SpaceX’s rival Orbital Sciences set to test launch its own rocket



SpaceX’s rival Orbital Sciences set to test launch its own rocket Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: An impressive 132-foot high rocket is set for a test launch on Saturday after a technical glitch and bad weather halted its previous two attempts.

Orbital Sciences Corp., the second of the two private companies hired by NASA to carry supply to the International Space Station, will launch its unmanned rocket Antares again from Wallops Island, Virginia, at 5 pm (2100 GMT) on Saturday.

The rocket was initially scheduled to lift off on Wednesday when the countdown clock was halted at the 12-minute mark as the data cord linked to the rocket's second stage detached prematurely.

Its second attempt was called off again due to dismal weather on Friday.

The planned launch by the Washington area commercial firm was designed to test whether a practice payload could reach orbit and safely separate from the rocket. Orbital executives have said the tests would prove their capability to carry out several supply runs they contracted for with NASA.

SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, was awarded a $1.6 billion contract by NASA in 2006 to make a dozen restocking missions. SpaceX has linked up with the space station three times. In 2008, Orbital jumped in and was awarded a $1.9 billion contract for eight deliveries.

"We've been playing catch up, but we're about caught up," Culbertson had said recently as test plans loomed. "By the end of next year we should have an additional four or five cargo missions under our belt, so we're going to be moving fast."

If ultimately successful in testing Antares, Orbital executives have said they hoped to launch a rocket this summer carrying its Cygnus cargo ship aloft to see whether it could safely dock with the space station.

Orbital is under contract to eventually deliver about 44,000 pounds of supplies to the space station and envisions making about two deliveries per year. Its cargo ship would carry about 4,400 pounds worth of supplies on its first three missions and 5,600 pounds on its last five.

Unlike the SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which is capable of two-way deliveries, the Orbital cargo ship is not designed to return with experiments or other items from the space station. Instead, Orbital's plans call for filling its Cygnus ship with garbage to be incinerated with the craft upon re-entering Earth's atmosphere. That's also what Russian, European and Japanese cargo ships do.

(With Agency input)