On May 31, 2016, first stage of Orbital ATK Antares rocket passed static fire test of first stage. Test was performed in NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.
This was first time for Antares to visit Wallops Island in Virginia since disaster on 28 October 2014. Rocket was delivered to Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A which is placed in the south part of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility after it was rolled out from NASA’s on May 12, 2016. Planned for May 31, 2016, was part of preparing before planned for July 2016 launch of Antares with enhanced version of Cygnus spacecraft under CRS program.
Main objective of performed on 31 May 2016 test was tryout of first stage with new propulsion, which are RD-181 engines made by Russian Energomash factory. Test started at 21:30 GMT on Pad 0A and lasted for 30 seconds. Along with propulsion examination, engineers from Orbital ATK were able to perform trials of avionics, thrust vector control and general functionality of the first stage. Full power tests gave also possibility of testing part of the procedures which are used during launch: propellant loading, launch countdown, igniting of the engines or shut down procedure. Multiple systems of the Pad 0A were also tested including water deluge system (similar to Niagara in Cape Canaveral AFS), fueling system or supporting tower. Engine performance and rocket structure initially seemed to be correct, but data gathered from various sensors will be analyzed by Orbital ATK specialists before Antares readiness for launch will be confirmed. According to Orbital ATK General Manager Mike Pinkston:
“Early indications show the upgraded propulsion system, core stage and launch complex all worked together as planned,”
In fact if Antares will manage to pass full power test, Orbital ATK will be able to start preparing before OA-5 mission in July.
Antares rocket is medium sized launch vehicle (able to deliver 6120 kg to LEO in previous version) and largest rocket in Orbital ATK fleet comparing Pegasus, Taurus and Minotaur launch vehicles. It was designed in the cooperation with Yuzhnoye Design Bureau; first test flight was performed on 21 April 2013. Propulsion of the Antares was modified by Yuzhnoye Design Bureau two NK-33 post-Soviet engines manufactured in late seventies. First stage was powered by two engines which were able to provide thrust at 3265 kN. Second stage was designed by Orbital ATK with one in-house Castor-30 engine with thrust up to 293.4 kN. Antares in basic configuration was 40.5 m long with diameter at 3.9 m and mass at 240000kg. First stage was liquid fueled with RP-1/LOX, second stage was solid fueled with HTPB (12815 kg of propellant). New version marked as “200” will use double Energomash RD-181 engine with thrust at 3700 kN in the first stage combined with enlarged second stage. During OA-5 mission Orbital ATK will use “230” configuration based on first stage with two RD-181 and Castor-30XL solid fueled (HTPB) second stage with max thrust at 395 kN. Rocket in 230 configuration is longer comparing to Antares 100 (41.9 m) with unchanged diameter of 3.9 m. Launch mass is 298000 kg. Antares 230 is able to lift to GTO orbit 2700 kg, to LEO payload capacity is 7000 kg.
On picture above: first stage of Antares 230 on 12 May 2016.