For the first time in nearly 2 years, an Antares rocket launched from the launch facilities on Wallops Island, Virginia, carrying a Cygnus cargo craft to the International Space Station. While a pretty straightforward launch of a somewhat plain seeming booster, this launch was a critical moment for Orbital ATK, creators of Cygnus and Antares, and for NASA in its never ending task to resupply the ISS with critical goods and new experiments.
You may remember it was just shy of 2 years ago, in October of 2014, that the last Antares launch ended only a few seconds after liftoff with the explosion of the booster due to engine failure in one of the AJ-26 engines used on the vehicle in its original form, these engines being modern modifications to the Soviet era NK-33 engine (as mentioned in a previous article “Those Damn Rocket Engines“.)
After general modifications, a change out to RD-180 engines, and 2 years of testing and reconstruction work (including one Cygnus launch using an Atlas V booster) Antares was ready to fly again, and tonight it did like a champion. Antares is, as I mentioned before, a somewhat plain rocket, but it’s quite useful, and aside from this one incident in 2014, has shown to be very reliable for its medium lift role.
As always, here comes launch footage: Watch and enjoy a successful return to flight for Antares!