On Oct.20, Orbital Sciences said the initial launch had been postponed between two and three months, thus delaying a planned cargo module berthing at the International Space Station using the Taurus 2 rocket and Cygnus cargo module until May 2012.
The historic Wallops Island facility is being developed by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, and work will not be completed until around the week of Oct.24, thus delaying the final certification and turnover to Orbital Sciences until early January. If that schedule holds, Orbital plans to conduct a test of the Taurus 2’s first stage in late January, followed by the rocket’s inaugural launch in late February or early March.
Following those tests, Orbital plans to conduct a Taurus 2 flight in early May, carrying a Cygnus station cargo vehicle, which is expected to be berthed at the I.S.S., demonstrating the company’s ability to deliver payloads to the I.S.S. The first operational space station cargo-delivery mission for Taurus 2 and Cygnus will occur in late August or early September under this revised schedule, according to the company.
In a conference call with investors, Orbital Chief Executive David W. Thompson said development of the Taurus 2 rocket and the Cygnus supply vehicle have been proceeding well. Thompson noted that Orbital and its engine supplier, Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., are returning to regular deliveries of the Russian-designed AJ-26 first-stage engine to the Wallops Island facility following a fire during an engine test in June.
That fire was attributed to a fuel line defect that required remedial work on about one-third of the engines. Thompson said four flight-ready AJ-26 engines are already at Wallops, with several more to arrive in December.
Under a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract, Dulles, Va.-based Orbital and NASA are dividing the cost of preparing Taurus 2 and Cygnus. The current contract includes a first test flight of Taurus 2, and the demonstration flight of Taurus 2 with the Cygnus supply carrier. Once this contract is concluded with a successful Taurus 2-Cygnus demonstration, Orbital will plans to begin delivery of eight Taurus 2-Cygnus launches under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
“With Taurus 2 and Cygnus apparently on track, the only holdup for the launch is the preparation of the spaceport, Thompson said.
“Additional work had to be performed to more thoroughly clean the propellant and pressurization tanks delivered last year but not maintained in a proper way, and some structural rework on the launch mount, which supports the rocket,” Thompson said during the conference call. He said the necessary work on the launch structure is the result of a lack of subcontractor management by the Virginia Spaceport Authority.
Beyond the NASA space station resupply contract, Orbital hopes to sell Taurus 2 vehicles for other NASA missions including science and Earth observation satellites. NASA and Orbital are negotiating Taurus 2’s addition as a NASA-approved vehicle for satellite launches, Thompson said.
The U.S. Air Force is expected to issue a request for bids from prospective launch-service suppliers late this year or early in 2011. Orbital will respond to this bid request in hopes of being placed on the Air Force’s list of approved rockets for future military missions.
Launches of commercial telecommunications satellites from the Wallops Island facility would be difficult given the facility’s location and the power of the Taurus 2. But commercial Earth observation satellites could be launched there, and Thompson said talks with commercial Earth observation satellite owners were under way.”