Orbital Sciences Corporation announced on December 12th that it had given its Taurus II medium-lift launch vehicle a new name: Antares. The 40-meter rocket, capable of lofting over 5000 kg in low earth orbit, is intended for resupply of the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) and Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) initiatives.
In a prepared statement, Orbital President and CEO said that “”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. The successful introduction of the Antares launcher, with its contribution to our COTS and CRS programs along with future sales to other customers, is a linchpin of the company’s long-term growth and profitability strategy.”
The selection of the new name, which some Orbital officials claimed was also motivated by a desire to avoid confusion with its Taurus XL rocket, continues Orbital’s tradition of using Greek-derived names for its vehicles. The Antares name in particular is taken from the brightest star in the constellation Scorpio.
Orbital has announced plans to conduct two test flights of the Antares rocket in the first half of 2012. Following the flights, Antares is scheduled to perform eight launches of the unmanned cargo delivery vehicle Cygnus to the ISS between 2012 and 2015, as part of the 1.9 billion USD NASA-Orbital COTS agreement.
The Antares program has been under development for the past four years, for use in NASA’s ongoing commercial resupply programs. Other competing companies participating in the program include Space Explorations Technologies (SpaceX), Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp, and Boeing.
The video below shows an animation of a typical resupply mission of the ISS using an Antares-launched Cygnus spacecraft.