Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Launch Systems Group in Chandler, already bulging at the seams with military and civilian rocket work, will get more business under a newly awarded NASA program to develop a cargo resupply system for the International Space Station.
NASA said this week it will pay Orbital $170 million over three years, and Orbital will kick in $150 million to design and build a prototype of the unmanned system and launch a test mission in late 2010, the agency and the company said.
The project is designed to develop a U.S. vehicle to resupply the space station after the space shuttle program is retired in 2010.
The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) system will include two major components: the Cygnus spacecraft that will carry the cargo and the Taurus II rocket, which will propel the cargo vehicle into low-earth orbit.
Cygnus will be able to carry about 5,000 pounds of supplies to the space station and take away about 1,250 pounds of waste material to burn up in the atmosphere.
The Taurus II, a larger version of Orbital’s Taurus I rocket, will be produced in Chandler after a design and development phase that will be about a year, said Orbital spokesman Barry Beneski.
Taurus II will have about three times more lifting capacity and will be powered by liquid rather than solid fuel, he said.
In addition to resupplying the space station, the new rocket could be used to launch NASA, military and private satellites, he said.
“By serving as an anchor mission for Orbital’s Taurus II rocket, the COTS project will not only benefit NASA’s (space station) operations ... but will also aid NASA’s ... exploration programs with lower-cost launches of medium-class satellites,” said Antonio L. Elias, general manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group.
Beneski said it’s too soon to know if Orbital will need to add to its staff of about 1,100 employees in Chandler to support Taurus II work. The plant at 3380 S. Price Road is already busy with production of rockets for civilian and military missions, especially the national missile defense system, but there will be a break in Taurus I and Pegasus launches next year that could allow some engineers to transfer to Taurus II work, he said.
Following the development phase, Orbital said it could carry out as many as eight resupply missions a year beginning in 2012.