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Orbital Sciences has released an updated launch schedule for its Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule.
- 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
They have significantly stretched out their schedule. Previously they had planned to follow up within a month after Antares’s first test flight with the first demo test flight of Cygnus, followed a month after that with the first cargo mission to ISS. Now they are giving themselves three months between these missions instead.
Based on the reality of rocket science, the original schedule always seemed unrealistic and very risky. With this more relaxed approach the company has some margin to address any issues that are likely to come up. Moreover, they will avoid the public relations nightmare of explaining why they have to delay after each test flight. Instead, they might not have to change their schedule at all should technical issues arise after each test flight.
The unfortunate part, however, is that the first actual cargo flight to ISS is now delayed until 2013 at the earliest.