Antares rocket engine damaged in test mishap
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: May 22, 2014
A Russian-built rocket engine assigned to launch an Orbital Sciences Corp. commercial resupply flight to the International Space Station in early 2015 was damaged Thursday during a test mishap at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
The Antares launch vehicle is powered by two AJ26-62 first stage main engines at the start of Orbital's commercial cargo missions to the space station. The Dulles, Va.-based company has a $1.9 billion contract for eight resupply flights through 2016 using Antares boosters and Cygnus logistics spaceships.
Orbital has completed the first supply mission under the contract, and the second flight is scheduled for takeoff June 10 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
"We don't know yet if this will affect the upcoming Antares launch schedule," Beneski wrote in an email.
SpaceX holds a similar cargo contract with NASA to transport supplies to and from the space station using the company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.
Aerojet Rocketdyne provides the AJ26 engines for Orbital's Antares launch vehicle. A spokesperson for the propulsion firm said there no injuries from Thursday's engine mishap, and the company is leading an investigation to determine the cause of the failure.
Aerojet Rocketdyne converted the 20 NK-33 engines into the AJ26 configuration by adding U.S. electronics, qualifying the engines for U.S. propellants, putting in equipment to permit the engines to gimbal for steering, and adding electromechanical valve actuators, according to officials familiar with the engine's modernization.
The AJ26 engines consume liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene propellants. Each engine generates more than 350,000 pounds of thrust at sea level.
Officials said the AJ26 engine that failed Thursday suffered the anomaly about 30 seconds into a planned 54-second test. The engine test terminated prematurely, resulting in extensive damage to the engine.
A team of NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Orbital Sciences and Lockheed Martin engineers put each AJ26 engine through acceptance testing on the E-1 test stand at the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi before delivering the engines to the Antares launch site on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
The first stage structures for the next three flights have also been delivered to the United States from Yuzhmash in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, according to Frank Culbertson, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital's advanced programs group.
In an interview Wednesday, Culbertson said two more Ukrainian stages were on schedule to arrive in the United States later this year.
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