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Orbital Sciences Cargo Test Mission To ISS Launches Successfully 39

Months after a successful test launch of the Antares rocket with a dummy payload, today Orbital Sciences Corp successfully launched their demo cargo mission to the ISS. Their Cygnus resupply craft detached from the second stage and at 11:33 a.m. deployed its solar array. From NASA: "Solar array deployment is complete for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus spacecraft, now traveling 17,500 mph in Earth's orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Sunday, Sept. 22, for a demonstration resupply mission. The spacecraft will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the space station's Expedition 37 crew, who will grapple and attach the capsule using the orbiting laboratory's robotic arm." There's an updates weblog, and some pictures.
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Orbital Sciences Cargo Test Mission To ISS Launches Successfully

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  • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @12:14PM (#44884665) Homepage Journal

    It shows that somebody besides SpaceX can actually send stuff into space.

    • by stox ( 131684 )

      With 40 year old engines.

      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        If it works, why re-invent the wheel?

      • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @01:18PM (#44885327) Journal

        I was going to chastise you about snarking about proven technology, but it appears that the Aerojet AJ-26 in this mission's Antares booster represents the first successful launch using the NK-33 core... a design originally intended for the Soviet Union's abortive moon landing program, and specifically as the cluster engine for the F1 launch vehicle first stage.

        It appears that as far as track records are concerned, SpaceX may have the upper hand: 5 launches for missions based on the NK-33, 4 failures []; 5 launches for SpaceX Dragons, 1/2 failure (secondary payload failed to attain intended orbit on Flight 4)

        So carry on then.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The N1 used NK-15, not -33. The NK-33 is an improved version of the NK-15.

      • by cusco ( 717999 )

        Well, since it's a Soviet design licensing the patents to re-start production should be fairly inexpensive, but to my (admittedly limited) knowledge no one is standing in line to build new ones for some reason. They're a popular engine, already integrated into the designs of several vehicles so there would be a guaranteed market, does anyone know why?

        • I thought Aerojet got a license to produce the design in the United States so there is a domestic supply.
        • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @01:57PM (#44885791)

          There's a new generation of low-cost small launchers using solid-fuel lower stages entering the market, like the Vega from ESA and the Epsilon just launched by the Japanese a few days ago. The next ESA launcher, the Ariane 6 will be a solid-fuelled rocket with a cryogenic upper stage. The Constellation SLS also uses/used a solid first stage and the Russians have been offering launches using repurposed obsolescent ICBMs.

          The heyday of the liquid-fuelled rocket may be coming to a close, at least for commercial unmanned launches. Solids are a lot less work to get off the ground, no pumps and valves, no complex pad facilities delivering liquid oxygen and/or hypergolics to the vehicle before launch etc. Epsilon famously launched using a team of only eight people and two laptops. On the other hand SpaceX is struggling to launch the first of their already-delayed liquid-fuelled stretch Falcon 9s at Vandenberg at the moment. Their hotfire test for the Cassiope mission last week threw up some unpublicised problems and they're having to reschedule another hotfire and eventual launch around a series of ICBM tests the USAF is carrying out at the site soon.

          • And if they'd been using a solid? They'd have been unable to do a hot fire test, and might have attempted to launch with a faulty vehicle, leading to a messy failure rather than a 2 week delay due to range contention. They've repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of being able to shut the vehicle down on the pad, among other advantages of liquids. (You can't make a launcher with engine-out capability using solid rockets, for example.)

            Solids are a lot more trouble to manufacture, transport, and work around, c

            • by nojayuk ( 567177 )

              You claim solid-fuel motors have a nasty habit of exploding. Can you point to a case in, say, the last twenty years or thirty years of a big solid motor exploding on launch or in flight? I can certainly point to a lot of "oops" from liquid-fuel launches over the same period. Even in the Challenger disaster, the SRB that leaked flame out of a joint didn't explode or even lose much thrust, it was the liquid-fuel External Tank that exploded. If the flame leak from the SRB's joint had been directed away from th

              • Two prominent ones come immediately to mind, not at all an exhaustive list:
                Destroyed shortly after launch due to an cracked casing in a "so reliable they don't need to be test fired" GEM-40 booster:

                Blew up on the pad as people were working on it, leveling the pad and killing 21 people (they seem to have moved on to largely liquid-fueled systems now):

                Manufacturing solids is a hell of a lot more than "a giant Magimix with extra safety

      • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @01:35PM (#44885517) Homepage

        Literally 40 years old, as in mothballed in a warehouse for that long. When they run out of engines (or get cut off because the Russkies get pissy), they have to find another engine. SpaceX avoided that problem by making their own engines.

        Except right now it looks like SpaceX may have to push the next Dragon launch back because they're switching completely to the new Merlin 1D engines, which get their first launch in the next couple of weeks. So they've temporarily caused their own engine supply problems, ha ha.

        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          It isn't as if building engines like this is some kind of ancient knowledge that has been lost in the mists of history. The ability to create new rocket engines exists. Besides, Aerojet wants to keep their contract with Orbital and be the engine supplier for these rockets.

          It is possible that RKK Energia (the license owner of the NK-33 design) may want to negotiate the licensing terms for building these engines. I certainly think that if money can be made, a deal can also be struck.

          • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @11:30PM (#44890517)

            It isn't as if building engines like this is some kind of ancient knowledge that has been lost in the mists of history.

            It also isn't something you learn from reading a book. Your workforce has to learn their craft the hard way, taking 5 to 10 years to do it, and you don't really get "good" until year 20. There's no suggestion that Aerojet is taking the necessary steps with the NK-33.

            For example, it's not like SpaceX hired dumb engineers who didn't understand rocket science, yet they had to go through multiple versions of engines, and start with the simplest configuration (one engine), and after a decade of development they are still having problems with the fourth version of their engine on their third configuration launcher.

            Musk's plan is to built a Saturn V class, three core launcher. But had they immediately started with Falcon XX and Merlin 2, they would have failed. Utterly. Hell, you could have sent the actual blue-prints of the eventual FXX back in time to them, and they would still have failed.

  • by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @12:34PM (#44884851)

    Ooo they have a "weblog"... or for those of us who aren't still living in the early 90s a "blog".

  • Fixed link: []

    URL for "successfully launched their demo cargo mission to the ISS" is missing the last character, gives 404.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's two more AJ26's/NK33's used up. There are 41 left, enough for 20 more launches. And then they're done.

  • by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @01:16PM (#44885303)

    If not even NASA can move to the metric system, what hope do we have as a nation to move over?

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      If the Brits are still using miles per hour for speed and stone for weight, what hope does the US have to go metric?
    • If not even NASA can move to the metric system, what hope do we have as a nation to move over?

      If NOAA can use cubits, then they are just fine for NASA. Or was it Noah? Meh, whatever.

      • God: Go out into the woods, collect all of the animals in the world by two and make the ark out of cubits. Eighty cubits, forty cubits, thirty cubits.
        Noah: Riiiiiight! What's a cubit?

        -- Bill Cosby []

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The blueprints are all in metric; the press releases sent out to the Eloi are in cubits or yards or whatever they prefer.

  • Actually, that's an impressive vehicle. If you look at the image gallery, the thing is very small relative to human scale for being able to get itself up to the space station. Here's hoping they can get their engine technology licensing and manufacturing issues worked out with Russia in order to keep this launch capacity beyong the remaining off-the-shelf engines currently in storage.

    • That is probably the most boring looking rocket I've ever seen. Probably a good thing if orbital vehicles start looking mundane.

  • by Cytotoxic ( 245301 ) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @03:16PM (#44886643)

    This is fantastic news, but I wonder why the capacity is so small. TFA says it carried a little less than 600kg of cargo up. The SpaceX Dragon can carry 10 times that amount (literally - 6,000 kg []) and it has a return capability of up to 3,000 kg.

    After beefing up their vehicle with a second version they plan to be able to deliver 2,700 kg. So best case scenario they can't even carry half the cargo of the Dragon. That's a pretty big disparity.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      current cargo ability is 2000kg of pressurized cargo, they just didn't fill it up this mission.

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