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Orbital to launch next CRS mission atop ULA Atlas 5 in September

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Orbital Sciences Corp. says it will resume flights of its Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) using United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 401 rockets starting in September 2015.

The company also says a re-engined Antares rocket will conduct flights to the ISS for NASA from the company's Wallops Island launch site on Virginia's eastern shore in early 2016.

Orbital expects to accomplish all remaining cargo deliveries under its current $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA by the end of 2016 and with no cost increase to the space agency, the company said in a Dec. 9 news release.

The company’s plans for the CRS and Antares launch vehicle include these major elements:

• Atlas V Launch: Orbital has contracted with ULA for an Atlas V launch of Cygnus from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the fourth quarter of 2015, with an option for a second Atlas V launch in 2016 if needed. Orbital says the Atlas rocket’s greater lift capacity will allow Cygnus to carry nearly 35% more cargo to the ISS than previously planned for CRS missions in 2015.

• Antares Propulsion Upgrade: Since an October failure of the Antares rocket, Orbital has confirmed its ability to accelerate the introduction of a new main propulsion system for the Antares rocket and has scheduled three additional CRS launches in the first, second and fourth quarters of 2016 using the upgraded vehicle. The greater payload performance of the upgraded Antares will permit Cygnus spacecraft on each of these missions to deliver over 20% more cargo than in prior plans. Orbital says with necessary supplier contracts now in place, the first new propulsion systems are expected to arrive at the Antares final assembly facility at Wallops in mid-2015 to begin vehicle integration and testing.

Even before the Antares failure left Orbital scrambling to meet its CRS commitment, the company said it had selected a new first stage engine to replace the modified Russian NK-33s implicated in the mishap. Orbital has yet to publicly disclose the supplier, but among propulsion options considered were continued use of the NK-33, production of which could have been restarted in Russia; a solid-motor solution proposed by ATK; and a variant of the Russian RD-180 that powers the Atlas 5.

• Wallops Launch Site Repairs: The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) has assessed the clean-up, repair and reconstruction work necessary to return the Wallops launch complex to operational status. Current plans call for repairs to be substantially completed by the fall of 2015, with recertification taking place before year end.

The flexibility of Orbital’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft to accommodate heavier cargo loads, together with the greater lift capacity of the Atlas V and upgraded Antares vehicles, will allow the company to complete all currently contracted ISS deliveries in four missions instead of the five previously planned flights over the next two years.

In addition, the company said its revised approach is not expected to create any material adverse financial impacts in 2015 or future years as Orbital carries out the CRS cargo delivery and Antares propulsion upgrade programs.

 

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