After some days of delay variously caused by a premature separation of an umbilical and high level winds, new Antares launch vehicle built by Orbital Sciences Corporation and using Russian moon rocket engine techology was successfully launched into orbit at 2100 GMT on 21 April from the Wallops Island launch site on the east coast of Virginia, USA.
Antares lifts off. Courtesy: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Aboard was a dummy mass mimicking the Cygnus freighter spacecraft which will eventually be used to deliver payloads to the International Space Station under a NASA contract. Unlike its SpaceX Dragon competitor however, the Cygnus craft is not reusable and cannot be used to return cargo to Earth. On the Antares flight there were some real spacecraft flying. Dove 1 was a 5.5.kg triple cubesat technology demonstration design. In addition three Phonesat cubesats were flown to test mobile communications technology as avionics in orbit.
The launch vehicle’s first stage is powered by two AJ-26 engines built by Aerojet, which are actually reworked NK-33 engines that were designed to power the Soviet-era N-1 manned moon mission launch vehicle.