Antares A-ONE

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It was a historic day for Wallops Flight Facility when the Antares medium-class space launch vehicle – the largest rocket ever launched from the Wallops Range – made its maiden voyage in the late afternoon on April 21, 2013.

The vehicle was launched without the Cygnus spacecraft, as the test flight was to prove the vehicle’s performance. Later this year, the NASA, Orbital and MARS team will launch the Demonstration Mission of cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS). The demonstration mission is the final operational milestone under the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) agreement.

The Cygnus spacecraft began the fueling for the demonstration mission the same week as launch operations were underway in the Spacecraft Fueling Facility (SFF) at V-50 and V-55. On April 15, the spacecraft was fueled with hydrazine and the fueled with oxidizer on April 18. The team had to disassemble everything between fueling because of launch operations.

The Range and Mission Management Office (RMMO) has been proactive in driving a communications plan for the Antares launch pad. Identifying the need for robust communications at the pad for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) and Orbital Sciences Corporation, RMMO stepped in to provide integrated solutions. A stop-gap wireless system tied to the range intercom was soon replaced by a permanent network of land mobile radios (LMRs) and intercom keysets, allowing pad operators to communicate with each other, and also with operations personnel throughout the range, in virtually any situation.

RMMO implemented innovative communication systems to deliver full-rate mission data, necessary to meet range safety requirements. This solution included a commercial high-speed data circuit to obtain affordable bandwidth, providing two diverse circuits for reliable vehicle telemetry and communications between Wallops and Bermuda.

Personnel were deployed to tracking stations in Bermuda, Coquina, N.C., and Antigua in the Caribbean. These stations incorporate mobile power, telemetry, radar and command systems. The Mobile Integrated Telemetry System (MITS) is designed to provide the mobile capability to track, receive, process and record up to five telemetry links with full redundancy. The system will be semi-permanently located in Bermuda to support the full series of Antares missions.

Another deployed telemetry innovation, the 40-foot Mobile TM Van, was modified to support the ability to receive and record up to five telemetry links, as required by the Antares mission. The van was outfitted with new receivers, bit synchronizers and recorders, giving it the robust capability to support Antares missions from deployed locations.

Another new innovation was the development of video recording and distribution system, which was developed to handle 40 video sources from the MARS cameras at Pad 0A. This system implements a new digital CATV distribution system and the ability to record the minimum of 40 video sources, including HD sources, with redundant backup and tape storage.

RMMO supported the launch with telemetry data collection and processing, radar tracking, communications, command destruct, photography and video support, weather, meteorological operations, area surveillance, and ground operations support for vehicle processing. Optical provided new support with remote cameras activated by sound triggers, allowing for up-close photography of the vehicle coming off the pad.

The first demonstration flight of the Antares rocket with the Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled for September 2013.

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