Antares rocket launches cargo ship after 2-year gap

Antares launch
Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket lifts off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (Credit: NASA TV)

Orbital ATK’s Antares two-stage rocket sent a robotic Cygnus cargo spaceship on its way to the International Space Station today, nearly two years after a launch pad failure forced an engine overhaul.

The Antares rocket blasted off from NASA’s Wallops Fllight Facility in Virginia right on time, at 7:45 p.m. ET (4:45 p.m. PT). NASA said the launch could have been seen by skywatchers across a wide swath of the East Coast, weather permitting.

Ten minutes after launch, the cylindrical Cygnus craft separated from the second stage, heading for the station with 5,100 pounds of supplies. After a series of checkouts, the Cygnus will approach the station for a rendezvous on Oct. 23.

This was the first Antares launch since October 2014, when the rocket and its payload blew up just seconds after liftoff. The failure was traced to a turbopump failure in one of the Antares’ refurbished 40-year-old Russian engines. In order to return to flight, Orbital ATK had to replace Antares’ engines with upgraded RD-181 engines from Russia. Wallops’ Pad-0A also had to be repaired.

In the meantime, Orbital ATK launched two Cygnus ships on space station resupply missions from Florida late last year and early this year, using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rockets.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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