Northrop Grumman’s Antares team demonstrates new capability to load cargo just before launch

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. - Launch operations at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility have taken on a higher tempo - of agility, innovation and speed - as the Antares team prepares the rocket to take on a new capability. Soon a specialized removable nose cone called a “pop-top” and a mobile payload processing facility will provide direct access to the company’s Cygnus spacecraft for cargo loading just 24 hours before launch.

Northrop Grumman’s Antares team demonstrates new capability to load cargo just before launch
Northrop Grumman’s Antares team demonstrates new capability to load cargo just before launch
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. - Launch operations at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility have taken on a higher tempo - of agility, innovation and speed - as the Antares team prepares the rocket to take on a new capability. Soon a specialized removable nose cone called a “pop-top” and a mobile payload processing facility will provide direct access to the company’s Cygnus spacecraft for cargo loading just 24 hours before launch.

Antares and Cygnus support the company’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, regularly delivering critical cargo, science experiments and supplies to astronauts on board the International Space Station. This new late load capability is an important feature for time-sensitive scientific experiments and cargo. The first use of Antares’ late load capability will be demonstrated with Northrop Grumman’s eleventh CRS mission (NG-11) planned for April 2019.

In preparation for NG-11, the combined Antares/Cygnus/Virginia Space team is performing a pathfinder, or dry run, of late load operations. A mock first and second stage used to simulate the rocket stack are currently mated with a demonstration Cygnus and the newly designed NG-11 fairing with the pop-top at the forward end.

The program’s current timeline for final cargo load is four days before launch, with Antares rolling out to the pad two days prior to launch. For late load operations, Antares will roll to the pad four days before launch and mate all connections needed for launch except for the liquid oxygen loading line. The team will then raise Antares to its vertical launch position and perform a full combined systems test to verify all systems are working properly.

Once all the pre-launch testing is complete, operators will lower Antares to a horizontal position, maneuver the mobile payload processing facility over the front of the fairing, and seal the opening to provide a clean-room environment. The team will then put platforms in place, remove the pop-top from the nose cone, open the Cygnus hatch, and load the final time-sensitive cargo. After completing the cargo load, operators will close the hatch, remove the mobile payload processing facility, raise Antares to vertical again, and make all final ground connections in preparation for launch.

“We are really excited about Antares’ updated capability for space station resupply, which could also provide late access to satellite payloads,” said Kurt Eberly, vice president, Antares program, Northrop Grumman. “I’m proud of how the engineering and operations team developed such an innovative system and then worked to turn their vision into reality. The successful pathfinder gives us full confidence heading into NG-11.”

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