Orbital Scrubs Rocket Launch Minutes Before Liftoff


Orbital Sciences Corp. scrubbed the first attempted launch of its new Antares rocket minutes before liftoff after a hose prematurely detached from the booster.

The April 17 liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia, was set for 5 p.m. local time. It was aborted with slightly more than 10 minutes left in the countdown due to a "premature separation of an umbilical connection," according to a brief statement from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

The two-stage, medium-lift rocket -- the Dulles, Virginia-based company's newest and biggest -- is flying its maiden flight as part of a test mission for NASA.

After retiring its shuttle fleet in 2011, the agency has turned to the private sector and companies such as Orbital and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX and headed by billionaire Elon Musk, to resupply the International Space Station. Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract with the agency for at least eight cargo missions to the orbital outpost.

The rocket may eventually be a contender for such military programs as the Air Force’s Orbital/Suborbital Program-3, known as OSP-3, and Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, known as EELV.

The rocket for its first stage uses two liquid-fuel AJ26 engines, made by Aerojet, part of California-based GenCorp Inc. They’re modified versions of the NK-33s built in Russia more than four decades ago for its moon program, which was later canceled. Aerojet bought about 40 NK-33 engines in the mid-1990s and, under a contract with Orbital, modified them specifically for Antares, according to Aerojet. The second-stage of the rocket uses a solid-fuel engine made by Arlington, Virginia-based Alliant Techsystems Inc.

The launch has been rescheduled for 5 p.m. April 20, at the earliest, according to NASA. A previously scheduled liftoff on April 19 was canceled due to the weather forecast. A back-up date is set for April 21.

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