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04/23/2013 – Ephemeris – Orbital Sciences enters the race to supply the International Space Station

April 23, 2013

Ephemeris for Tuesday, April 23rd.  The sun rises at 6:44.  It’ll be up for 13 hours and 52 minutes, setting at 8:37.   The moon, 2 days before full, will set at 5:49 tomorrow morning.

Sunday afternoon the second winner in the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services or COTS competition held by NASA flew its first test flight.  Orbital Sciences Corporation, which has been in business since 1982 developed a new rocket for COTS, the Antares, named after the brightest red star in the constellation Scorpius.  It flew flawlessly launching a dummy payload into low earth orbit along with some cube-sats.  At least one of these tiny satellites is controlled, not by a specially built computer, but by an Android smart phone.  Smart phones are incredibly versatile, but can they stand the rigors and radiation of space?  And can they phone home?  Orbital will have another test launch later this year with test cargo to the International Space Station.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan.  They may be different for your location.


Orbital has been in the rocket and satellite business for just over 30 years.  As far as rockets go, their expertise was in solid fueled rockets.  The Antares is their first liquid fueled rocket first stage.  The first stage engines are re-manufactured Russian engines that were destined for the ill-fated Soviet N1 moon rocket engines.  The original engines were so unreliable that they couldn’t be tested and mounted on the rocket.  The tolerances of the pumps were so bad that they couldn’t be run again.  The design bureau for the N1 would order engines six at a time.  If two of the tested OK, they would use the other 4.  If one of the test engines failed, all the engines in that batch would be rejected.

The Russians marveled at the F-1 engines in the first stage of the Saturn V, which would be tested three times, including a full duration test before installed in the Saturn V first stage.  Still the same Russian engines were perfected to become an extremely reliable engine that Orbital is using on their Antares rockets.  United Launch Alliance also uses the same engines on their Atlas 5 rockets.  It’s rather ironic that the latest members of the Atlas family, that was first built as a weapon against the Soviets are using Russian engines.

Source for the Russian engines:  Rockets and People Volume 4, TheMoon Race by Boris Chertok, an ebook downloadable from NASA.

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