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Orbital Sciences Corp. plans to re-engine its Antares launch vehicle and use one or two alternate launch vehicles initially to meet its International Space Station resupply commitments to NASA after last week’s launch failure with an Antares powered by two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26 engines.
David Thompson, Orbital chairman and CEO, told analysts Wednesday the surplus Russian-built engines have a "fundamental reliability issue" and probably were responsible for the Oct. 28 mishap, which destroyed an Orbital Cygnus cargo vehicle loaded with 4,883 lb. of consumables, hardware and science equipment for the ISS.
However, he declined to specify which engine will replace the AJ-26, repeating an earlier statement that Antares remains in contention for "a number of new launch contracts" that may ride on the engine choice. Russian news outlets have identified the new RD-193, kerosene-fueled engine as Orbital’s pick, and other possibilities include a single Russian RD-180, a solid-fuel rocket motor proposed by ATK, and even restarting production of the Russian NK-33 that is the basis for the AJ-26.
Thompson said Orbital is in discussions with three launch services providers for one or two flights next year with the upgraded Cygnus that was already in preparation for the company’s next mission to the ISS. While he declined to identify those companies, they apparently are SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Arianespace, based on Thompson’s description of them as two U.S. companies and one in Europe.