On Wednesday April 17th, Orbital Sciences Corporation, an American company specializing in manufacturing and launch of satellites, will be test launching its Antares rocket. Currently a commercial partner of NASA, Orbital is scheduled to test launch its Antares rocket at the agency's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. Liftoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. EDT (UTC-5) with the launch window extending until 8 p.m.
Orbital Sciences Corporation, situated in Dulles, Virginia, has built 569 launch vehicles as well as 174 satellites since the company was founded in 1982. Orbital has a 60% share of the small launch systems market as well as a 55% share in the small communications satellite market. With the development of the Antares rocket - named after the star of the same name - Orbital plans on moving into the medium size launch vehicles and satellites market.
Orbital was awarded a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract in 2008. In order to fulfill this contract Orbital will be using its Antares rocket. The Antares, formerly known as Taurus II, is designed as an expendable launch system capable of launching payloads up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb). One of its primary uses will be to launch Orbital's Cygnus spacecraft, a unmanned resupply spacecraft that will be used to bring cargo to the International Space Station in the years following the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program.
(Note: Information may be outdated, picture is to be used simply as a visual)
At 2 p.m. EDT NASA will be holding a media briefing to discuss Orbital's activities with NASA, the Wallops Flight Facility, and the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A being used to launch the Antares rocket. At 3 p.m. EDT NASA will also be holding a prelaunch news conference on the mission. If you are interested in these briefings, both will be available live on the agency's website and on NASA TV.
This launch will not involve the deployment of a Cygnus spacecraft nor involve a rendezvous with the International Space Station, though a launch to reach the latter is planned for later this year. If successful, this launch will mark another step forward in the development of the US commercial space transportation industry, an industry that will hopefully provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to low-orbit.
Interested in following the conversation on Twitter? Follow the hashtag #Antares
Visit http://www.nasa.gov/ntv for NASA TV schedules and video streaming information.
For more information on the launch, visit http://www.nasa.gov/orbital
UPDATE: Antares rocket launch delayed due to detached "umbilical" power cord. No estimates on an updated launch time have been announced at the time of this update.