Watch the Antares Rocket Launch LIVE

Antares Rocket to be Launched for the First Time

anteres 1.jpgBy Erik Derr

The first test flight of the privately-built Antares rocket has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Eastern Time, after winds forced the cancellation of the launch Saturday.

Strong winds of up to 140 mph streamed over the rocket’s Virginia launch pad Saturday, after the passage of an overnight cold front — heightening concerns debris from the 131-foot-tall rocket could endanger nearby communities in the case of explosion, according to a report by Spaceflight Now.

anteres 2“It’s a matter of having winds that could potentially blow debris from a destructive event over populated areas,” Frank Culbertson, Antares mission director and Orbital Sciences executive vice president, was quoted saying by Spaceflight Now. “We had the rare case of wind coming from the southwest at high velocity.”

Said Culvertson: “We’re going to target 5 p.m…same time, same place, same team.”

After initially delaying the scheduled launch on Saturday for more than an hour, managers decided to call off the launch altogether when weather balloons showed upper level winds weren’t letting up. The flight was scrubbed before liquid propellant was loaded into the Antares rocket’s first stage.

If Orbital Sciences had cancelled fueling already started, technical constraints might well have forced the rescheduled test to Monday, since the launch pad has a limited supply of super-cold liquid oxygen.

anteres 2“We didn’t want to fuel up the rocket and waste a chance to go” on Sunday, said Orbital Sciences spokesman Barry Beneski.

Forecasters predict better surface weather conditions today, calling for a 75 percent chance of acceptable weather — though ground winds remain a concern.

When it finally does take off, the Antares rocket will reach orbit on a test mission through a public-private partnership with NASA, which is paying Orbital Sciences $288 million to help fund development of a commercial cargo resupply system for the International Space Station.

anteres 3The National Aeronautics and Space Administration had a similar agreement with California-based SpaceX, which completed its test program last year and has now accomplished two operational cargo flights to the space station.

The first Antares launch attempt Wednesday was called off 12 minutes before liftoff, when a data connection between the rocket and the launch pad was disconnected.

Commercial cargo missions are replacing some of the capacity lost when the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011.

Live Online Streaming:

NASA’s live feed of the Antares launch starts at 4:30 p.m. ET: logo

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