Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Orbital Launch This Morning...

Only about an hour and a half till Orbital Sciences begins its attempt to be come the second private company to launch a docking capsule to the ISS.  SpaceX performed the feat about a year ago and is continuing to do so on behalf of NASA while Orbital has taken a different tack and is just now completing its final demo flight.

The Antares rocket to be launched this morning at 10:50 AM (hopefully) will carry with it about 1/2 its "normal" payload and contain only non-essential items.  If this launch and docking is successful, NASA will clear Orbital to begin full missions later this year.  This would give NASA (and the US) two separate options for getting equipment/supplies/experiments to the ISS and one (SpaceX's Dragon system) for returning items safely.

The differences between the two systems is striking.  Orbital uses a Russian derived rocket that is propelled by only two engines while SpaceX's design uses nine.  The SpaceX design allows for the shutdown of two of the engines and can still complete its mission--not so with the Orbital design.  In fact, the design of the Orbital engines dates back to Russia's ill fated attempts to compete with NASA's Saturn rockets.  Additionally, while the SpaceX system can actually dock and return items safely to Earth, Orbital's design is not reusable and is designed to burn up on reentry (though this does allow for garbage disposal missions from the ISS).

Two very different ideas but one goal--to get the US back on a regular scheduled with the ISS.  I have one favorite company in my heart and one favorite company for my bank account (I own some Orbital stock) but I'm rooting for both of them to succeed.  Photos here are of (above) Orbital's Antares rocket on the Wallops Island site preparing for today's launch and a rendering of Orbital's capsule approaching the ISS.  The launch can be watched on

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