Logistics And Frieght Forwarding

Antares rocket: the ultimate outsourcing

Antares rocket: the ultimate outsourcing

Formerly known as Taurus-2, the Antares rocket is officially an American space launcher developed by the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation, OSC, (now known as Orbital ATK). However, in reality, the Orbital outsourced the production of the rocket’s booster stage to Ukraine and ordered its main engines in Russia. In a bizarre irony of the post-Cold War politics, Ukraine and Russia continued building the rocket for the US, even as the two former Soviet republics essentially went to war with each other in 2014.

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Previous chapter: Zenit rocket[1]

design

Evolution of the Antares design: the depiction of Taurus-2 circa 2009 (left) and the Antares vehicle (2016).

The Antares (Taurus-2) rocket family at a glance:

Number of stages

2

Payload

Cygnus cargo ship

Liftoff mass

292,887 kilograms (292.9 tons)

Payload to low Earth orbit

5,400-8,000 kilograms

Payload fairing dimensions

3.9 by 9.9 meters

Launch site

Wallops Island, Virginia, Pad 0A

Stage I propulsion
Stage I propellant load

239,280 kilograms

Stage I burn time

208 seconds

Stage I total thrust

4,170 kilonewtons

Stage II propulsion

Castor-30A, -30B, -30XL solid motors

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From Taurus-2 to Antares

The Orbital Sciences Corporation, OSC, proposed its Taurus-2 design as a bid to a NASA program, known as Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, COTS, which sought to develop low-cost access to the International Space Station[2], ISS. With the COTS program, NASA hoped to largely transfer the routine ISS transport operations to private contractors. Obviously, all bidders in the COTS program were under pressure to provide the cheapest possible access to orbit.

It was a hallmark of the post-industrial America, for US businesses to achieve competitive edge by outsourcing jobs and production to developing countries with cheap labor force.

The OSC brought this principle to a whole new level becoming the first American company, which actually outsourced the production of a sophisticated space booster. Even more ironically, the Ukrainian-built first stage of the OSC’s Taurus-2 rocket would be propelled by a pair of the Soviet-era NK-33[3] engines left over from the the N1L3 Moon project, which aimed to beat the Apollo astronauts to the Moon[4]. In the 1990s, US businessmen located and purchased surviving NK-33 engines in Russia.

After refurbishment and testing in the US, the Aerojet company certified NK-33 for flight under designation AJ26. On the Antares, NK-33/AJ26 was attached to the rocket via a newly designed gimbal mechanism, which enabled to rotate the combustion chamber in flight and thus steer the entire rocket in flight. (On the N1, the flight control was accomplished by varying thrust of individual engines, which were all installed in fixed position on the rocket. The Russian Soyuz-2-1v rocket[5], which also adopted the NK-33, featured a specially designed steering thruster[6], while a single NK-33 engine remained in fixed position.)

To build the first stage for the Taurus-2, KB Yuzhnoe in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, relied on the design of the Zenit rocket[7], the latest and the most advanced booster developed in the USSR before its disintegration in 1991.

KB Yuzhnoe was able to dramatically cut the development cost by using the existing machinery of the Zenit production line, which was still in operation at the time. Not coincidently, Zenit had a diameter of 3.9 meters, which was also chosen for the Taurus-2 rocket.

Upper stages

To complete the two-stage Taurus-2 rocket, the Ukrainian booster would be topped with OSC’s own Castor-30A solid-propellant motor manufactured at the facility of the former Thiokol company in Utah, which eventually merged with OSC to form Orbital ATK. Thiokol previously supplied solid motors for a OSC’s previous launchers such as air-launched Pegasus and ground-based Minotaur and Taurus-1.

Eventually, the 30B and 30XL variants of the Castor motor were developed.

Theoretically, the Taurus-2 could be equipped with a third stage, which could use storable liquid propellant.

The Taurus-2 rocket was based at the historic American launch site on the Wallops Island, off the coast of Virginia, which previously hosted light-weight Scout launchers. According to Orbital ATK, the rocket could also fly from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Kodiak Island, off the coast of Alaska.

The first launch of the Taurus-2 was originally expected in 2010, but it actually took place on April 21, 2013.

In the course of its flight history, several modifications of the Antares rocket have been built and its name reflected these upgrades according to the following convention:

naming convention

Antares-Cygnus system

Cygnus

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station use a robotic arm to attach the first Cygnus cargo ship to the US segment of the station in 2013. Credit: NASA

For resupply missions[8] to the International Space Station[9], Taurus-2 carries the Cygnus cargo ship, capable of accommodating up to 3,515 kilograms of supplies in its pressurized cargo module.

The pressurized section is manufactured by the Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy, which previously built similar structures for the Space Shuttle’s Spacelab and Spacehab modules, for the European Columbus module[10] and for cargo modules of the International Space Station.

The service module for the spacecraft is manufactured by Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia.

After several days in a solo flight, Cygnus automatically approaches the ISS up to a distance of 12 meters with the help of satellite navigation and laser imaging. The ISS crew then uses the station’s robotic arm to grab the ship and dock it to the US segment.

The ship can remain attached to the ISS up to a period of 90 days, after which it is released in orbit for a destructive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

In 2016, Orbital ATK quoted six planned missions to the ISS through 2018 and the second NASA contract — CRS2 — for another six missions, beginning in 2019. According to the company, a total of more than 50 tons of cargo would be delivered to the ISS from 2013 to 2024.

The disaster and the Ukrainian conflict

explosion

On October 28, 2014, after four successful launches, the upgraded Antares-130 rocket carrying Cygnus Orb-3 cargo ship to the International Space Station, ISS, exploded seconds after liftoff due to a failure of the first-stage engine.

After the accident, Orbital was apparently compelled to immediately replace controversial Soviet engines rather than to fix the problem, as it would be done after a “typical” launch accident.

Ironically, the company had nowhere to go but to another Russian manufacturer, NPO Energomash, for the replacement of discredited NK-33[11] engines. It chose a variant of the RD-191 engine[12], which was originally developed for the first stage of the Angara rocket[13] and was sold to the US under name RD-181[14].

In another irony, the NK-33 performed just fine on the Russian Soyuz-2-1v[15] rocket launched[16] after the 2014 accident. However, the strangest situation was that at the time, Russia annexed Crimea and began a proxy war in Ukraine, leading to breakup of many economic ties between the two Soviet republics and triggering Western sanctions against Moscow.

Yet, Ukraine and Russia still continued their respective roles in the Antares project and the US government apparently decided to preserve the program.

On Oct.

2, 2015, another booster for the Antares rocket came off the production line in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and Ukrainian space officials said that they had contracts with Orbital ATK covering the work until 2019.

Unfortunately, the surviving space cooperation project did seemingly little to ease tensions between Russia and Ukraine. In 2016, the head of NPO Energomash company found it necessary to boast in the official Russian media that his team had no interaction with their Ukrainian colleagues during the work on the Antares rocket.

Despite all the political problem, the Antares rocket was brought back to the launch pad in October 2016. After a 24-delay, the countdown was resumed on October 17.

Full list of Antares launches:

Launch date

Time of launch

Payload

Variant

Status

1

2013 April 21

5 p.m.

EDT

Cygnus mass simulator, DOVE-1, PhoneSat v1a, PhoneSat v1b, PhoneSat v1c

Antares-110

Success
2

2013 Sept.

18

10:58:02 a.m. EDT

Cygnus Orb-D1 (COTS Demo)

Antares-110

Success
3

2014 Jan.

9

1:07:05 p.m. EST

Cygnus (Orb-1)

Antares-120

Success
4

2014 July 13

12:52 p.m.

EDT

Cygnus Orb-2 (CRS-2)

Antares-120

Success
5

2014 Oct.

28

6:22:38 p.m. EDT

Cygnus Orb-3 (CRS-3)

Antares-130

Failure
6

2016 Oct.

17

7:40:40 p.m. EDT

Cygnus CRS OA-5

Antares-230

Planned

Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:

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NK-33

The NK-33[17] rocket engine. Click to enlarge[18].

Copyright (C) 2010 Anatoly Zak


liftoff


launch


install


cygnus


References

  1. ^ Zenit rocket (russianspaceweb.com)
  2. ^ International Space Station (russianspaceweb.com)
  3. ^ NK-33 (russianspaceweb.com)
  4. ^ aimed to beat the Apollo astronauts to the Moon (russianspaceweb.com)
  5. ^ Soyuz-2-1v rocket (russianspaceweb.com)
  6. ^ steering thruster (russianspaceweb.com)
  7. ^ Zenit rocket (russianspaceweb.com)
  8. ^ missions (russianspaceweb.com)
  9. ^ International Space Station (russianspaceweb.com)
  10. ^ Columbus module (russianspaceweb.com)
  11. ^ NK-33 (russianspaceweb.com)
  12. ^ RD-191 engine (russianspaceweb.com)
  13. ^ Angara rocket (russianspaceweb.com)
  14. ^ RD-181 (russianspaceweb.com)
  15. ^ Soyuz-2-1v (russianspaceweb.com)
  16. ^ launched (russianspaceweb.com)
  17. ^ NK-33 (russianspaceweb.com)
  18. ^ Click to enlarge (russianspaceweb.com)



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