Antares Core Stage Rides Out Storm

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WASHINGTON — The core stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket rode out the harsh winds and rains of Hurricane Sandy from its launch pad at the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the Wallops Island Flight Facility with no apparent damage, company and spaceport officials said.

For Antares, the only ill effect of the storm is a one week delay to a wet-dress rehearsal and subsequent hot-fire tests that had been scheduled for late October into mid-November, Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski wrote in an Oct. 31 email to SpaceNews.

“It looks like Antares came through the Sandy storm in good shape, although complete and thorough inspections will take place over the next several days,” Beneski said. “We did not experience any significant damage to either the pad or the horizontal integration facility with the exception of some minor water seepage that was addressed with mops and buckets.”

Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., some 240 kilometers north of Wallops Island, Va. The storm hit Wallops Island with sustained winds of close to 100 kilometers an hour, downing some trees in the area but otherwise causing no serious damage, NASA spokesman Keith Koehler wrote in an Oct. 31 email.

After repeated delays that the company blamed on construction difficulties, Orbital was cleared Sept. 27 to begin operations at Pad 0-A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The largest and only liquid-fueled pad at Wallops, Pad 0-A is operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, a state-run group. The Antares core will be used to test not only the rocket, but the cryogenic plumbing at the newly completed pad. On Oct. 1, Orbital rolled the rocket core to the pad, where it has been ever since.

Dale Nash, who recently replaced Billie Reed as the executive director of the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority, said in an Oct. 31 email that the recent storm apparently spared Pad 0-A.

“Pad 0-A appears to have come through the hurricane in remarkably good shape,” Nash wrote in the email. “Inspections today have shown only minor water intrusion from the rain and some signage damage from the wind. No flooding, no wind damage to piping or structures.”

The Antares tests now scheduled for mid-November are precursors for the rocket’s maiden flight — one of two demonstration launches Orbital has to perform before it can collect on a $1.9 billion international space station resupply contract it got from NASA in 2008. The first flight — the inaugural launch of Antares — is slated for December. The second flight, the first to carry Orbital’s Cygnus cargo tug, is scheduled for March or April.