The last flight of the rocket with the Ukrainian stage is scheduled for August 2

NASA and Northrop Grumman have completed preparations for the launch of the NG-19 mission. Within its framework, the Antares rocket will send a Cygnus supply spacecraft to the ISS. The mission is notable due to the fact that it will be the final one for the carrier equipped with the first stage built in Ukraine. 

The last flight of the rocket with a Ukrainian stage

Antares has often been cited as an example of how international cooperation helps humanity in space exploration. It was used to send Cygnus supply spacecraft to the ISS. The first stage of the carrier was manufactured by the Pivdenne design bureau and Southern Machine-Building Production Union, or Yuzhmash. At the same time, it was equipped with RD-181 engines of the Russian NPO Energomash.

The existing version of the Antares rocket. Source: Northrop Grumman

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine put an end to the possibility of further use of this modification of the carrier. On the one hand, the United States has imposed a final ban on the supply of Russian rocket engines. On the other hand, in the conditions of hostilities, Ukrainian enterprises are not able to produce and supply new stages for Antares.

By the time the war began, Northrop Grumman had components for two Antares rockets at its command. The first one was launched in the autumn of 2022. The second and last instance is scheduled to be launched on August 2 at 03:31 a.m., GMT+3. The rocket will go into space from the territory of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island.

Replacement for the Ukrainian stage

Despite the fact that Antares will no longer be able to fly with the Ukrainian first stage, Northrop Grumman is not going to close the project. Last year, it signed a cooperation agreement with Firefly. Its goal is to develop a new first stage for Antares. Firefly plans to equip it with seven Miranda engines of its own design. Composite materials, also created by Firefly, will be widely used in the construction of the stage.

Launch of the Antares rocket. Source: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

To some extent, this is a very symbolic replacement. At one time, a Ukrainian entrepreneur and philanthropist actually saved the bankrupt Firefly, giving it a second life. The Ukrainian space heritage is still decisive in its history. Now Firefly will have to save Antares.

The first launch of Antares with a new stage is scheduled for 2025. Until then, a Falcon 9 rocket will be used to launch Cygnus.

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