The commercial spaceflight company Orbital ATK is officially planning for an Oct. 9 launch date for its first Antares rocket since a 2014 explosion, a return-to-flight mission that will deliver NASA cargo to the International Space Station.
Under the plan, Orbital ATK's Antares rocket will launch the company's unmanned Cygnus cargo ship from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia no earlier than Sunday, Oct. 9, at 10:47 p.m. EDT (0247 Oct. 10 GMT), according to a NASA statement. The launch window extends to Oct. 13 (which would see a 9:13 p.m. EDT/0113 GMT liftoff), ensuring a nighttime launch that may be visible to a wide swath of the U.S. East Coast.
The mission will be the seventh of 10 Orbital ATK cargo missions for NASA under a deal worth $2.6 billion. NASA and Orbital ATK originally planned to launch the resupply mission in July, but the plans were pushed back to August. On Aug. 10, NASA and Orbital ATK announced that the launch would be delayed until September, citing several reasons, including the need for more tests and inspections.
The upcoming launch will mark Orbital ATK's first flight of its new variant of the Antares rocket, Antares 230. The updated launch vehicle will include a new Russian-made RD-181 engine, which will replace the AJ26 engines that were implicated in a fiery explosion and launch failure on Oct. 28, 2014.
Since the 2014 launch failure, Orbital ATK has launched two Cygnus missions for NASA, including this dazzling night launch in March, using Atlas V rockets provided by the United Launch Alliance. Those Atlas V missions lifted off from a launchpad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Orbital ATK's first two official cargo missions for NASA launched aboard the earlier Antares rocket version in January and July of 2014. Those missions followed two earlier test flights in 2013.