WALLOPS ISLAND — A major launch program at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility along the Virginia coast just south of Ocean City and Assateague appears to be back on track after a successful test of the Antares rocket engines on Tuesday.
In October 2014, NASA and its private-sector partner Orbital Sciences attempted to launch an Antares rocket carrying 5,000 pounds of cargo, including food, instruments and other supplies to the International Space Station from Wallops, but the mission was aborted seconds after liftoff in a fiery explosion on the launch pad. In the 18 months since, NASA and Orbital Sciences have been steadily putting the pieces back together in preparation for a renewed effort for Wallops’ most significant launch program.
The preparations included replacing the Antares’ aging rocket propulsion engines with new state-of-the-art engines. On Tuesday, Orbital successfully conducted a full-power test of the upgraded first-stage propulsion system for the Antares’ new RD-181 main engines. The 30-second test took place around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, filling the sky with billowing white smoke around the launch pad at the Wallops Flight Facility just south of the resort.
The successful test puts a planned Antares launch to the International Space Station in July back on the fast track. The Antares is the largest rocket launched from Wallops and the launch set for July should be visible to residents and visitors throughout the mid-Atlantic region and across the eastern half of the U.S. After the October 2014 accident, it appeared the Antares missions to the ISS would be delayed indefinitely or scrubbed altogether, but the success test of the new propulsion system on Tuesday signals the Antares missions are alive and well.