeting.  The SRP ensures that all appropriate safety requirements are met by spacecraft that carry astronauts (such as the Space Shuttle) or come in close contact with spacecraft that do carry astronauts (such as the International Space Station).  The Safety Review process for human spaceflight is a 3 step process, which involves an extensive review of almost all design elements of the proposed spacecraft.  Orbital passed the first part (Phase I) of the Safety Review process earlier in 2009.  Orbital will close out its Phase II presentation on November 5, 2009.

Pressurized Cargo Module CDR Successfully Completed

August 2009

Last month it was Paris, this time it was on to Torino Italy for the Critical Design Review of the Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) that, mated to our new Cygnus spacecraft, will deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The CDR was a joint effort between Orbital and Thales Alenia Space Italia, which is providing the PCM.  The pressurized cargo module is based on the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) developed by Thales Alenia Space for NASA to ferry cargo to the ISS using the Space Shuttle.
The CDR included two Cygnus PCM configurations. A standard configuration will carry up to 2,000 kg of cargo for the ISS, and will be used in the COTS demonstration mission in 2011 and the first two missions under the Cargo Resupply Services (CRS) contract between 2011 and 2012. An enhanced configuration will carry up to 2,700 kg of cargo for CRS missions between 2013 and 2015.
The CDR demonstrated that the PCM design is ready to proceed with full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and test of the modules. The CDR also confirmed that the program is on track to complete the development of the Cygnus flight and ground system and mission operations to meet the program’s mission performance requirements. The Pressurized Cargo Module is now moving forward into the production phase to support the COTS demonstration mission slated for March 2011.

Contracts Signed for Cygnus Structure
and Pressurized Cargo Modules

July, 2009

We went to the Paris air show to announce the award of a contract to Thales/Alenia Space of Turin, Italy to build nine pressurized cargo modules that will deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) beginning in 2011.  Also, last month we signed a contract with Applied Aerospace Structures of Stockton, California to provide the composite structures for the Cygnus service module.  In addition to these major contracts, we placed orders for all of major subsystems as we move forward toward actual integration of Cygnus at our Satellite Manufacturing Facility here at Dulles, Virginia.

Taurus II Wallops Island Launch Site Ground Breaking

July 1, 2009

Time to break out the silver plated shovels!  Late last month Orbital and NASA, along with local and regional dignitaries, officially broke ground for the Taurus II launch facilities at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital Chairman and CEO Dave Thompson, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and NASA Acting Administrator Christopher Scolese all gave short speeches, and then used the fancy shovels for a ceremonial shoveling of Wallops Island dirt.

The Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia will be the primary launch site for our Taurus II launch vehicle for missions to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Ongoing work includes the construction of a new Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) where the launch vehicle will be assembled; a liquid fueling facility that will provide the necessary fuel for the launch vehicle; and an all-new Launch Pad dedicated to Taurus II built on the site of the old Conestoga launch pad, designated Pad LA-0A. Renovations are also being made to existing cargo processing and payload fueling facilities that will service the Cygnus spacecraft and cargo modules that will hold the supplies bound for the Space Station.

We expect construction on the new and existing facilities at Wallops to be completed by the end of 2010. The first demonstration flight of the Taurus II launch vehicle from Wallops under the COTS program is expected to occur in early 2011, followed by operational flights under the CRS contract.  Check out the missions page of this web site for a more detailed Taurus II launch manifest.

Pad 0A Demolition makes way for new Pad

Pad 0A Demolition makes way for new Pad

US Structure

Pad Prior to Ground Breaking

   

           Check Out

Antares Brochure

Antares Brochure

Cygnus Fact Sheet

Cygnus Fact Sheet

Antares Fact Sheet

Antares Fact Sheet

Cygnus Fact Sheet

COTS/CRS Fact Sheet

 

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