Antares (rocket)

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Antares A-ONE launch.2.jpg
The launch of an Antares 110 rocket
Function Medium expendable launch system
Manufacturer Orbital Sciences (main)
Yuzhnoye Design Bureau (sub)
ATK (sub)
Country of origin United States
Height 110/120: 40.5 m (133 ft)[1]
130: 41.9 m (137 ft)
Diameter 3.9 m (13 ft)[2]
Mass ~240,000 kg (530,000 lb)[1]
Stages 2 to 3[2]
Payload to
6,120 kg (13,490 lb)[3]
Associated rockets
Comparable Athena III
Delta II
Launch history
Status Grounded Pending Investigation
Launch sites MARS LP-0A
Total launches 5 (110: 2, 120: 2, 130: 1)
Successes 4 (110: 2, 120: 2, 130: 0)
Failures 1 (130)
First flight 110: April 21, 2013[4]
120: January 9, 2014[5]
130: October 28, 2014
Notable payloads Cygnus
First Stage
Engines 2 × Aerojet AJ26-62[6]
Thrust 3,265 kN (734,000 lbf)[6]
Burn time 230 seconds
Fuel RP-1/LOX[6]
Second Stage
Engines 1 × Castor 30A/B/XL
Thrust 30A: 259 kN (58,200 lbf)
30B: 293.4 kN (65,960 lbf)[6]
Fuel TP-H8299/aluminium[7]

Antares, (/ænˈtɑːrz/) known during early development as Taurus II, is an expendable launch system developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation. Able to launch payloads heavier than 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) into low-Earth orbit, it made its inaugural flight on April 21, 2013.[4] Designed to launch the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station as part of NASA's COTS and CRS programs, Antares is the largest rocket operated by Orbital Sciences.

NASA awarded Orbital a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Space Act Agreement (SAA) in 2008 to demonstrate delivery of cargo to the International Space Station. For these COTS missions Orbital intends to use Antares to launch its Cygnus spacecraft. In addition, Antares will compete for small-to-medium missions.[8] On December 12, 2011, Orbital Sciences renamed the launch vehicle "Antares" from the previous designation of Taurus II, after the star of the same name.[9]

The first four Antares launch attempts were successful. During the fifth launch from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on October 28, 2014, the rocket failed catastrophically, and the vehicle and payload were destroyed.[10]


The NASA COTS award was for US$171 million and Orbital Sciences expected to invest an additional $150 million, split between $130 million for the booster and $20 million for the spacecraft.[11] As of April 2012, development costs were estimated at $472 million.[12]

On June 10, 2008 it was announced that the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, formerly part of the Wallops Flight Facility, in Virginia, would be the primary launch site for the rocket.[13] Launch pad 0A (LP-0A), previously used for the failed Conestoga rocket, would be modified to handle Antares.[14] Wallops allows launches which reach the International Space Station's orbit as effectively as those from Cape Canaveral, Florida, while being less crowded.[11][15] The first Antares flight launched a Cygnus mass simulator.[16]

On December 10, 2009 Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) test fired their Castor 30 motor for use as the second stage of the Antares rocket.[17] In March 2010 Orbital Sciences and Aerojet completed test firings of the NK-33 engines.[18] On February 22, 2013 a hot fire test was successfully performed, the entire first stage being erected on the pad and held down while the engines fired for 29 seconds.[16]


An assembled Antares rocket in the Horizontal Integration Facility

The first stage uses RP-1 (kerosene) and liquid oxygen (LOX) as propellants.

Like the Zenit—also manufactured by the Ukrainian firm Yuzhnoye—the Antares vehicle has a diameter of 3.9 m (150 in) with a matching 3.9 m payload fairing.[2]

The fairing is manufactured by Applied Aerospace Structures Corporation of Stockton, California, which also builds other composite structures for the vehicle, including the fairing adaptor, stage 2 motor adaptor, stage 2 interstage, payload adaptor, and avionics cylinder.[19]

The second stage is a solid-fuel rocket, the Castor 30. Developed by ATK as a derivative of the Castor 120 solid stage, the Castor 30B produces 293.4 kN (65,960 lbf) average and 395.7 kN (88,960 lbf) maximum thrust, and uses electromechanical thrust vector control.[6] Antares' Castor 30 solid stage was based on the Castor 120 solid motor used as Minotaur-C's first stage.[20] The first two flights of Antares used a Castor 30A, followed by two flights of the Antares 120 using an enhanced Castor 30B. The longer Castor 30XL second stage will be used on subsequent ISS resupply flights, allowing Antares to carry larger Enhanced Cygnus.[6][21][22]

Orbital Sciences offers two optional third stages, the Bi-Propellant Third Stage (BTS) and an ATK Star 48-based third stage. BTS is derived from Orbital Sciences' GEOStar spacecraft bus and uses nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine for propellant; it is intended to precisely place payloads into their final orbits.[2] The Star 48-based stage uses a Star 48BV solid rocket motor and is planned to be used for higher energy orbits.[2]

Antares 100[edit]

The block 1 Antares first stage was powered by two Aerojet AJ26 engines, which are modified Soviet-built NK-33 engines. Together they produced 3,265 kilonewtons (734,000 lbf) of thrust at sea level and 3,630 kN (816,100 lbf) in vacuum.[6] As Orbital had little experience with large liquid stages and LOX propellant, some of the Antares first stage work was contracted to the Ukrainian Yuzhnoye SDO, designers of the Zenit series.[11] The core provided by Yuzhnoye for the first stage included propellant tanks, pressurization tanks, valves, sensors, feed lines, tubing, wiring and other associated hardware.[23]

Antares 200[edit]

Orbital was making plans for a second version of the Antares launch vehicle in 2013 and 2014, principally to enable it to bid on a second major long-term contract for cargo resupply of the ISS that NASA was bidding in 2014.

The Antares 200 will have the capacity to place over 7,000 kilograms (15,000 lb) into low-Earth orbit.[24]

Following the loss of first the Antares 130 rocket on the Orb-3 mission on 28 October 2014, Orbital announced less than one month later that it would likely not use "the 40-year-old AJ-26 engines on the rocket’s next flight,"[25] thus retiring the Antares 100 series.

By that time, Orbital was looking to purchase launch services for its Cygnus capsule to ISS cargo runs temporarily from another launch service provider in order to satisfy its contract with NASA under the first commercial resupply contract.[25] A decision was reached in early December: on December 9, 2014, Orbital announced that at least one, and possibly two, Cygnus flights would be launched on Atlas V rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.[26][full citation needed]

First stage[edit]

Two NPO Energomash RD-181 LOX/kerosene engines with independent thrust vectoring; manufactured by Yuzhmash; with Orbital MACH flight controller for the stage

New engines[edit]

In late October 2014, the Russian news agency TASS reported that Orbital Sciences had preliminarily selected the Russian RD-193 as the new engine to power the previously planned Antares follow-on[27] rocket that Orbital intended to use in its contract proposal to NASA for the second phase of the commercial resupply services to the ISS; but Orbital never confirmed that, and the loss of the Antares vehicle necessitated a much more rapid replacement/redesign of Antares. The engine that had been used in the initial version of the Antares launch vehicle first stage was an Aerojet AJ-26, which was a remanufactured Soviet NK-33 engine.[27]

In December 2014 Orbital Sciences announced that they would use the Russian Energomash RD-181—a variant of the RD-170 / RD-180—on the version 2 Antares launch vehicle, replacing the AJ-26 engines for the first stage. Two engines will be used on the first stage of each Antares, which is currently used to carry cargo to the International Space Station under contract to NASA.[28][29]

The two RD-181s will have 440 kilonewtons (100,000 lbf) more thrust than the dual-AJ-26 engines used on the version 1 Antares. Orbital plans to modify the core stage to accommodate the increased performance, and then to finish up its cargo contract commitment to NASA for delivering a total of 20,000 kilograms (44,000 lb) of cargo in only four additional flights, rather than the five more that would have been required with the AJ-26/Antares I combination. The first engines are scheduled to arrive from Energomash in summer 2015, where an on-pad 29-second static fire test is projected to occur in fall 2015.[28]

Second stage[edit]

CASTOR 30B or CASTOR 30XL solid rocket motor[24]

Third stage[edit]

Bi-propellant Third Stage (BTS), Star 48-based Third Stage, or no third stage options

Payload fairing[edit]

3.9 meters (13 ft)-diameter, 3.9 meters (13 ft) height

Configurations and numbering[edit]

Test firing of the Castor 30 upperstage engine

The first two test flights used the Antares 110 configuration, with a Castor 30A second stage and no third stage. Subsequent flights will use either a Castor 30B or Castor 30XL. The rocket's configuration is indicated by a three-digit number, the first number representing the first stage, the second the type of second stage, and the third the type of third stage.[21]

Number First digit Second digit Third digit
(First stage) (Second stage) (Third stage)
0 N/A N/A No third stage
1 Block 1 first stage
(2 × AJ26-62)
Castor 30A
N/A after Block 1[24]
(3 × IHI BT-4)
2 Block 2 first stage
(2 × RD-181)[24]
Castor 30B Star 48BV
3 N/A Castor 30XL N/A

Launch history[edit]

Inaugural flight[edit]

Main article: Antares A-ONE

Originally scheduled for 2012, the first Antares launch, designated A-ONE[30] was conducted on April 21, 2013,[31] carrying the Cygnus Mass Simulator (a boilerplate Cygnus spacecraft) and four CubeSats contracted by Spaceflight Incorporated: Dove 1 for Cosmogia Incorporated (now Planet Labs) and three PhoneSat satellites – Alexander,[32] Graham and Bell for NASA.[33]

Prior to the launch, a 27-second test firing of the rocket's AJ26 engines was conducted successfully on February 22, 2013, following an attempt on February 13 which was abandoned before ignition.[16]

A-ONE used the Antares 110 configuration, with a Castor 30A second stage and no third stage. The launch took place from Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. LP-0A was a former Conestoga launch complex which had only been used once before, in 1995, for the Conestoga's only orbital launch attempt.[7] Antares became the largest — and first — liquid-fuelled rocket to fly from Wallops Island, as well as the largest rocket launched by Orbital Sciences.[30]

The first attempt to launch the rocket, on April 17, 2013, was scrubbed after an umbilical detached from the rocket's second stage, and a second attempt on April 20 was scrubbed due to high altitude winds.[34] At the third attempt on April 21, the rocket lifted off at the beginning of its launch window. The launch window for all three attempts was three hours beginning at 21:00 UTC (17:00 EDT), shortening to two hours at the start of the terminal count, and ten minutes later[clarification needed] in the count.[7][35]

Video of failed Cygnus CRS Orb-3 mission
Pad 0A after the incident

October 2014 incident[edit]

On October 28, 2014, the first stage of an Antares rocket on an unmanned resupply mission carrying Cygnus CRS Orb-3 failed catastrophically six seconds after liftoff from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.[36] The flight termination system was activated just before the rocket hit the ground, but an explosion and fire destroyed the vehicle and cargo.[10][37] There were no casualties,[38] and Launch Pad 0A escaped significant damage.[39] Orbital Sciences formed an anomaly investigation board shortly after the launch failure to investigate the cause of the incident.[40]

List of missions[edit]

List includes only currently manifested missions. All missions are planned to be launched from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Launch Pad 0A.

Antares launch history
# Mission Payload Cygnus
Launch date
Rocket Outcome Notes Ref.
1 Antares A-ONE Standard April 21, 2013
Antares 110 Success Antares test flight, using a Castor 30A second stage and no third stage. [4][41]
2 Orb-D1 G. David Low Cygnus Standard September 18, 2013
Success Orbital Sciences COTS demonstration flight. First Cygnus mission, first mission to rendezvous with ISS, first mission to berth with ISS, second launch of Antares. The rendezvous between the new Cygnus cargo freighter and the International Space Station was delayed due to a computer data link problem,[42] but the issue was resolved and berthing followed shortly thereafter.[43] [44][45][46]
3 CRS Orb-1 C. Gordon Fullerton Cygnus Standard January 9, 2014
Antares 120 Success First Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) mission for Cygnus, and first Antares launch using the Castor 30B upper stage. [5][21][45][46]
4 CRS Orb-2 Janice Voss Cygnus Standard July 13, 2014
Success Spacecraft carried 1,664 kg (3,668 lb) of supplies for the ISS, including research equipment, crew provisions, hardware, and science experiments. [21][46][47]
5 CRS Orb-3 Deke Slayton Cygnus Standard October 28, 2014
Antares 130 Failure First Antares launch to use Castor 30XL upper stage; payload included a Planetary Resources Arkyd-3 satellite and a NASA JPL/UT-Austin CubeSat mission named RACE.[48][49][50] The Antares rocket encountered an anomaly seconds into the mission leading to the explosion of the rocket and loss of the payload.[36][38] [21][51]
- CRS Orb-4 Cygnus spacecraft Enhanced TBD Atlas V 401 Planned Planned to be first Enhanced Cygnus mission. Will be moved to a Atlas V 401 launch vehicle. [21][52][53][54]
6 CRS Orb-5 Enhanced TBD Planned Will potentially be moved to a non-Antares launch vehicle. [21][52][54]
7 CRS Orb-6 Enhanced TBD Antares 200 Planned [21][52]
8 CRS Orb-7 Enhanced TBD Planned [21][52]
9 CRS Orb-8 Enhanced TBD Planned [21][52]

Launch sequence[edit]

The following table shows a typical launch sequence, such as for launching a Cygnus spacecraft on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.[55]

T Minus Event Altitude
T- 03:50:00 Launch management call to stations
T- 03:05:00 Poll to initiate liquid oxygen loading system chilldown
T- 01:30:00 Poll for readiness to initiate propellant loading
T- 00:15:00 Cygnus/payload switched to internal power
T- 00:12:00 Poll for final countdown and MES medium flow chilldown
T- 00:11:00 Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) armed for rapid retract
T- 00:05:00 Antares avionics switched to internal power
T- 00:03:00 Auto-sequence start (terminal count)
T- 00:02:00 Pressurize propellant tanks
T- 00:00:00 Main engine ignition
T+ 00:00:02.1 Liftoff
T+ 00:03:55 Main engine cut-off (MECO) 102 km (63 mi)
T+ 00:04:01 Stage one separation 108 km (67 mi)
T+ 00:05:31 Fairing separation 168 km (104 mi)
T+ 00:05:36 Interstage separation 170 km (106 mi)
T+ 00:05:40 Stage two ignition 171 km (106 mi)
T+ 00:07:57 Stage two burnout 202 km (126 mi)
T+ 00:09:57 Payload separation 201 km (125 mi)

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]