Booster Backlog at Launch Site While Orbital Waits on Virginia

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While Orbital Sciences waits for the state of Virginia to turn over its new Wallops Flight Facility launch pad, boosters for the company’s Antares rockets are stacking up.

“We’ve got a lot of launch vehicle hardware sitting at the launch site right now,” Orbital executive Mark Pieczynski said at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2012 conference in Pasadena, Calif., earlier this month.

Three boosters are on site at Wallops, and a fourth is nearby at a rented facility, Pieczynski said.

A few days after Orbital is cleared to begin using the launch pad — approval has been pending for months, but appears to be on track for completion by the end of September — the company plans to roll out a test vehicle to run through fueling operations, a procedure known as a “wet dress rehearsal.” About two weeks later, Antares’ engines will power up for the first time at the launch pad for a 29-second static test-fire.

“At this point, we’re simply waiting for the state of Virginia to hand us the keys so we can take the vehicle out there and erect it on the pad,” Pieczynski said.

If all goes well, Orbital anticipates rolling out a second vehicle for a demonstration launch a month later.

Antares is a two-stage, medium-lift rocket that Orbital plans to use to fly resupply missions to the international space station for NASA.

The company also is considering flying high-inclination orbits from Wallops for the U.S. military and other customers. “We’d fly out of Virginia, make a dogleg over the [North Carolina] Outer Banks, turn right and fly down the eastern coast of the United States,” Pieczynski said.

The company also is looking at West Coast options for Antares launches, including Alaska’s Kodiak Island and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.