Monday, December 12, 2011

Orbital: Taurus II is now Antares

The Orbital Sciences Corp. rocket being developed to launch cargo to the International Space Station has a new name: Antares.

Previously known as Taurus II, the medium-class rocket is now named for a "supergiant" star in the constellation Scorpius that is one of the brightest in the sky, with a red hue when observed by the naked eye, Orbital said in a press release.

The company said it followed past practice to use Greek-derived celestial names for its launch vehicles.

"We are transitioning to the Antares identity primarily because a launch vehicle of this scale and significance deserves its own name, just like Orbital’s Pegasus, Taurus and Minotaur rocket programs that have come before it," said David Thompson, Orbital's president and CEO.

Antares will launch unmanned Cygnus cargo carriers to the space station from Wallops Island, Va., under a $1.9 billion NASA contract.

A static firing of the rocket's Aerojet first-stage engines on the launch pad is planned early next year, after pad construction is completed. That will be followed by a test launch of a Cygnus mockup in the first quarter and a demonstration flight docking at the station in the second quarter before operational missions begin.

IMAGE: Artist's rendering of Antares in flight. Credit: Orbital

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