SpaceX and Orbital Sciences in a Race to Space
SpaceX is getting the headlines because its already delivering cargo to the International Space Station, but there is a second company and transport system in the NASA program that is aiming to privatize routine resupply runs to the Space Station.
Orbital Sciences has tested and activated its new complex at Wallops Island where it rolled the Antares to the pad in advance of planned ground tests which involved several wet dress rehearsals involving fueling and then emptying the rocket to test ground systems at the new launch complex.
The first two Cygnus spacecraft are finishing their testing regimen. Early next year, the Cygnus are going to be delivered to the NASA site in Virginia for final launch preparations.
Orbital holds a nearly $ 2 billion contract with NASA for the resupply effort, the second of two companies doing the privatized work.
Up next: a 30 second test firing of the rocket as early as next month and, if all goes as planned, a test flight of the rocket bearing a payload meant to mimic the weight of Cygnus and conditions of a real flight. That test flight could happen before the year ends, Orbital said, though that schedule seems optimistic given the newness of the rocket, vehicle and the ground systems.
The first actual test flight to the station could come in the first half of 2013 according to company officials. That initial test flight, similar to SpaceX Dragon’s first berthing at the station, will carry some cargo. Working flights are expected to begin rapidly thereafter, starting later in 2013.
Whatever the details of the schedule, the success of Orbital is as essential to the future of privatized space flight as the success of SpaceX. Regularity of success by entirely different groups will solidify that this approach is the correct one for routine orbital supply flights and will build momentum for the financing of similar programs for delivering astronauts to low Earth orbit.
It is becoming increasingly clear that injecting competition into the design and development of spacecraft has reinvigorated the drive to create the replacement for the space shuttle. This new model is working. Its pace could be quickened with a realization in Washington that widening the private competition concept into development of the super rockets and spaceships needed for deeper space flight is also the way to go.
We at Bracke Manufacturing are excited to know that some of the same parts that we manufacture and supply, such as connectors, attentuators, and cable assemblies are found on SpaceX and the International Space Station!