The State of Virginia has finished construction on the Wallops Island, Virginia launch pad for Orbital Sciences' Antares launch vehicle. The pad has officially been turned over to Orbital Sciences, allowing the company to begin launch operations.

The pad's long-delayed completion has been a source of frustration to Orbital, which has kept two flyable Antares launch vehicles in storage nearby. Antares' first flight is scheduled for October, carrying a payload representing a Cygnus cargo capsule. An additional flight is planned before the end of the year, carrying the actual Cygnus on its first flight. Subsequent launches will bring Cygnus to the International Space Station (ISS), where it will resupply astronauts for NASA.

"Accordingly, our pad operations are commencing immediately in preparation for an important series of ground and flight tests of our Antares medium-class launch vehicle over the next few months," says David Thompson, president and chief executive of Orbital. "In fact, earlier today, an Antares first stage test article was transported to the pad from its final assembly building about a mile away, marking the beginning of full pad operations."

The first step will be a hold-down test, which will see the launch vehicles' engines lit for a brief period to make final tests on both rocket and pad.

Orbital was not immediately available for comment.

Source: Flight International