NASA's Wallops Island to secure spotlight with Orbital's Antares rocket test launch

Orbital Sciences Corp. will be conducting its first test launch of its Antares rocket on April 18th, and if all goes well, the company will be well on its way on delivering on its $1.9 billion contract with NASA. The contract requires Orbital to complete 8 unmanned cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS) using its Antares rocket and its Cygnus Capsule.

However, not only will this test launch show whether or not Orbital is ready to deliver on its contract, it will also put Wallops Island into the spotlight as well. William Wrobel, director of the Wallops Island-based NASA facility hopes that this test launch will show that the facility is more than just a research facility, and that it is capable of doing "regular flights out of here to the space station", just like the NASA facilities in Florida, California, and Texas.

During the test launch, the Antares rocket will carry a simulated version of the Cygnus capsule to an altitude of 155 to 185 miles above Earth. It will also be delivering 4 small satellites into orbit. If everything is successful, Orbital will be well on its way to a test launch of its Cygnus Capsule in November. The Cygnus capsule is expected to carry 5,952 pounds of supplies to the ISS.

Orbital is one of two private companies contracted by NASA, with the other being SpaceX. Orbital is still quite a ways behind SpaceX, because while its Cygnus capsule would burn up in the Earth's atmosphere upon re-entry, SpaceX's Dragon capsule can return to Earth just fine, and can also bring with it supplies, equipment, and science experiments from the ISS. Orbital has yet to complete one of its 8 required cargo missions, however SpaceX has already completed 2 out of its 12 missions required from its $1.6 billion contract with NASA.

Orbital is mostly known for launching small satellites into space. It is also getting more into developing missile defense systems, with it completing around 50 launches for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Air Force, Army, and Navy. If the Antares rocket test launch is successful, it will also be diving into the medium-size rockets business. The Antares rocket test launch will also prove beneficial to the NASA's Wallops Island facility as well. Virginia Officials believe that the publicity generated from the event will entice more space and tech companies to do business with them.

[via Washington Post]