Space Image

Antares prepares to fly its last mission using Russian and Ukrainian parts

Northdrop Grumman set to launch final Antares 230+ containing Russian parts from Wallops.

  • More details coming soon...
Dakota W.

Dakota W.

Tue Aug 01 2023Written by Dakota W.

NASA and Northrop Grumman are preparing for the launch of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft on the NG-19 mission, the final flight of the current version of the Antares rocket. This version of the Antares, known as Antares 230+, incorporates components from both Russia and Ukraine, including the first stage manufactured by Ukraine's Yuzhnoye State Design Office and Yuzhmash Machine Building plant, as well as RD-181 engines from Russian company NPO Energomash.

The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, at 8:31 p.m. Eastern on August 1. Weather forecasts indicate an 80% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff. On board, Cygnus carries nearly 3,750 kilograms of cargo, consisting of experiments, hardware, and essential supplies for the International Space Station (ISS). If launched on time, the spacecraft is expected to reach the ISS on August 4 and remain there for at least three months.

The previous Cygnus mission, NG-18, encountered an issue in November 2022 when one of its solar arrays failed to deploy. The problem was traced back to debris lodged in the hinge of the array, preventing it from unfolding properly. However, the mission was successfully completed using the remaining functional array, and no major design changes were required for future missions.

The debris that caused the solar array issue originated from acoustic blankets in the interstage portion of the Antares rocket during stage separation. Corrective actions have been implemented by Northrop Grumman and reviewed by NASA to prevent a recurrence during the NG-19 launch.

The NG-19 mission marks the end of the Antares 230+ version, which relied on Ukrainian and Russian components. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and subsequent sanctions, Northrop Grumman decided to partner with Firefly Aerospace to develop a new version of the rocket named Antares 330. This updated version will utilize domestically manufactured first stages and engines, reducing dependence on foreign components.

Critical design reviews have been successfully completed for the structure of the first stage and Firefly's Miranda engines, which will power the Antares 330. The next step is a system-level CDR, planned for September, with hot-fire tests of Miranda engines scheduled for later in the year. The revised timeline for Antares 330's introduction has been adjusted to the summer of 2025.

During the development phase of Antares 330, Northrop Grumman will launch three Cygnus missions on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. The new Antares 330 offers increased payload capacity, capable of carrying up to 10,500 kilograms for Cygnus ISS missions, compared to 8,120 kilograms of the current version. This enhanced capability is expected to open up new markets for Northrop Grumman in addition to cargo resupply, including opportunities in NASA civil, DOD (Department of Defense), and commercial sectors.

Moreover, Antares 330 serves as a transitional step towards a future rocket known as the Medium Launch Vehicle. This upcoming rocket will further increase payload capacity to 16,000 kilograms, as the solid-fuel upper stage will be replaced by a version of the Miranda engine. The development of Antares 330 and the Medium Launch Vehicle is seen as a significant advancement, promising increased performance and the potential to address various markets in the space industry.

You can watch the final launch streamed Live on The Launch Pad!