Orbital Sciences conducts successful Antares hot-fire

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Orbital Sciences has successfully completed the hot-fire of its integrated Antares launch vehicle, the last major hardware test before a first flight.

The 22 February test, also called a hold-down test, saw the two Aerojet AJ-26 engines fire for 29s while the rocket was tightly held to the pad.

"The next thing that happens is we take that first stage article back into the facility and do closer inspections," says Orbital. "We don't expect to find anything too amiss, but you have to inspect the whole first stage, the engines and all that. Once it's done, we'll roll the Antares rocket out that will do the test flight out to the pad."

A first flight is tentatively scheduled for early April. The hot-fire test was initially scheduled some months ago, but postponed by delays on launch pad construction. The launch pad is now finished.

The Antares will lift off with a mass simulating the Cygnus cargo capsule, which has been contracted by NASA for supply flights to the International Space Station (ISS). If successful, the flight test will be followed by another to test the actual Cygnus, followed in turn by a third flight to dock with the ISS.

Fellow NASA ISS supply contractor SpaceX is scheduled to conduct a hot-fire of its Falcon 9 rocket the afternoon of 25 February in anticipation of a 1 March launch.