ATK has static-fired the first Castor 30XL solid rocket motor at the US Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Complex in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
The Castor 30XL will power the upper stage of Orbital Sciences' Antares launch vehicle. The first Castor 30XL launch is scheduled in 2014, powering an enhanced version of Antares that requires more energy than previous models. In comparison to the original Castor 30, Castor 30XL has more fuel, greater thrust and a new nozzle.
The test was made in a vacuum chamber to simulate the low air density of the upper atmosphere -- an upper stage ignites after the launch vehicle has used its core stage to pass through the thickest part of the atmosphere, but requires additional energy to reach orbital velocity.
The first flight will occur on the third Antares commercial resupply launch, no earlier than 2014, launching a resupply capsule to the International Space Station.