Orbital Sciences Launches a New Rocket

ImageUp until now the word Antares has had only one meaning in our language, the given name of a star, but not anymore.  Sure, it is still the name of a giant red binary star, the brightest in the constellation Scorpio, about 424 light-years from Earth. The word Antares has its roots in ancient Greek meaning simulating Mars.  It looked red to them, just like Mars.

However, things change.  On Sunday, April 21, from a beach on Wallops Island Virginia, our own Orbital Sciences launched its newest horse in its extensive stable of rockets, the Antares. And for the first time in my memory, a first launch of a new rocket didn’t end prematurely in a puff of smoke or debris cloud. It went so smoothly that almost no one heard about it. That’s success in the rocket industry but a marketing failure.

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Stratolaunch Systems Teams With Orbital Sciences

Stratolaunch
Stratolaunch Carrying A Falcon Rocket from SpaceX
Image Credit: Stratolaunch

Previously, NSSPhoenix reported in December 2011 on the new Stratolaunch design for air launched orbital satellite services. Stratolaunch is the brainchild of billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Allen enlisted Scaled Composites from Mojave, California to build the twin boom mothership, pictured above. The 222,000-kilogram airplane with a 117-meter wingspan would be capable of flying 2,400 kilometers before deploying a rocket capable of delivering 2,300 kilograms to geosynchronous orbit. Space Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) agreed to study the feasibility of turning their Falcon 9 rocket into an air-launched system. Dynetics Corp. of Huntsville, Alabama was chosen to build the mating and integration system.

Allen, the author of the SpaceShipOne project that won the Ansari X-Prize for two consecutive sub-orbital flights of 100 kilometers within two weeks in 2004, said that he expected to spend “at least an order of magnitude more” on Stratolaunch than he spent on SpaceShipOne.

In late November, SpaceX and Stratolaunch parted ways, agreeing that the effort to retool the SpaceX assembly line into one capable of building a four or five engine Falcon with the associated structural and engineering changes, was too great a change to the SpaceX business model in return for the financial possibilities.

Subsequently, Stratolaunch approached Orbital Sciences, a company with a long history of air launched orbital missions dating back to 1990. Orbital has agreed to study providing the launch vehicle for Stratolaunch. Currently, Orbital’s Pegasus system can put 450 kilograms of satellite into low-Earth orbit. But there has been only a single launch in the past four years, and the only remaining manifest is for a 2013 launch of NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph space telescope.

Orbital is currently working on their Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) Antares rocket, which relies on a liquid fueled first stage powered by Ukrainian built rocket engines, to fulfill a contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

Stratolaunch has been engaged with Orbital for several months and have contracted with Orbital to evaluate configurations of Orbital systems capable of satisfying Stratolaunch requirements.

Arizona State University Astronomy Open House

Arizona State University Astronomy Open House

Friday, March 25, 8-10 pm

Location: Bateman Physical Sciences Building H-wing Main Entrance (click here for a map of ASU showing the H- wing)

Free Parking (after 7pm): Tyler Street Parking Garage; From parking garage go West along University Dr sidewalk (toward campus) until you see signs leading you to the entrance. (click here for a map of ASU showing the location)

This Month’s Theme: STARS

  • Come see the winter sky! Take our Astronomy Quiz!
  • View exciting celestial objects through our telescopes!
  • Learn about rocks with the GEO Club!
  • Want to see a rock from Space? Stop by the meteorite table!
  • View our out-of-this-world poster display!
  • Have a question about the universe? Ask an Astronomer!
  • For information about the moon, stop by the LROC table!

Planetarium show: TBD

Talk: Stars in our Galaxy

Contact Information: astopenhouse@gmail.com

Star Comparison
Comparison of Star Size – Our Sun is the Smallest Dot and Antares is the Big Dude
Image Credit: ASU