NASA TV view of Antares leaving Wallops Island, VA.
Orbital Science has done it again. Creators of the Pegasus air-launched satellite rocket, the Minotaur rocket which re-uses former nuclear missiles, OS has now added the Antares satellite booster to their company's stable of privately-owned space systems. Yesterday at 3:00 pm MDT, the Antares lifted off from launch pad 0A to begin a 20-minute mission to reach orbit with a dummy payload (also known as a mass simulator).
Computer art of the Antares rocket.
NASA TV's coverage of the event was well done, including voice and video communications from the facility at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) and mission control, computer graphics of spacecraft orientation when out of camera range, and great on-board video of the liftoff and separation of booster components. The only glitch occurred as they forgot to get a wide-view of the liftoff itself, focusing completely on the upper stage of the rocket. Thankfully, NASA photographers managed to get the missing shot:
Liftoff from pad 0A at MARS.
The Antares becomes the second privately-owned rocket to meet a successful launch in NASA's COTS program (Commercial Orbited Transportation Services program) designed to contract out resupply services to the International Space Station. Until SpaceX and it's Dragon supply craft delivered supplies recently, the effort was done by expensive government rocket programs from the US (Space Shuttle), the Russians (Progress rockets), the Europeans (ATV), and the Japanese (HTV).
Antares before launch on pad 0A at MARS.
The Antares lifted off perfectly on time. The mission had been plagued lately with a few glitches and weather-related delays during the last week, but Sunday's launch went off without a problem. On board cameras gave great views of the main engine cut-off, the stage separations, and the release of the fairings protecting the simulated payload. Once the payload was released after reaching orbit, the payload service module used thrusters to maneuver itself out of the way, thus completed the mission's test objectives.
Rocket view during launch. Great view of the Atlantic coastline.
Rocket view of stage separation.
Camera view inside the payload fairing before fairing release.
The moment of fairing release. Great camera footage during the flight.
Second stage firing.
Tactical view of payload separation.
The next test mission for OS and the Antares rocket later this summer will replace the dummy payload with the first test version of the Cygnus supply craft. Similar to SpaceX's Dragon and other international cargo ships, the Cygnus is designed to approach the ISS and be grappled by the station's robotic arm, then directed to a space hatch at one of the docking nodes.
Celebrations in mission control.
2013 will be a year that witnesses TWO companies using private commercial services to resupply the ISS. We'll also be looking forward to more testing of the Boeing CST-100 space capsule, which will eventually take astronauts to the ISS. With the addition of Virgin Galactic's suborbital tourism program, this will be a year long remembered for the privatization of space transportation systems.