Tag Archives: Orbital ATK

Atlas 5 to launch Cygnus in March

NASA has ordered Orbital ATK to use ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket for its next Cygnus cargo run to ISS in order to maximize the cargo that the capsule can deliver.

A Cygnus reached the station last month with over 5,000 pounds of supplies after launching atop Orbital ATK’s own Antares rocket. It was the first such flight for the booster in two years, a lull instigated by the 2014 explosion of an Antares and Orbital ATK’s decision to replace the main engines with a different design. But the more-powerful Atlas 5 rocket can launch over 7,700 pounds of provisions inside a Cygnus, and the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday night that NASA has pushed Orbital ATK to buy another Atlas 5 for its greater lift capacity and reliability record.

Sources told Spaceflight Now that the Atlas 5 would launch the OA-7 mission in March and that Orbital ATK was working with Kennedy Space Center to book facility time to process the Cygnus.
It was not immediately clear if NASA or Orbital ATK would pay for the extra costs associated with the Atlas 5 rocket.

This decision by NASA to favor Atlas 5 here over Antares illustrates some of the commercial weaknesses of Antares. Orbital ATK’s decision to launch the rocket from Wallops Island in Virginia had some political advantages, putting their launch facilities in the state and congressional district of legislators whose approval they were soliciting. The decision, however, limited the cargo capacity of the rocket because of the site’s higher latitude. This might also help explain why Orbital ATK has as yet failed to find any other customers for Antares, besides NASA.

I also wonder whether some political pressure from other legislators who favor ULA also helped influence this decision. The political game is brutal these days in Washington and almost nothing connected to the federal government is done anymore without some crony and corrupt political maneuvers in the background.

Antares successfully launches Cygnus

After two years of redesign, Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket tonight successfully put a Cygnus cargo capsule into orbit.

Considering that every single one of the vehicles that fly to ISS (Soyuz, Dragon/Falcon 9, Cygnus/Antares, HTV) has been experiencing some issue that has delayed each of their launches, this success tonight must be a relief to managers and engineers in both Russia and the U.S.

Next comes a manned Soyuz launch on Wednesday.

Russia gets two contracts for Proton

The competition heats up: Russia has signed two new contracts using its newly announced Proton-Medium rocket configuration.

Both contracts are for the same launch. The primary payload will be a Intelsat communications satellite. The secondary payload will be Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), which is actually more significant and somewhat ground-breaking.

The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the propulsion and attitude control functions. Satellites have an average of 15 years of life on orbit, before they need to be replaced. The vehicle itself has a 15-year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and undockings during its life span. “Rather than launching new satellites, operators can extend the life of healthy in-orbit satellites, providing enhanced flexibility through Orbital ATK’s scalable and cost-efficient capabilities,” noted Our simple approach minimizes risk, enhances mission assurance, and enables our customers to realize the maximum value of their in-orbit satellite assets.”

The launch of MEV-1 will involve in-orbit testing and a demonstration to be performed with an Intelsat satellite. MEV-1 will then relocate to the Intelsat satellite scheduled for the mission extension service, which is planned for a five-year period. Intelsat will also have the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.

If MEV-1 proves successful, Orbital ATK will have built, launched, and made money from the first robot repair satellite. While at first glance this success suggests that satellite companies will need to launch fewer satellites, thus reducing the market demand for rockets, what it will really do is make the orbiting satellite more useful and profitable, thus encouraging new players to enter the market. The demand for satellites will increase, thus increasing the demand for rockets.

Ain’t freedom and private enterprise grand?

Stratolaunch to use Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket

The competition heats up? Vulcan Aerospace and Orbital ATK announced today that they are renewing their partnership, using Pegasus in conjunction with Stratolaunch to put satellites into orbit.

Under a multiyear “production-based partnership,” the companies said, Orbital ATK will provide “multiple” Pegasus XL air-launch rockets to be used with the Stratolaunch aircraft, which, when completed, will have the largest wingspan of any plane ever built.

With the Pegasus XL rockets, the Stratolaunch aircraft will be able to launch small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds, according to the firms’ joint statement released Thursday. Pegasus rockets already have done this kind of work: Orbital ATK has used them to launch satellites from the belly of its Stargazer aircraft.

This deal suggests to me that Vulcan Aerospace has a problem. It couldn’t find anyone to build a large rocket for Stratolaunch and this deal was therefore conjured up to paper over this problem. First , it appears that the reason Orbital ATK originally backed out was that they didn’t want to build the new rocket. Maybe they had engineering concerns. Maybe they were worried about cost or management. Regardless, they didn’t want to build it.

Second, using Stratolaunch with Pegasus seems pointless if the satellite weigh is still limited to only 1,000 pounds. That’s the payload capacity of Pegasus using Orbital ATK’s L-1011 Stargazer airplane. Why bother switching to Stratolaunch if the giant plane doesn’t give you any benefits?

Thus, it appears to me that what has happened is that Vulcan needed some rocket to use with Stratolaunch so that they could squelch the rising doubts about the company. This deal gives them that. It also probably gives Orbital ATK some extra cash to get them to agree to do it.

Redesigned Antares launch scheduled for Oct 13

NASA and Orbital ATK have now set October 13 as the date for the first Antares launch in two years.

Though ISS is not short of supplies, this quote underlines the difficulty of the particular situation now.

While the space station has plenty of food, water, experiments and other provisions, NASA officials are eager for the Antares rocket to resume flights as all of the research outpost’s other servicing vehicles are facing delays.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which launches the company’s Dragon cargo craft, is grounded after a launch pad explosion Sept. 1, and Dragon resupply missions to the space station may not start up again until early next year.

The Japanese HTV cargo freighter was supposed to blast off Sept. 30 with several tons of supplies, including new lithium-ion batteries for the space station’s electrical system. But that launch has been delayed until at least December after Japanese engineers discovered a leak during an air tightness test in August.

And a Soyuz crew capsule that was supposed to launch Sept. 23 with three new space station residents will not lift off until at least Oct. 19 after Russian workers discovered a technical problem on the vehicle. The Soyuz delay will likely push back the launch of Russia’s next unpiloted Progress cargo freighter from Oct. 20 until late November or early December.

Even with numerous redundent methods for hauling cargo to ISS, it is still possible for them all to have problems all at once.

Orbital ATK aims for October 9-13 Antares launch

Orbital ATK and NASA have now scheduled the first Antares/Cygnus launch since the rocket’s failure in October 2014 for no earlier than October 9.

Orbital ATK is targeting Oct. 9-13 for the launch of the company’s upgraded Antares 230 rocket. Liftoff will occur from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport to send the OA-5 Cygnus spacecraft, called S.S. Alan G. Poindexter, to the International Space Station (ISS). According to a news release from the company, a more specific date and time will be selected upon completion of final operational milestones and technical reviews. Launch times on these dates range from 10:47 p.m. EDT Oct. 9 to 9:30 p.m. EDT Oct. 13 (2:47 GMT Oct. 10 to 1:30 GMT Oct. 14).

Antares return now set for October

The competition heats up: The first flight of Orbital ATK’S redesigned Antares rocket since the 2014 launch failure is now expected to occur in October.

Originally planned for August, the launch had been delayed partly because of technical issues uncovered during a May static fire test and partly because of scheduling complications with other launches to ISS.

Orbital ATK delays Antares-Cygnus launch until September

In the heat of competition: Orbital ATK has once again pushed back the launch of the first upgraded Antares rocket since its launch failure in October 2014, this time until September.

Due to a variety of interrelated factors, including the company’s continuing processing, inspection and testing of the flight vehicle at Wallops Island, and NASA’s scheduling of crew activities on the International Space Station in preparation for upcoming cargo and crew launches, Orbital ATK is currently working with NASA to target a window in the second half of September for the launch of the OA-5 mission. A more specific launch date will be identified in the coming weeks.

This press release suggests that all is well, and that the delay is mostly because of scheduling issues with NASA and ISS. However, it is also very vague, which suggests to me that the company has been also working through the results of the static fire test they did in May and might have needed more time to work out the kinks..

Iridium’s next generation constellation of satellites

The competition heats up: Iridium prepares the first 10 of a total of 81 new satellites for launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in September.

The Iridium Next program is a $3 billion investment by Iridium, according to Matt Desch, Iridium’s chief executive officer. Iridium’s purchase of 81 satellites represents approximately $2.2 billion of that cost, Desch said, and the company’s launch contract with SpaceX for seven Falcon 9 flights was valued at $492 million when the parties signed it in 2010. That was the largest commercial launch contract in history until last year’s 21-launch order by satellite Internet provider OneWeb with Arianespace.

The first 10 Iridium Next satellites will fly on a Falcon 9 rocket in September, followed by a second launch as soon as December with the next batch. Iridium managers will give the go-ahead for the second launch once the first 10 satellites finish initial in-orbit tests, Desch said. The other five launches should occur about once every two months next year to fill out the Iridium Next fleet 485 miles (780 kilometers) above Earth. Iridium’s contract with SpaceX calls for all the missions to fly on newly-built Falcon 9s, a situation unlikely to change any time soon since insurance arrangements for the initial launches have been finalized.

But Desch said he is open to purchasing reused Falcon 9 boosters in the future “if they’re the right price.”

To meet this schedule SpaceX’s launch schedule will have to ramp up considerably from its present rate of one launch about every three weeks.

Video of fire experiment on Cygnus

NASA scientists have released videos of the fire experiment they ran on Orbital ATK’s Cygnus freighter last week after it was unberthed from ISS.

The videos are at the link. They are not as exciting or as interesting as I think everyone imagined. However, they do confirm that the sample burned for 8 minutes.

ULA pinpoints cause of Atlas 5 premature shutdown

In the heat of competition: ULA has completed its investigation into the premature shutdown of the Atlas 5 first stage during its March launch of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus capsule and has corrected the problem.

An extensive review of all post-flight data observations determined that at approximately T+222 seconds, an unexpected shift in fuel pressure differential across the RD-180 Mixture Ratio Control Valve (MRCV) and a reduction in fuel flow to the combustion chamber caused an oxidizer-rich mixture of propellants and a reduction in first stage performance. The imbalanced propellant consumption rate resulted in depletion of the first stage oxidizer with significant fuel remaining at booster engine shutdown. The engine supplier has implemented a minor change to the MRCV assembly to ensure the anomaly does not occur on future flights.

Engine hot-fire testing, extensive component and assembly level testing and analyses have been performed to confirm the findings. Detailed inspections and minor hardware replacement on all engines will support the current launch manifest.

They have now scheduled the next Atlas 5 launch for June 24.

Orbital ATK delays Antares launch until August

In the heat of competition: The review of Orbital ATK’s May 31st static fire test of its Antares rocket has caused the company to delay the upgraded rocket’s first launch until August.

Additional information pointed to data on “vibrations” during the Static Fire test that could be deemed as a problem for the vehicle’s avionics. A “fix” was already understood to have been approved.

Orbital ATK, while admitting the launch is slipping from its early July launch date estimate to a date likely to be in the August timeframe, pointed to trajectory evaluations as a specific relation to the launch date deliberations. “Final trajectory shaping work is also currently underway, which is likely to result in an updated launch schedule in the August timeframe,” added Orbital ATK.

They expect to make a decision on launch date in a few weeks.

Cygnus to depart ISS, then start a fire

A fire in space: Orbital ATK’s Cygnus capsule is scheduled to leave ISS on Tuesday, when shortly thereafter it will begin a controlled fire experiment.

“Saffire-I provides a new way to study a realistic fire on a spacecraft. This hasn’t been possible in the past because the risks for performing such studies on crewed spacecraft are too high. Instruments on the returning Cygnus will measure flame growth, oxygen use and more. Results could determine microgravity flammability limits for several spacecraft materials, help to validate NASA’s material selection criteria, and help scientists understand how microgravity and limited oxygen affect flame size. The investigation is crucial for the safety of current and future space missions. – See more at: http://www.space.com/17933-nasa-television-webcasts-live-space-tv.html#sthash.2DjFjJqY.dpuf

The departure is scheduled for 9 am (eastern), and will aired live by NASA.

Orbital ATK successfully completes Antares test fire

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK today successfully completed a 30 second test fire of the first stage of its redesigned Antares rocket, using new Russian rocket engines.

The primary goal of the test was to verify the functionality of the integrated first stage, including new engines, modified Stage 1 core, avionics, thrust vector control and pad fueling systems in an operational environment. During the test, a number of operational milestones were met including full propellant loading sequence, launch countdown and engine ignition and shut down commands, as well as multiple throttle settings including full engine power. The test also validated the launch pad’s operation, including propellant tanking and the use of the water deluge system to protect the pad from damage and for noise suppression.

Orbital ATK will now purge and clean the engines of residual propellants and return the first stage used in this test to the Horizontal Integration Facility for full reconditioning prior to its use on the OA-7 mission slated for later this year. The Orbital ATK team will continue to prepare the Antares rocket that will launch the OA-5 mission, which is in the final stages of integration, systems testing and check-out in preparation for launch this summer.

They hope to launch a Cygnus capsule on Antares around July 6.

Antares static engine test scheduled

The 30-second static fire engine test of the Antares first stage and new Russian engine has now been scheduled for May 31.

The window for the engine test, or hot fire, is 5 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. EDT. Backup test dates run through June 5. Completion of the test will be noted on the Wallops’ Facebook and Twitter sites. During the test, the upgraded Antares dual RD-181 rocket engines will fire for 30 seconds at maximum 100% power (thrust) while the first stage of the test rocket will be held down on the pad. The hot fire will demonstrate the readiness of the rocket’s first stage and the launch pad fueling systems to support upcoming flights.

If all goes well, they hope to launch Antares with a Cygnus capsule in early July.

Orbital ATK introduces a new rocket

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK today revealed plans to build what it calls the Next Generation Launcher designed to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The first stage would use a variation of the solid rocket boosters that ATK built for the space shuttle. The second stage would be bought from Blue Origin.

Upgraded Antares rolled to launchpad

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares rocket, with new Russian engines for its first stage, has been rolled to the launchpad in preparation for its launch in July.

They plan to do a 30 second long hot fire engine test on the launchpad of the first stage engine to see if all works properly. If successful, they will then confirm the launch date in July.

Congress micro-manages rocket engineering again

In an effort to funnel money to Aerojet Rocketdyne at the cost of every other rocket company in the nation, the House Armed Services Committee has written a bill that tells the Air Force exactly how it will build its future rockets.

“The Committee shares the concern of many members that reliance on Russian-designed rocket engines is no longer acceptable,” the committee said April 25. “The Chairman’s Proposal, as recommended by Chairman Rogers of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, denies the Air Force’s request to pursue the development, at taxpayer expense, of new commercial launch systems. It instead focuses on the development of a new American engine to replace the Russian RD-180 by 2019 to protect assured access to space and to end reliance on Russian engines. The Mark also holds the Air Force accountable for its awards of rocket propulsion contracts that violated the FY15 and FY16 NDAAs.”

…“The funds would not be authorized to be obligated or expended to develop or procure a launch vehicle, an upper stage, a strap-on motor, or related infrastructure,” says a draft of the 2017 defense authorization bill.

As presently written, the bill would leave the Air Force only one option: use engines built by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

If anything demonstrates the corruption or foolishness of our elected officials, it is this proposal. Not only are they telling the Air Force how to design rockets, they are limiting the options so much that they are guaranteeing that it will either cost us more than we can afford, or it won’t be doable at all. As I say, either they are corrupt (working to benefit Aerojet Rocketdyne in exchange for money), or they are foolish, (preventing the Air Force from exploring as many inexpensive future options as possible).

Problems at Stratolaunch?

In the heat of competition: Vulcan Aerospace, the company building the giant Stratolaunch airplane designed launch orbital rockets from its underbelly, does not yet have a rocket for this purpose.

Originally that rocket was to be built by SpaceX, but that partnership ended in 2012.

Stratolaunch then contracted out its rocket work to Orbital Sciences Corp. (now Orbital ATK). The company also contracted with Aerojet Rocketdyne for six RL10C-1 rocket engines with an option for six more for use in the launch vehicle’s third stage.

The agreement with Orbital ended without the production of a launch vehicle, with Beames saying the rocket was not economical. Stratolaunch officials said they were reassessing the project in light of the shift in the market recently toward smaller satellites.

In 2015, Beames said that Stratolaunch was examining more than 70 launch vehicles for use with the Stratolaunch aircraft. He indicated that the company might use multiple launch vehicles to serve different payload classes. Beames said the company would announce its launch vehicle strategy in fall 2015, but that time came and went with no announcement. [emphasis mine]

It is very worrisome for them to be hunting for a rocket at this point of design. I am reminded of Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipTwo, which changed engine designs midstream, causing them enormous engineering problems and delays.

Orbital ATK negotiating lease for part of VAB

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK has begun negotiations with NASA for possibly leasing part of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for use in connection with a military rocket.

Virginia-based Orbital ATK is one of two rocket companies that launch resupply missions to the International Space Station, but this deal would not involve those missions or that rocket, the company’s Antares. The Antares launches from NASA’s space port at Wallops Island, Va., carrying the Orbital ATK Cygnus capsule.

The new rocket that Orbital ATK hopes to develop and one day assemble in the VAB would be a medium- to heavy-lift rocket.The planned rocket currently referred to by the name the Air Force set for it, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class rocket.

It sounds like Orbital ATK is putting together a bid to compete for the Air Force rocket contract, and needs to get a handle on the costs for using the VAB at Kennedy in order to make the offer credible.

The commerical battle over U.S. surplus ICBM’s

Link here. The article provides a good summary of the conflict between Orbital ATK and Virgin Galactic over the Defense Department’s possible sale of surplus ICBM’s for commercial use.

While Orbital has been lobbying to get Congress to lift the ban on the Pentagon selling its surplus rockets to the private sector, Virgin Galactic has been harnessing the industry lobbying arm to convince Congress to keep the ban. They fear that if the missiles become available, their as yet unflown LauncherOne will not be able to compete.

I find it very revealing that Virgin Galactic wants to use regulation to hinder their competitors. To me, this is another sign that they are not very competitive or competent in actual rocket building. Rather than build and launch their rocket at a competitive price, they want to stifle an opportunity to lower launch costs.

A hearing on this issue is taking place today. Stay tuned.

Orbital ATK to launch robotic servicing mission

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK has signed Intelsat to the first contract for a private robotic servicing mission to defunct commercial communications satellites.

Orbital ATK is offering the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), a spacecraft designed to rendezvous with a commercial satellite and dock to the nozzle of its apogee kick motor and surrounding adapter ring. The MEV would then take over propulsion and attitude control for the satellite, offering up to five years of extended life.

Intelsat has agreed to be the customer for the first MEV mission, named MEV-1 and scheduled for launch in 2018. MEV-1 will first dock with a retired satellite in a graveyard orbit above stationary orbit to test its systems, then dock with an active Intelsat satellite to extend its life for five years.

I like the concept. Unlike other much more complicated proposals, which propose to actually refuel the satellite’s original tank, this is simple, quick, and quite doable for relatively little developmental cost. Orbital ATK already as the technology to do the rendezvous, from its Cygnus freighter. All they need to refine is the specific technology to attach to the specific satellites.

Smallsat company searches for launch services

The competition heats up: Terra Bella, formally known as Skybox Imaging, hopes to have as many as 21 satellites in orbit by the end of 2017.

Space Systems Loral (SSL) is Terra Bella’s manufacturing partner for the SkySat satellites, building 19 SkySat Cs — one prototype and 18 final versions. Joe Rothenberg, director of Skybox engineering and operations at Google, told Via Satellite that the first SkySat C satellite is currently scheduled to launch aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on May 31. The PSLV launch is for the prototype to precede the rest of the series. The next four are then to launch on an Arianespace Vega as a rideshare this summer, followed by six more on Orbital ATK’s Minotaur rocket during the fourth quarter this year.

The Skybox C satellite only weights 265 pounds, so it is larger than a cubesat but tiny compared to most commercial satellites. The company’s problem now is that, except for Orbital ATK’s Minotaur rocket, they don’t have a launch vehicle dedicated to this size satellite. And Minotaur is probably too expensive (which is why Orbital wants the right to use surplus ICBM motors to power it). Because of this Terra Bella must launch its satellites as secondary payloads, which leaves them at the scheduling mercy of the primary payload. Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne is intended to serve this smallsat market, competing directly with Minotaur, but Terra Bella is understandably skeptical of that company’s effort.

A small piece of trivia. Rothenberg was a key NASA manager running the shuttle Hubble repair missions, one of the few NASA efforts that operated like a private company: competitive, hard-working, and demanding of success. It is entirely fitting that he has moved out of the government and into the private sector, where his skills can truly shine. It speaks well of Terra Bella that they hired him.

Using ICBMs to lower launch costs

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK is lobbying Congress to lift a ban on the use of decommissioned ICBM missiles for commercial launches.

Orbital ATK is pressing U.S. lawmakers to end a 20-year ban on using decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) for launching commercial satellites and the effort has raised concern among companies that have invested millions of dollars in potential rival rockets. Orbital Vice President Barron Beneski said in an interview on Friday that the company was pushing Washington to get the ban lifted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that sets defense policy for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1. The missiles were idled by nuclear disarmament treaties between the United States and Russia in the 1990s.

The company wants to use the solid rocket motors in the surplus missiles to increase the capability of their Minotaur 4 rocket, designed for the small satellite market. Interestingly, Virgin Galactic, who is aiming for this same smallsat market with its LaunchOne rocket, is protesting, and has even garnered the lobbying support of the industry’s trade organization..

“It’s a dangerous precedent when the government tries to inject itself in the commercial marketplace. It can be disruptive, and not for the right reasons,” Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a Washington DC-based trade organization, said in an interview on Thursday.

Orbital ATK is not asking for exclusive use, so other companies could also obtain surplus missiles for their own use. However, the ATK in Orbital ATK’s name comes from the half of the company that before the merger was an expert in using solid rockets for space. This gives Orbital an advantage here that the other companies do not have, and explains their protests.

Nonetheless, I say tough. The government should surplus these rockets, and let the competitive chips fall where they may. Anything that lowers the cost to put payloads in orbit cannot be a bad thing for the launch industry, as it will serve to increase the number of customers that industry will have and thus help to increase everyone’s sales figures.

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