In July, Orbital Sciences Corporation announced a new schedule for the initial tests of its Antares rocket, including the first launches of the vehicle that will be used to send the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS. At that time Orbital planned a hot-fire test on the pad at Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in late August or early September, followed by an inaugural demonstration launch in October and the first Cygnus launch in December. It’s mid-September now, though, and that hot-fire test hasn’t taken place. What’s up?
Orbital officials at the AIAA Space 2012 conference in Pasadena, California, this week, said they’re still awaiting formal turnover of the pad at MARS from the state of Virginia, which is building it. “It’s our anticipation that that launch pad will be certified and turned over to us in the very near future,” said Orbital’s Mark Pieczynski. That handover, Orbital officials said, should happen this month and could take place almost any day now. The delays have involved getting final certification from NASA of the pad’s systems. “The launch site is complete. It’s going through what we would call a ‘closing-out punch list,’” he said. “We’re simply at this point waiting for the state of Virginia to hand us the keys.”
Once Orbital finally has access to the pad, they plan to move quickly with a series of tests. As soon as a day after the handover, Orbital will roll out a test Antares vehicles to the pad, including a wet dress rehearsal. About two weeks after the rehearsal, Orbital will perform the hot-fire test. After a review of the data from the static test, Orbital will roll out the first flight vehicle to the pad, with a launch anticipated about a month after the static test. That would put that launch probably in the early November timeframe, depending on how soon they get access to the pad.