Russian heart for a US rocket

At 17.00 local time on April 21, 2013, the first Antares expendable launch system lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Iceland, Virginia. The rocket orbited the Cygnus Mass Simulator (the boilerplate payload simulating the mass of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft), along with four CubeSat miniaturized satellites. Antares’ first stage comprises engines based on the 40-year-old NK-33 design developed for the Soviet lunar program.

Antares has been created by Orbital Sciences Corp (OSC) as part of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transpor­tation Services (COTS) effort to coordinate the delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station. On February 19, 2008, NASA awarded OSC with the $170 million COTS contract. The Antares system had cost OSC $150 million to develop.

The main goal pursued by the Antares developers was a positive operating margin even at low utilization rates of two to four launches a year. From the very early stages of the program, OSC was aiming to make the maximum possible use of existing components. The first stage was developed by Ukraine-based Yuzhnoye design office from the tank section of the Zenit rocket. The US corporation ATK built the second-stage solid-fuel motor from the first stage of the MX ICBM.

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