Orbital Sciences' Antares space launch vehicle is now eligible to carry NASA payloads under the current NASA launch services (NLS II) contract.

US space agency NASA has modified the NLS II contract to include Antares, allowing the launch system to compete for launching NASA satellites. The launch vehicle has already been contracted to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) under the commercial orbital transportation services (COTS) contract, pending a successful first flight for the launch vehicle and the Cygnus transportation capsule.

Antares' first flight is scheduled for an undetermined time in 2012 with a dummy payload meant to simulate a Cygnus capsule. While the rocket is reportedly ready, the Wallops Island, Virginia launch pad has yet to be completed. A second flight with Cygnus aboard will launch the capsule to dock with the ISS, after which begin commercially-contracted flights.

Source: Flight International