Orbital Sciences Corporation plans to perform a hot fire test of the first stage of its new Antares rocket as soon as next Tuesday, a key milestone before the rocket’s first launch next month. Speaking at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation conference in Washington on Wednesday, Frank Culbertson, executive vice president and general manager for advanced programs at Orbital, said the company had just completed some fueling tests of the Antares first stage on the pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia. “We will do our first hot fire next Tuesday,” he said.
A successful static hot fire test would clear the way for Orbital to perform an initial demonstration launch of the full Antares rocket. That launch would take place about month later (“maybe five weeks later,” Culbertson said), carrying an instrument mass simulator of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft. That would be followed about three months later with the first full Cygnus mission to the ISS, a demonstration flight that would wrap up Orbital’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA. That mission would carry about 800 kilograms of cargo to the station, in addition to demonstrating its ability to safely rendezvous and berth with the station. The first of eight cargo missions to the station under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract would follow three to four months after the COTS demo flight. That schedule is similar to what the company posted in January, when it said it expected the COTS demo flight would take place in May or June and the first CRS mission in the third quarter.