Orbital Sciences’ Taurus 2 Rocket Receives FAA License for COTS Demo
[Satellite TODAY Insider 09-01-11] The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Commercial Space Transportation Launch License to Orbital Sciences, which will allow the company to conduct its NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program demonstration mission on its Taurus 2 rocket in early 2012, Orbital Sciences announced Aug. 31.
The COTS mission will see Orbital launch a Taurus 2 rocket carrying an operational Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft that will autonomously rendezvous with and operate in close proximity to the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft will then be grappled with a robotic arm and berthed to the ISS. A separate Taurus 2 test flight will feature an instrumented Cygnus simulator onboard the rocket, which will work to accurately characterize the launch environment.
Orbital was required to submit extensive technical and program management data to the FAA about its Taurus 2 and Cygnus spacecraft to secure the license and ensure that all necessary operational requirements and safety precautions were met. The FAA reviewed the rocket’s planned trajectory, ground-tracking procedures, onboard safety and flight termination systems, and the training regiment of its launch operations team.
“While we are very knowledgeable of the FAA licensing process because of our extensive experience with Pegasus and Taurus space launch vehicles, securing the FAA’s approval for a new rocket system is always challenging because of the rigor of their oversight,” Orbital Senior Vice President and Taurus 2 Program Manager Brent Collins said in a statement. “We feel this is a great vote of confidence in our launch vehicle design, the robustness of its subsystems, the thoroughness of our processes, and the training and operational experience of our launch team.”
Collins said that he expects his company to be granted an expanded license covering the test flight of the Taurus 2 rocket in late 2011.
The COTS demonstration could be a significant financial turning point for the company as it heads into 2012, according to analysts. Following Orbital Sciences’ strong 2011 second quarter fiscal period, Raymond James Analyst Chris Quilty said a successful Taurus 2 flight should set the company on a path toward increased launch revenues and multiple expansion.
“Orbital executed six major rocket launches and space system deployments during the second quarter and completed and delivered eight additional systems during the quarter,” Quilty told Satellite TODAY Insider. “As Orbital makes steady progress toward its inaugural Taurus 2 CRS mission to the International Space Station likely to take place in February 2012, we expect the multiple to gradually expand toward the midpoint of the company’s historical trading range.”