back to article Orbital Sciences' Cygnus resupply truck blasts off to the Space Station

Private space biz Orbital Sciences Corporation has successfully launched its Cygnus space truck to resupply the International Space Station. The craft blasted off at 1307 EST (1007 PST, 1807 GMT), from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, US. Minutes later Cygnus separated from its rocket as it reached orbit, and opened …

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Coat

Launch scheduled to take place at 1307 EST?

An elite space truck would wait another 30 minutes.

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Re: Launch scheduled to take place at 1307 EST?

You, sir, win the internets this morning.

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This was a resurrection of a failed proposal...

Originally, COTS proposal from Rocketplane Kistler had a novel proposal to use Russian leftover rockets from the 80s. They got stuck and NASA transferred the work to Orbital, giving them MORE pre-launch money than even SpaceX to hit an aggressive deadline.

They hit it. These launches have been pricer than SpaceX, but their costs should come down.

In the long run, their launcher MIGHT be certified with Dragon or CST-100, but it isn't certified for manned use, yet.

It is interesting that they launch from Wallops Island versus Florida or Texas...

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Re: This was a resurrection of a failed proposal...

Antares is unlikely to get man-rating in its current form as the second stage is a solid rocket. Solids running in parallel with a liquid first stage are allowed, especially if the designer is NASA, as a capsule LES can get the crew away in an abort but there's no sensible way to get off a malfunctioning solid second stage.

The first stage is not hugely different to the Ukrainian Zenit, hardly surprising as it is designed and partly built by the same company under contract.

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Re: This was a resurrection of a failed proposal...

I very much doubt that Antares would ever carry a human-rated capsule, for several reasons:

1. SpaceX has made it fairly clear that their projects are all centered around reducing the cost of putting a tonne into orbit (so they can achieve Elon Musk's stated goals with regards to Mars). Putting Dragon on Antares achieves nothing that Dragon on Falcon 9 doesn't achieve in that regard.

2. Antares can lift 6 tones to LEO. Falcon 9 baseline can carry 10 tonnes, and the Falcon 9 v1.1 can lift 13 tonnes. Those figures show that if Antares were to carry a manned capsule, the Soyuz would be a better fit (and the comments about solid rocket motors, above, really do apply), and that's not a likely outcome (that goose lays golden eggs). For reference, the Shuttle could put 24 tonnes into orbit (which is largely how the ISS got there), and the Falcon Heavy is supposed to shift about double that; Saturn V, of course, could do more than 4 times what the Shuttle could, making Skylab a much easier proposition than ISS was.

3. Orbital currently has, what, 50-odd Kuznetsov engines, equating to 25 more Antares vehicles, 15 of which are committed to COTS with Cygnus. Sure, various schemes are afoot to restart NK-33 production or produce derivative engines, but those are not yet qualified solutions (and at least one scheme produces a significantly more powerful engine -- 25% more thrust, suggesting that the vehicle to which it would be attached would be different from the current Antares; Antares 2, anyone?).

4. The virtues of the Aeroject/Kuznetsov engine lie mainly in its excellent thrust-to-weight ratio. That performance metric is exceeded only by an indigenous SpaceX engine, so putting Dragon on it seems a bit of a sideways move.

Realistically, (western) human-rated launchers are either going to come from SpaceX, or from some restart of NASA's constellation. The latter seems politically unlikely any time soon.

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