Orbital ATK employees from across the United States have worked diligently over the last several months to complete significant milestones on the company’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract for NASA. Their dedication and hard work have kept Orbital ATK on track to launch its next CRS mission late this year. The team is also moving forward with integration of a new first stage propulsion system into the Antares launch vehicle in preparation for multiple CRS missions in 2016.

“We committed to NASA that we would resume CRS cargo delivery missions as soon as possible under a comprehensive ‘go-forward’ plan after the Antares launch failure last October,” said David W. Thompson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orbital ATK. “Since that time our team has been sharply focused on fulfilling that commitment. With a Cygnus mission slated for later this year and at least three missions to the Space Station planned in 2016, we are on track to meet our CRS cargo requirements for NASA.”

Three main CRS program efforts are simultaneously underway, including preparing the enhanced Cygnus spacecraft for the next ISS cargo mission (OA-4) to launch aboard an Atlas V rocket this December; upgrading the Antares rocket by integrating and testing the new RD-181 main engines with the modified first stage core structure; and working with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) to complete repairs to the Pad 0A launch complex at Wallops Island to support the resumption of CRS missions from Wallops Island in early 2016.

Preparations for the OA-4 Mission

Orbital ATK will launch its next Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS aboard an Atlas V rocket supplied by United Launch Alliance (ULA) from Cape Canaveral, Florida in early December. This mission will fly the extended Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM) which will carry approximately 3,500 kg or 7,700 pounds of supplies to station.

“During our first three missions, we delivered 3,629 kilograms to the space station, about the weight of two F-150 pickup trucks,” said Frank DeMauro, Vice President of Human Space Systems for the Civil and Defense Division of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “Just as important, we’ve taken away more cargo than we’ve delivered, which is a very valuable service to NASA. Starting on our next mission, the extended PCM will greatly increase the amount of cargo we can carry.”

The company also recently contracted with ULA for a second Atlas V rocket that will be used to launch an additional CRS mission in 2016 in order to provide NASA with the maximum cargo load Cygnus can carry.  

“In 2016, we will carry out at least three CRS missions, leading off with a second Atlas V launched mission from Florida, followed by the return of operations to the Wallops Flight Facility where we will continue CRS missions on an upgraded Antares,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “The plan capitalizes on the flexibility of Cygnus to launch on either vehicle and provides better schedule assurance for our customer.”

In addition to the larger PCM for the upcoming CRS missions, the spacecraft will utilize the latest in lightweight and space-qualified power system technology with the addition of the company’s Ultraflex solar arrays.

“These planned upgrades to our Cygnus spacecraft enable us to carry larger quantities of cargo that support the important work being performed aboard the ISS,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “Our ability to achieve these milestones on an accelerated timeline demonstrates our flexibility and responsiveness to customer needs.”

The pressurized cargo module for the OA-4 mission arrived at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in early August, with the service module arriving in October. Integration with the launch vehicle will begin in November at KSC prior to its integration with the Atlas V rocket for an early December launch.

Antares Return-to-Flight Progress

Orbital ATK’s Antares program remains on schedule to commence flight operations from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in 2016. Following the completion of certification and acceptance testing of the RD-181, the first dual-engine ship-set arrived at the Antares integration facilities at Wallops Island in mid-July.

“The RD-181 engine provides extra thrust and higher specific impulse, significantly increasing the payload capacity of the Antares rocket.  This state-of-the-art propulsion system is a direct adaptation of the RD-191 engine, which completed an extensive qualification and certification program in 2013, accumulating more than 37,000 seconds of total run time,” said Mr. Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group. 

Antares program engineers and technicians integrated the two RD-181 engines with a newly designed and built thrust frame adapter and modified first stage airframe.  Nnew propellant feed lines and first stage avionics systems will be delivered to Wallops to support full vehicle integration. Orbital ATK plans to conduct a “hot fire” test on the launch pad in early 2016 to verify the vehicle’s operational performance and compatibility of the MARS launch complex.

“The team continues to make great progress in the Antares return to flight efforts,”said Mike Pinkston, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Antares Program. “Significant progress has been made in the manufacture and test of the modified hardware components, avionics and software needed to support the new engines.  The first set of flight engines have been delivered, and the second ship set is expected in the fall. The integration of our first launch vehicle is well underway and we are solidly on track to resume flying Antares in 2016.”

Status of MARS Launch Pad Repairs

Repairs of the MARS Pad 0A launch facility at Wallops Island are currently underway and are scheduled to be completed within the next eight weeks. Working with MARS, Orbital ATK has installed an upgraded hydraulic system used to erect Antares vertically on the pad, which recently completed testing and certification. Other launch pad systems are on track to comfortably support the on-pad Antares “hot fire” test late this year or in early 2016.

The OA-4 Service Module (SM) undergoing deployment testing of one of its two UltraflexTM solar arrays at orbital ATK’s Dulles, Virginia satellite manufacturing facility. Orbital ATK’s Space Components Division supplies the Ultraflex arrays.
The Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module for the OA-4 mission arrived at the Kennedy Space Centerfor processing in preparation for the upcoming CRS space station resupply mission to be launched from Florida in early December. Photo credit: Orbital ATK.
Two RD-181 integrated with the Antares first stage air frame at the Wallops Island, Virginia Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). A “hot fire” test on Pad 0A is scheduled for late 2015 or early 2016. Photo credit: NASA/ Terry Zaperach


The MARS Pad 0A repairs are on track with completion scheduled for this fall to support an upcoming Antares hot fire test and return to flight operations in 2016. Photo credit: NASA/ Brea Reeves.