Northrop Grumman partners with Firefly to make Antares entirely U.S. made

Capitalism in space: Because the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, Northrop Grumman yesterday announced that it has signed a deal with the rocket startup Firefly to replace the Russian engines and Ukrainian-built first stages on its Antares rocket.

Firefly’s propulsion technology utilizes the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, which minimizes launch site upgrades. The Antares 330 will utilize seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines and leverage its composites technology for the first stage structures and tanks, while Northrop Grumman provides its proven avionics and software, upper-stage structures and Castor 30XL motor, as well as proven vehicle integration and launch pad operations. This new stage will also significantly increase Antares mass to orbit capability.

The press release made no mention of launch dates. However, according to Reuters Northrop Grumman has purchased three SpaceX Falcon 9 launches in ’23 and ’24 to get its Cygnus cargo freighter into orbit in the interim and thus fulfill its ISS resupply contract with NASA.

After an earlier Antares failure the company (then Orbital ATK) had hired ULA’s Atlas-5 to launch Cygnus. ULA however is retiring the Atlas-5 after it completes its present full manifest, so this rocket was no longer available. ULA is replacing it with the Vulcan rocket, but that rocket is not yet operational due to delays in the delivery of its Blue Origin first stage engines. Thus, SpaceX was Northrop Grumman’s only viable option.

There is also a certain irony in the hiring of Firefly to replace the Ukrainian first stage. Firefly was saved from bankruptcy by a Ukrainian billionaire, Max Polykov. Though he has been forced to sell off his ownership in the company by the State Department, Firefly would not now exist to take this business from a Ukrainian company had Polykov not provided his financial help.

Northrop Grumman delays next Cygnus cargo mission

Northrop Grumman officials have now revealed that it has been forced to delay the next Cygnus cargo mission to ISS from August to October because of “supply chain issues.”

What these supply chain issues were the company did not specify. However, the Antares rocket that launches Cygnus uses Russian engines attached a Ukrainian first stage. Northrop Grumman presently only has enough engines and stages for two more flights. While there are indications that the Ukrainian war has not yet prevented the delivery of future Ukrainian first stages, the Russians have blocked all further engine sales.

A new American rocket engine company, Ursa Major, is building a new engine capable of replacing the Russian engines, but the engine won’t be ready until ’25.

The delay could be Northrop Grumman’s effort to stretch out the schedule of its last two Antares launches in the hope that the Russians will lift their embargo, which might happen based on the firing by Putin of Dmitry Rogozin as head of Roscosmos. Rogozin had been the person who imposed the embargo. His removal suggests that Putin is trying to ease the tensions between the west and Russia, at least in the area of space.

Russia blocks future rocket engine sales to U.S.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, today announced that Russia will no longer sell any rocket engines to U.S. companies.

The head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, announced the new policy in an interview with the Russia 24 TV channel. “Today we have made a decision to halt the deliveries of rocket engines produced by NPO Energomash to the United States,” Rogozin said in the interview, according to Russia’s state press site Tass. “Let me remind you that these deliveries had been quite intensive somewhere since the mid-1990s.” Rogozin also added: “Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks, I don’t know what,” according to Reuters.

Russian engines are used on two American rockets, ULA’s Atlas-5 and Northrop Grumman’s Antares. The Atlas-4 however is being phased out, and has already received all the engines it needs for all of that rocket’s remaining flights. ULA plans to replace it with its new Vulcan rocket, using Blue Origin’s (long delayed) BE-4 engine.

Antares however is a more serious issue. Northrop Grumman uses this rocket to launch Cygnus freighters to ISS. It depends on two Russian engines for its Ukrainian-built first stage. The Ukraine War now probably makes building more Antares rockets impossible, which means at some point Northrop Grumman will no longer be able to supply ISS with cargo using Cygnus. Furthermore, NASA’s plan to use Cygnus’ engines to maintain ISS’s orbit will be impacted if Cygnus launches to ISS cease.

There is an option, though it too has issues. ULA has already launched one Cygnus to ISS using its Atlas-5. Though this rocket is going away, ULA could probably use its Vulcan instead — assuming Blue Origin finally gets the BE-4 engine operational so that Vulcan can finally launch.

Overall, Russia’s decision might cause a temporary blip in the American space effort, but if the government doesn’t get in the way I think that competition will force a solution. As Aesop said, necessity is the mother of invention.

Northrop Grumman launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grummann yesterday used its Antares rocket to successfully launch its Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This fact about this Cygnus is important:

This is the first Cygnus mission featuring enhanced capabilities to perform a re-boost to the space station’s orbit as a standard service for NASA; one re-boost is planned while Cygnus is connected to the orbiting laboratory.

In other words, Cygnus has been enabled to replace the boost capability that the Russians and Japanese provided.

The 2022 launch race:

6 SpaceX
2 China
2 Russia
1 Virgin Orbit
1 ULA
1 India
1 Europe (Arianespace)
1 Northrop Grumman

Antares rocket successfully launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched a Cygnus cargo capsule to ISS.

This was the fourth launch this year for Northrop Grumman’s launch division, which was once the company Orbital ATK. It was also the most in a single year for that division since it launched five times in 2013.

26 China
20 SpaceX
12 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 31 to 26 in the national rankings.

Antares launches; Falcon 9 aborts

Of the two launches scheduled for tonight, Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket was the only one to launch, lifting off on schedule at 9:16 pm (Eastern). This was the company’s third launch this year.

SpaceX’s launch however aborted at T-2 seconds. No word on why the rocket’s computer’s shut down, or when they will reschedule.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race remain unchanged:

25 China
15 SpaceX
10 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

The Antares launch however puts the U.S. back into a tie with China, 25-25, in the national rankings.

Two launches scheduled for tonight, 27 minutes apart

The numerous launch scrubs this past week has created an unprecedented situation tonight, two orbital launches scheduled only 27 minutes apart from two different East Coast spaceports.

First Northrop Grumman will try again to launch its Cygnus cargo freighter to ISS from Wallops Island, Virginia, with the launch scheduled for 9:12 pm (Eastern). The first launch attempt last night was aborted 2:21 seconds before liftoff “after receiving off-nominal data from ground support equipment.”

Second, SpaceX will try to launch two Air Force GPS satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the launch scheduled for 9:43 pm (Eastern). This launch has been delayed several times because of the repeated launch scrubs of ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy rocket, attempting to launch a military reconnaissance satellite. ULA’s launch had priority for the range, but with it delayed due to the investigation over the T-7 second launch abort on September 30th, the SpaceX’s GPS launch moves up in line.

The first will be live streamed on NASA TV, the second by SpaceX. I have embedded the live streams for both below the fold.
» Read more

Cygnus launch scrubbed less than 3 minutes from launch

The scrubs keep coming! Northrop Grumman’s launch team tonight scrubbed the launch of its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo freighter at T-2:21 minutes.

It appears, listening to the countdown, that the abort came from the engineers monitoring the propellants on the first stage, but this remains preliminary. More information is needed. (Update: It appears the issue was related to ground support equipment, not the rocket itself.)

They can recycle and launch tomorrow from Wallops Island, but this is also not confirmed. SpaceX also wishes to launch at almost the exact same time tomorrow from Cape Canaveral, and I am not sure both launches can occur simultaneously.

China and Russia launch a bunch of satellites

Russia today used its Soyuz-2 rocket to launch three communication satellites plus 19 commercial smallsats.

This was the first time Russia used the Soyuz-2 for these particular small communications satellites, as previously they had been launched by a variety of smaller rockets.

China in turn today used its Long March 4B to place two Earth resource satellites into orbit.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

25 China
15 SpaceX
10 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

China has moved ahead of the U.S. 25 to 24 in the national rankings.

These numbers should change again in the next few days. The U.S. has had a number of scrubs and launch delays in the past few days. ULA has been repeatedly pushing back the previously delayed launch of a National Security Agency reconnaissance satellite due to a variety of problems related to its Delta 4 Heavy rocket. The launch is now set for just after midnight tonight (Monday night). [UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to lightning and poor weather. Tentatively rescheduled for 11:58 pm (Eastern) on September 29.]

SpaceX meanwhile had to scrub a launch this morning (September 28) of another 60 Starlink satellites due to weather. No new launch date has yet been announced.

Northrop Grumman also has had to scrub tomorrow’s Antares launch of a Cygnus cargo freighter because of poor weather at Wallops Island. It is now set for the evening of October 1st.

SpaceX also has a scheduled launch tomorrow morning of a GPS satellite on its Falcon 9 rocket. This is also threatened by weather. There is also no word whether the ULA launch scrub will cause this launch to be delayed.

Antares’ vast blobby atmosphere

The atmosphere of Antares
Click for full image.

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), astronomers have been able to map out the gigantic atmosphere of gas that surrounds the red gas supergiant star Antares, the closest such star to our solar system.

The ALMA and VLA map of Antares is the most detailed radio map yet of any star, other than the Sun. ALMA observed Antares close to its surface (its optical photosphere) in shorter wavelengths, and the longer wavelengths observed by the VLA revealed the star’s atmosphere further out. As seen in visible light, Antares’ diameter is approximately 700 times larger than the Sun. But when ALMA and the VLA revealed its atmosphere in radio light, the supergiant turned out to be even more gigantic.

“The size of a star can vary dramatically depending on what wavelength of light it is observed with,” explained Eamon O’Gorman of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in Ireland and lead author of the study published in the June 16 edition of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. “The longer wavelengths of the VLA revealed the supergiant’s atmosphere out to nearly 12 times the star’s radius.”

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is what these two telescopes detected. As you can see, the outer atmosphere of the star is very uneven, confirming what other observations of both Antares and Betelgeuse has seen.

These stars are giant gasbags. It appears their shape fluctuates depending on the local “weather” in each star’s atmosphere.

Successful launch today of Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched it Cygnus unmanned cargo capsule on a supply mission to ISS.

This was Northrop Grumman’s first flight in 2020. The standings in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
2 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab
1 Russia
1 Japan
1 ULA
1 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 5 to 3 in the national rankings. The U.S. will likely add to that lead with the planned SpaceX launch of another 60 Starlink satellites Monday.

Cygnus successfully launched by Antares

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman today successfully launched its Cygnus unmanned cargo freighter to ISS, using its Antares rocket.

This was only the third launch for Northrop Grumman this year, which matches its total last year and has been its typical count for the past decade and a half. Previously that number was mostly Pegasus launches. Now it is the Antares/Cygnus launches to ISS, as Pegasus has lost most of its business.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

20 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 ULA
4 India

The U.S. now leads China 22 to 20 in the national rankings.

Russia ships three more engines to U.S. for ULA’s rockets

Russia announced yesterday that it has delivered three more RD-180 engines to ULA for use in its Atlas 5 rocket.

The article notes that this contract, as well as the contract with Northrop Grumman to make RD-181 engines for the Antares rocket, both end in December 2019. While ULA has said it plans to replace the Russia engine with Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine (still under development), it is not clear what Northrop Grumman will do.

In both cases, Russia has delivered enough engines to cover launches for the next few years. This will give Blue Origin time to complete development of the BE-4. As for Antares, the lack of its Russian engine, combined with its inability to obtain any customers other than NASA, could spell the end of that rocket once Northrop Grumman has used up its engine stockpile.

Antares rocket launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched its Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This was only the second launch this year by the division of Northrop Grumman that used to be Orbital ATK. They have been trying to launch a research satellite using their Pegasus rocket, but have had engineering issues that keep delaying it.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race remain unchanged:

31 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 31 to 30. The U.S. total now exceeds last year, and is the most this century. We have now had 91 launches this year, the most since 2014. I expect that number to go up significantly, with a real chance it will pass 100 launches for the first time since 1990, just prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Astronomers produce best image yet of a star

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have produced the best image so far of the surface face of a star.

The star is Antares, and it provides some details of the star’s complex outer layers. If I was home and had good internet access, I’d post it here.

At the same time, it should be noted that this is not a real image. It is recreated from four telescopes, using interferometry to combine the images, and also includes it a great deal of assumptions and uncertainties in its creation.

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.

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).

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..

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.

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