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Orbital mulls replacing Russian engine used on Antares

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 — The Orbital Sciences Corporation, that built and launched Antares supply rocket crashed in Virginia, may replace the spacecraft’s current AJ-26 Russian rocket engine, once their investigation of the crash is finalized, the company's CEO David Thompson stated.

“Orbital has been reviewing alternatives since the middle of last year and recently selected a different main propulsion system for future use by Antares,” Thompson said during a press conference Wednesday. “It is possible that we may decide to accelerate this change if the AJ-26 turns out to be implicated in the failure, but this has not yet been decided."

Orbital along with NASA, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and the National Transportation Safety board are conducting an accident investigation to determine the exact cause of the crash and to recommend corrective actions.

Thompson added that although Orbital was still planning to launch Antares again in April, the scheduled mission could be delayed depending on the investigation.

"At this time it's too soon to know exactly how long this process will take or whether Antares and Cygnus missions, that are scheduled for next year including our next flight, which had been set for early April, will be affected," said Thompson.

The Antares spacecraft that was carrying more than two tons of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), crashed only six seconds after launching from the U.S. Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Hours after the unsuccessful Antares launch, the unmanned Russian Progress supply spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan and successfully docked at the ISS.

The AJ-26 engine, otherwise known as the NK-33 engine, designed in Russia to launch the country’s N1 Russian Rocket on lunar missions, is the engine that Orbital currently uses to power Antares.

Despite the crash, NASA says that the ISS will have enough supplies until March 2015, even if other space crafts are unable to make it to the station. (PNA/RIA Novosti)

JBP/RSM

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