Orbital ATK (NASDAQ: OA) is getting ready to give its Antares rocket a second chance since the infamous 2014 incident. On October 17, the aerospace company will launch the new Antares 230 almost exactly two years after its failed liftoff.
Two days ago, the Antares reached the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Virginia. The rocket is already in place on the launch pad ahead of its planned NASA cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Initially set for launch on Friday, Orbital ATK delayed it due to Hurricane Nicole’s impact at a mission tracking station in Bermuda last Thursday. NASA and Orbital ATK are currently evaluating how much damage the Hurricane inflicted on the Bermuda station.
In consequence, NASA spokesman Keith Koehler said additional delays were still possible. Originally planned to launch in July, the date slipped to August, then to September and finally to October for several reasons including the need for more tests and inspections.
The first time Antares rocket exploded destroying the cargo
In October 2014, the first stage of the Antares rocket failed catastrophically seconds after taking off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The rocket carried a Cygnus CRS automated cargo spacecraft on the Orb-3 resupply mission to the ISS.
To prevent the rocket from traveling outside its safety zone, the Range Safety Officer (RSO) commanded the Antares to self-destruct by activating the flight termination system. When it hit the ground, an explosion and fire destroyed both the vehicle and cargo.
There were no casualties nor injuries, but Launch Pad 0A suffered $20 million in damages. Shortly after, Orbital Sciences, developer of the Orb-3, formed an anomaly investigation board to determine the cause of the incident.
The Antares 230 will launch tonight
Orbital Sciences still had to comply cargo contract with NASA. So the rocket manufacturer announced its Cygnus OA-4 and OA-6 would launch on Atlas V rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Yesterday, Orbital ATK further delayed Antares 230’s debut to today. NASA officials said it was due to an underperforming ground support equipment (GSE) cable. The Cygnus OA-5 mission will become the first launch of Enhanced Cygnus on Orbital’s Antares 230.
The Antares 230 will carry future Cygnus cargo missions, too. Currently, there four more missions planned. Two of them already have dates: the CRS OA-7 on December 30, and the CRS OA-8E on June 12, 2017. The remaining two are set to fly sometime in 2017 and 2018.