No Antares Flight Until 2013, Orbital, NASA Say

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Orbital Sciences Corp. likely will wait until after the new year to launch its Antares rocket for the first time, a NASA official said Nov. 15.

Antares’ maiden flight, which will carry a ballast payload instead of Orbital’s Cygnus space station cargo carrier, is “very tentatively scheduled for December [but] I think it’s more likely that will slip into early 2013,” Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA headquarters, said at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee.

The delay, according to a company source, is due to ongoing cleanup work from Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the U.S. East Coast in late October. The first Antares safely rode out the storm on its launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. The pad sustained no damage but got drenched in the storm, Orbital and spaceport officials said. Drying the pad off will add about two weeks to Orbital’s schedule, this source said, pushing a 30-second hot-fire test originally scheduled for Nov. 30 into December and likely pushing the maiden flight into 2013.

McAlister said that if all goes well on the first flight of Antares, its demonstration flight to the international space station could take place three months later.

William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, lauded Orbital for making “significant progress” despite “some hurricane problems.”

Gerstenmaier added that the delays pose no logistical threat to space station operations because Orbital would be carrying non-essential cargo on its demonstration flight.