No bull: Orbital rebrands the Taurus 2 the Antares

Antares launch illustration

Illustration of Orbital's Antares (formerly Taurus 2) rocket lifting off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia. (Credit: OSC)

Orbital Sciences Corporation announced Monday that it has renamed the Taurus 2 rocket it’s been developing as part of its commercial cargo system. Henceforth, the rocket will now be called Antares. “We are transitioning to the Antares identity primarily because a launch vehicle of this scale and significance deserves its own name, just like Orbital’s Pegasus, Taurus and Minotaur rocket programs that have come before it,” Orbital president and CEO David Thompson explained in a press release.

The name keeps with the company’s tradition of “Greek-derived celestial names” for its launch vehicles, which have included Pegasus, Taurus, and Minotaur. Antares, the company adds in “microsite” for the launch vehicle, is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and “we expect the Antares rocket to be one of the brightest stars in the space launch vehicle market.” (Antares, though, is a supergiant star, whereas the rocket is designed for medium-class payloads.) Antares also has a bit of space history: it was the name of the lunar module for Apollo 14. However, it was also the name of a fictional starship in an episode of the original Star Trek series that met its demise at the hands (or, rather, mind) of a teenager with psychokinetic powers. (Is there anyone named Charlie Evans working on the Antares program?)

Orbital adds that the name change will “clear up any marketplace confusion and provide clear differentiation between this new launch vehicle and our Taurus XL rocket.” That’s important, because the Antares is a very different rocket from the smaller, all-solid-fuel Taurus XL. Companies in the past have kept names even after major—even complete—design changes: for example, the Delta 2 has little in common with the Delta 4 beyond the name. However, given that the Taurus XL suffered failures in its last two launches, a rebranding avoids any potentially uncomfortable comparisons for Orbital as it prepares for the first launch of the new Antares.

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