Orbital Sciences launched the first Antares rocket on 21 April into orbit carrying a mass simulator to launch an elbaorate dress rehearsal for a follow-on resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The rocket lifted off from its Wallops Island, Virginia launch pad, around 17:00 powered by an Aerojet AJ-26 liquid-fueled first stage and an ATK Castor 30 solid-fuel upper stage. The flight, twice-postponed due to weather and a support tower disconnection, was a resounding success, according to Orbital and customer NASA.

"Today marked a giant step forward for the Antares program, with a fully successful inaugural flight of the largest and most complex rocket the company has ever developed and flown," says David Thompson, Orbital's chief executive. "With its successful test flight from the MARS pad at Wallops Island, we will now move forward toward completing the full demonstration mission of our system to resupply the International Space Station with essential cargo in just a couple of months."

The 21 April flight launched into orbit a mass simulator of the Cygnus cargo capsule, intended to carry around 2,000kg (4,100lb) of supplies and experiments to the ISS. The simulator will orbit for several days before burning up in Earth's atmosphere. The next flight, tentatively scheduled in June will be the first launch of the actual Cygnus.

NASA largely funded the launch vehicle's development under its commercial crew and cargo programme, and is signed for eight resupply flights to the International Space Station.

Source: Flight International