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Antares Rocket Company to Stop Using 1960s Soviet Engines

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Orbital Sciences Corporation, company behind failed Antares launch, to stop using the engines which were probably at fault for what NASA termed the spaceship’s “catastrophic failure”.

MOSCOW, November 5 (RIA Novosti) — The company behind Antares, the rocket which exploded last week has said it is likely to stop using the engines which were most probably at fault for what NASA termed the spaceship’s “catastrophic failure”.

“While the work of the Accident Investigation Board continues, preliminary evidence and analysis conducted to date points to a probable turbopump-related failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines. As a result, the use of these engines for the Antares vehicle likely will be discontinued,” said Orbital Sciences in a statement released today.

The company said it is bringing forward the planned date of the upgrade for its engines, which it had previously planned for 2016. The statement continued to say that it intends to fulfil its commitments with NASA to complete the $1.9 billion deal to make eight unmanned supply trips to the Space Station.

Orbital also made assurances that there would be no cost increase to NASA.

The release added that the contractor does not foresee an annual financial impact for 2015, and that “no significant adverse effects are projected in 2016 or future years, in part because the cost of the Antares propulsion system upgrade was already part of our internal investment plan during that time.”

Over $200 mln worth of equipment was destroyed when the Antares rocket exploded October 28 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with insurance sources telling Reuters shortly after the explosion that rocket was insured for $40 — $50 mln. Nobody was hurt in the disaster, for which NASA had kept clear a hazard area of 1,400 square miles around the launch site.

Orbital had faced criticism prior to the explosion over its use of refurbished Soviet engines from the 1960s to put in its rockets. In the aftermath of the mishap, facing questions about the practice, an official from Orbital was quoted by the Guardian bemoaning the lack of options available. “When you look at it there are not many other options around the world in terms of using power plants of this size, certainly not in this country, unfortunately.”

NASA retired its shuttle fleet in 2011 and since then has been reliant on others to reach low Earth orbit and the International Space Station. As well as employing private contractors like Orbital and rival SpaceX it has an agreement with Russia to purchase space on its Soyuz, costing around $50 million a seat.

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