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Orbital Sciences Cargo Test Mission To ISS Launches Successfully

Unknown Lamer posted 1 year,4 days | from the ups-trucks-in-spaaaaace dept.

NASA 39

Months after a successful test launch of the Antares rocket with a dummy payload, today Orbital Sciences Corp successfully launched their demo cargo mission to the ISS. Their Cygnus resupply craft detached from the second stage and at 11:33 a.m. deployed its solar array. From NASA: "Solar array deployment is complete for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus spacecraft, now traveling 17,500 mph in Earth's orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Sunday, Sept. 22, for a demonstration resupply mission. The spacecraft will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the space station's Expedition 37 crew, who will grapple and attach the capsule using the orbiting laboratory's robotic arm." There's an updates weblog, and some pictures.

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Congratulations to Orbital Science (4, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | 1 year,4 days | (#44884665)

It shows that somebody besides SpaceX can actually send stuff into space.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (0)

stox (131684) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885001)

With 40 year old engines.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (2)

Teancum (67324) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885229)

If it works, why re-invent the wheel?

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (3, Interesting)

idontgno (624372) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885327)

I was going to chastise you about snarking about proven technology, but it appears that the Aerojet AJ-26 in this mission's Antares booster represents the first successful launch using the NK-33 core... a design originally intended for the Soviet Union's abortive moon landing program, and specifically as the cluster engine for the F1 launch vehicle first stage.

It appears that as far as track records are concerned, SpaceX may have the upper hand: 5 launches for missions based on the NK-33, 4 failures [wikipedia.org] ; 5 launches for SpaceX Dragons, 1/2 failure (secondary payload failed to attain intended orbit on Flight 4)

So carry on then.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#44885807)

The N1 used NK-15, not -33. The NK-33 is an improved version of the NK-15.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (1)

cusco (717999) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885465)

Well, since it's a Soviet design licensing the patents to re-start production should be fairly inexpensive, but to my (admittedly limited) knowledge no one is standing in line to build new ones for some reason. They're a popular engine, already integrated into the designs of several vehicles so there would be a guaranteed market, does anyone know why?

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (1)

asm2750 (1124425) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885623)

I thought Aerojet got a license to produce the design in the United States so there is a domestic supply.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (3, Insightful)

nojayuk (567177) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885791)

There's a new generation of low-cost small launchers using solid-fuel lower stages entering the market, like the Vega from ESA and the Epsilon just launched by the Japanese a few days ago. The next ESA launcher, the Ariane 6 will be a solid-fuelled rocket with a cryogenic upper stage. The Constellation SLS also uses/used a solid first stage and the Russians have been offering launches using repurposed obsolescent ICBMs.

The heyday of the liquid-fuelled rocket may be coming to a close, at least for commercial unmanned launches. Solids are a lot less work to get off the ground, no pumps and valves, no complex pad facilities delivering liquid oxygen and/or hypergolics to the vehicle before launch etc. Epsilon famously launched using a team of only eight people and two laptops. On the other hand SpaceX is struggling to launch the first of their already-delayed liquid-fuelled stretch Falcon 9s at Vandenberg at the moment. Their hotfire test for the Cassiope mission last week threw up some unpublicised problems and they're having to reschedule another hotfire and eventual launch around a series of ICBM tests the USAF is carrying out at the site soon.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (2)

cjameshuff (624879) | 1 year,2 days | (#44897429)

And if they'd been using a solid? They'd have been unable to do a hot fire test, and might have attempted to launch with a faulty vehicle, leading to a messy failure rather than a 2 week delay due to range contention. They've repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of being able to shut the vehicle down on the pad, among other advantages of liquids. (You can't make a launcher with engine-out capability using solid rockets, for example.)

Solids are a lot more trouble to manufacture, transport, and work around, can't be test fired or shut down when problems are encountered, have a nasty habit of exploding, are very difficult to scale up, and their performance sucks. In addition, just try restarting a solid and performing a precision landing as SpaceX intends to do with the Falcon 9-R. Even without that, SpaceX is launching for far lower prices than those other rockets.

Launch vehicles based on solid rockets are a dead-end carried over from and kept on life support by the ICBM industry, where they are required for their ability to sit in a silo for years and be ready to fire.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (2)

nojayuk (567177) | 1 year,2 days | (#44897787)

You claim solid-fuel motors have a nasty habit of exploding. Can you point to a case in, say, the last twenty years or thirty years of a big solid motor exploding on launch or in flight? I can certainly point to a lot of "oops" from liquid-fuel launches over the same period. Even in the Challenger disaster, the SRB that leaked flame out of a joint didn't explode or even lose much thrust, it was the liquid-fuel External Tank that exploded. If the flame leak from the SRB's joint had been directed away from the ET then the flight would probably have reached orbit safely.

Solids are so reliable they don't NEED to be test-fired. Manufacturing them is basically large-scale cakemaking using a giant Magimix with extra safety precautions. Lots of experience in making these big motors for the defence industry means manufacturing flaws are rare and easily detected during inspection.

As for solids being a "dead end" I point you to the strap-on boosters that are used on many medium and large-scale launchers today as well as the new small and medium-throw-weight solid-based low-cost launchers rolling out -- Ares, Epsilon, Vega and the forthcoming Ariane 6. The lower launch operation costs are another advantage with no requirements for complex liquid fuel handling at the pad.

Sure solid fuels have a lower Isp than liquid fuels but there's not that much difference -- The Merlin 1D motors have an Isp of about 275 sea-level whereas solids run about 240-250. Solids don't have the dead weight of the pumps, metering and injection systems, tankerage, pressurisation gas bottles, valves, fuelling ports, defuelling systems etc. liquid-fuel motors require and they tend to be more ballistically efficient since they're slimmer and denser than liquid-fuelled rockets so the effects of air resistance in the first thirty seconds of a launch are less of a drag, so to speak. Nozzle control systems for solids have recently moved from heavier hydraulic actuators to simpler and lighter electric motors, further reducing launch weight.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (2)

cjameshuff (624879) | 1 year,2 days | (#44899539)

Two prominent ones come immediately to mind, not at all an exhaustive list:
Destroyed shortly after launch due to an cracked casing in a "so reliable they don't need to be test fired" GEM-40 booster:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GPS_IIR-1 [wikipedia.org]

Blew up on the pad as people were working on it, leveling the pad and killing 21 people (they seem to have moved on to largely liquid-fueled systems now):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VLS-1_V03 [wikipedia.org]

Manufacturing solids is a hell of a lot more than "a giant Magimix with extra safety precautions", it requires extremely good process control and very detailed inspection of the end product with a lot of expensive equipment, and entails a tricky disposal issue with all the castings that fail QC and huge amounts of hazardous materials to handle all along the supply line.

Ares was canceled, in large part due to being unaffordably expensive yet underperforming. Epsilon and Vega are tiny, Ariane 6 is a big step back in capability and not particularly cost competitive, and there's a lot of industry support for a change in direction to liquids. The Russians and Chinese primarily use liquid boosters, there were proposals to replace the Shuttle's solid boosters with higher-performing liquids (the performance benefit is actually quite substantial, this being the reason almost all launchers use liquids), and Aerojet is developing liquid boosters for the SLS Block IA and Block II as an upgrade from the Block I's Shuttle-derived solids (which may see use as launchers themselves, as the Energia's Zenit boosters have).

And again, SpaceX keeps demonstrating the advantages of liquids: the vehicle is safer to work on, engines can be properly tested prior to use, the vehicle can be shut down on the pad after ignition if problems are found, it can continue on to orbit even after losing an engine in flight...and there's just no way a solid first stage can come back and land for reuse like the Falcon 9-R. Liquid systems easily beat solids in cost, SpaceX's Falcon 9 is far cheaper than any solid system even without reusing the first stage.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (5, Interesting)

Megane (129182) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885517)

Literally 40 years old, as in mothballed in a warehouse for that long. When they run out of engines (or get cut off because the Russkies get pissy), they have to find another engine. SpaceX avoided that problem by making their own engines.

Except right now it looks like SpaceX may have to push the next Dragon launch back because they're switching completely to the new Merlin 1D engines, which get their first launch in the next couple of weeks. So they've temporarily caused their own engine supply problems, ha ha.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (2)

Teancum (67324) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885651)

It isn't as if building engines like this is some kind of ancient knowledge that has been lost in the mists of history. The ability to create new rocket engines exists. Besides, Aerojet wants to keep their contract with Orbital and be the engine supplier for these rockets.

It is possible that RKK Energia (the license owner of the NK-33 design) may want to negotiate the licensing terms for building these engines. I certainly think that if money can be made, a deal can also be struck.

Re:Congratulations to Orbital Science (3, Interesting)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | 1 year,3 days | (#44890517)

It isn't as if building engines like this is some kind of ancient knowledge that has been lost in the mists of history.

It also isn't something you learn from reading a book. Your workforce has to learn their craft the hard way, taking 5 to 10 years to do it, and you don't really get "good" until year 20. There's no suggestion that Aerojet is taking the necessary steps with the NK-33.

For example, it's not like SpaceX hired dumb engineers who didn't understand rocket science, yet they had to go through multiple versions of engines, and start with the simplest configuration (one engine), and after a decade of development they are still having problems with the fourth version of their engine on their third configuration launcher.

Musk's plan is to built a Saturn V class, three core launcher. But had they immediately started with Falcon XX and Merlin 2, they would have failed. Utterly. Hell, you could have sent the actual blue-prints of the eventual FXX back in time to them, and they would still have failed.

Updates Weblog (3, Funny)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | 1 year,4 days | (#44884851)

Ooo they have a "weblog"... or for those of us who aren't still living in the early 90s a "blog".

Re:Updates Weblog (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#44884935)

Or, website, for those who don't need a new term for every stupid little thing.

Re:Updates Weblog (3, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885009)

Or "thing" for those of thing who don't want to thing every new thing.

Re:Updates Weblog (2)

nucrash (549705) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885359)

A blog is a term for narcissists. People who don't feel comfortable with the term "we" had to remove that for the sake they might feel like they belong to something larger.

Re:Updates Weblog (1)

Sockatume (732728) | 1 year,3 days | (#44891699)

Hold on, do you actually pronounce it "we-blog" and not "web-log"? If so that's hilarious.

Re:Updates Weblog (1)

Easy2RememberNick (179395) | 1 year,3 days | (#44890109)

Whoa, whoa, whoa do you mean like my personal "homepage" is that what this fancy weblog is? It's still under construction but when it's done the world can read my opinions.

This is not a long-term prospect (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#44885017)

That's two more AJ26's/NK33's used up. There are 41 left, enough for 20 more launches. And then they're done.

Re:This is not a long-term prospect (3, Informative)

MightyYar (622222) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885153)

Some detail about the issue here [aviationweek.com] .

I think they will get it sorted out. Orbital has a lot of launches under their belt.

mph? (2)

The-Ixian (168184) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885303)

If not even NASA can move to the metric system, what hope do we have as a nation to move over?

Re:mph? (1)

Megane (129182) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885551)

If the Brits are still using miles per hour for speed and stone for weight, what hope does the US have to go metric?

Re:mph? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,3 days | (#44886263)

Actually, that might start to go since it appears to be a generational issue in my household and amongst my friends'. My kids all use kilos, etc. My wife and I use Imperial scale.

Re:mph? (2)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | 1 year,3 days | (#44886329)

If not even NASA can move to the metric system, what hope do we have as a nation to move over?

If NOAA can use cubits, then they are just fine for NASA. Or was it Noah? Meh, whatever.

Re:mph? (1)

idontgno (624372) | 1 year,3 days | (#44886805)

God: Go out into the woods, collect all of the animals in the world by two and make the ark out of cubits. Eighty cubits, forty cubits, thirty cubits.
Noah: Riiiiiight! What's a cubit?

-- Bill Cosby [comedy-quotes.com]

Re:mph? (0)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | 1 year,3 days | (#44886927)

God: Go out into the woods, collect all of the animals in the world by two and make the ark out of cubits. Eighty cubits, forty cubits, thirty cubits. Noah: Riiiiiight! What's a cubit?

-- Bill Cosby [comedy-quotes.com]

I couldn't tell you how many times I listened to that as a kid.

Re:mph? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,3 days | (#44886411)

The blueprints are all in metric; the press releases sent out to the Eloi are in cubits or yards or whatever they prefer.

Re:mph? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,3 days | (#44888191)

Hope? In the USA?

Dude, there is no hope. Period.

Re:mph? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | 1 year,3 days | (#44890609)

There's no Hope, no Cash and no fucking Wonder.

[Or however, that joke went.]

relative accomplishment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#44885513)

I wonder if anyone can compare how much easier this sort of mission is now that the arriving craft has to merely be 'caught' by the canadarm, as opposed to having to navigate directly to the coupled position?

"dummy" payload (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,4 days | (#44885661)

We all know it was actually a black budget military orbital weapons package

Actually, that's an impressive vehicle. (1)

tlambert (566799) | 1 year,4 days | (#44885893)

Actually, that's an impressive vehicle. If you look at the image gallery, the thing is very small relative to human scale for being able to get itself up to the space station. Here's hoping they can get their engine technology licensing and manufacturing issues worked out with Russia in order to keep this launch capacity beyong the remaining off-the-shelf engines currently in storage.

Re:Actually, that's an impressive vehicle. (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | 1 year,3 days | (#44887253)

That is probably the most boring looking rocket I've ever seen. Probably a good thing if orbital vehicles start looking mundane.

Why so small? (2)

Cytotoxic (245301) | 1 year,3 days | (#44886643)

This is fantastic news, but I wonder why the capacity is so small. TFA says it carried a little less than 600kg of cargo up. The SpaceX Dragon can carry 10 times that amount (literally - 6,000 kg [spacex.com] ) and it has a return capability of up to 3,000 kg.

After beefing up their vehicle with a second version they plan to be able to deliver 2,700 kg. So best case scenario they can't even carry half the cargo of the Dragon. That's a pretty big disparity.

Re:Why so small? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,3 days | (#44890071)

current cargo ability is 2000kg of pressurized cargo, they just didn't fill it up this mission.

Orbital Sciences' Cargo "test" Mission to ISS L... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,3 days | (#44893741)

Now the headline makes sense.

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