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  • Orbital Risk Reduction
    Posted by Frank Morring, Jr. 3:26 PM on Apr 14, 2010

    Colorado Springs, Colo. -- Orbital Sciences Corp. is laying plans to use extra funding in the Fiscal 2011 NASA budget request to reduce risk on its Taurus 2/Cygnus commercial space cargo  delivery system, perhaps including an instrumented test flight of the new stack before loading it with supplies for the International Space Station.

    If Congress approves the  request for extra funding, Orbital would seriously consider a test flight, and would certainly use the money for more ground testing of the AJ26 engine that will power the Taurus 2’s Ukrainian-built  first stage, and for other testing to add confidence the vehicle will be able to meet NASA’s logistics requirements to the International Space Station after the shuttle fleet is retired, according to David Thompson, Orbital chairman and CEO.

    Speaking to reporters at the 26th National Space Symposium here, Thompson said Orbital did not request the extra funding, and Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s human-spaceflight chief, said the request for extra funds was a “surprise.”

    Culbertson, a former ISS commander, said NASA “clearly needs the cargo capability” the Taurus 2/Cygnus stack will provide. With the extra funding, the company would be able to lend some confidence to the logistics schedule covered in its cargo delivery contract, which is worth more than  $1.9 billion if it flies all eight operational flights covered in the deal.

    Orbital is currently considering three different payload accommodations for the Cygnus, with a common service module for all. The first to fly will be a pressurized capsule, followed by a vehicle for unpressurized cargo and, possibly, a vehicle able to return valuable cargo to Earth.

    To date Orbital has focused on its cargo contract, and does not plan to begin serious work on a crew vehicle until the fate of NASA’s proposal to shift human transport to low Earth  orbit to the private sector is decided on Capitol Hill. Nor has the company placed a high priority on the down-mass vehicle, since internal traffic studies have revealed that there isn’t a large market for the service beyond the need to return extravehicular activity spacesuits to the ground for refurbishment.

    Tags: ss10, os99, Orbital Sciences, Taurus 2, Cygnus, ISS

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